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Media Investigation Digs Into Reports Of Match-Fixing In Tennis


A major investigative report today into crime, gambling and tennis - it involves billions of dollars, elite players, violent threats. The investigation was jointly reported by BuzzFeed News and the BBC. It alleges that tennis authorities have suppressed evidence of match-fixing and overlooked accusations against some of the sport's top players. BuzzFeed's John Templon joins us now. Welcome to the show.

JOHN TEMPLON: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: This investigation began with a data analysis that you started more than a year ago. Describe what you did.

TEMPLON: Yeah. So I read in a statistics paper that about 1 percent of tennis matches were fixed, and I started looking on my own at different data to see if we could find suspicious trends in tennis matches. And so what I did is, I took those 26,000 tennis matches between 2009 and 2015 and looked at the movements in pre-match betting odds, and we looked for when those matches went against players and how often they lost. And for 15 players, we found interesting trends where it would happen less than 5 times in a 100. And then for four players in particular, we found that those trends, if the opening odds were correct, would occur less than 1 in 1,000 times. And so those were really suspicious, and we wanted to look more into them. And so then we started doing the deep document dive in the investigative reporting.

SHAPIRO: So after you've analyzed more than 20,000 matches, you get leaked documents basically confirming what the data showed. Give us a description of how this actually worked. You have crime syndicates from Italy and Russia going to players' hotel rooms, offering them huge sums of money to throw a particular game.

TEMPLON: Yeah. So a number of players - and in fact, Novak Djokovic talked about that at the Australian Open after the report came out, that his support personnel have actually been approached about match-fixing. And he's been offered $200,000 - is what he said he was offered at one particular tournament. And other players report that these sort of approaches happen a lot.

SHAPIRO: You don't name names in this article, and many high-ranking tennis players today are urging you to do so. Why did you decide not to?

TEMPLON: Yeah. For a few reasons, actually. One of the reasons is that it's difficult to prove match-fixing. We have seen questionable trends, and obviously the bookmakers think that what's going on is very questionable for certain players. But we don't necessarily know that those 16 players or anyone else in our universe was definitively fixing the matches. And the other reason is that ours is more of a call to action for the tennis authorities. We feel like they are kind of ignoring the problem. And the scope and scale where we can say that there are these 16 that are repeatedly showing up that are, you know, high-ranking players seems to make a stronger argument for that then just maybe naming one player.

SHAPIRO: Have you had any further response from tennis authorities since this came out?

TEMPLON: The tennis authorities have thus far basically said that they are doing as much as they can to combat match-fixing in tennis and that they'll continue to be vigilant, but they haven't really given a definitive response except to deny the article (laughter).

SHAPIRO: That's BuzzFeed's John Templon. His piece on widespread match-fixing by players in the top levels of tennis is called "The Tennis Racket." Editor Heidi Blake is the co-author, and the story was jointly reported with BBC. Thank you.

TEMPLON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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