Is Web 2.0 Enabling Corruption in Tennis?

Governance and information technology is becoming a serious issue in professional sports. This year Formula 1 team McLaren was fined US$100 million for spying on Ferrari then McLaren in turn accused Renault of information theft. Now Tennis is bracing for an integrity crisis.

Allegations of bribery have been building up over the past few years and the sport’s governing bodies met recently to form the Tennis Integrity Unit currently in review mode. According to a report in Australia’s Daily Telegraph a dossier has been put together featuring 140 suspect matches over the past three years. Current number four ranked player Nikolay Davydenko is under a considerable cloud of suspicion due to irregular betting patterns associated with his loss this year in Poland against number seventy four ranking Vassello Arguello. On line bookie Betfair voided almost USD$7 million in placed bets on this match. The Independent reports he was later warned and fined by umpires at the St. Petersburg and Paris tournaments for lack of effort. He is not the only one tangled up in this with many players reporting that they have been approached with inducements to throw matches for big bets. Andy Roddick Murray this summer said publicly:

everybody in the game knows [betting] goes on

According to the Independent, he later toned down his comments after a rebuke from the powers that be in world tennis. Still tennis is vulnerable to corruption, quoted in the New York times US Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe said

Tennis is a very easy game to manipulate. I can throw a match and you’d never know. A trained eye can figure it out.

Pending a global governance review Tennis Australia is taking matters into it’s own hands with the formation of the Tennis Australia Anti Corruption Commission in conjunction with local Melbourne police to oversee the Australian Open scheduled for January 2008. More than 12,000 accredited attendees to the Australian Open including players, staff and media will be banned from betting during the event and the police are promising to vigorously pursue any improprieties. Tennis Australia is also promising sanctions up to and including contract cancellations and lifetime bans. The actions taken in Australia are seen as a stop gap whilst the game gets its governance house in order so we are likely to see similar restrictions throughout the 2008 tour. Tennis Australia CEO Steve Wood commented at the launch of this initiative:

This is an interim protection measure for the Australian Open while globally our sport completes a comprehensive and independent analysis of the overall threat to the integrity of tennis.

Of particular note here are the restrictions on information flow that TAAC has deemed necessary to put in place so to build a garden wall around the tournament. The use of laptops courtside and in the grandstands has been prohibited during matches and all betting websites will be blocked from publicly accessible computers on site. Steve Wood has described such measures as:

a rational and measured approach to information security

Somehow I cannot imagine Tennis Australia will be wildly successful in their efforts to place the tournament in an information bubble. They really might be better served to exploit web 2.0 technologies to improve security rather than trying in vain to restrict access to the outside world. Serious corruption tends to be fairly sophisticated and subtle so these information security measures are unlikely to be very effective. But just imagine how web 2.0 could be used to help enable resistance against corruption and improve civil security more broadly. Tennis Australia is missing an opportunity here, let us hope the global governing bodies do not make the same mistake.

Besides, having read Serena William’s blog post on the loss of her Blackberry at the Fendi store in Paris, I am rather worried about the impact of digital isolation on player morale.

Here’s what happened: after Zürich, I went to Paris to relax. As I was leaving the hotel, I decided I wanted to go to go to the Fendi store. I saw some fabulous boots there that I thought would go great in my fall repertoire. Well, I also had to use the bathroom really badly… So the driver dropped me and my friend Paul off at the corner and we walked to the Fendi store. I asked the employee if I could use the bathroom. I went to the bathroom with my purse, then came out and looked at a dress. I never sat my purse down – I just was holding it. Later, I tried on the boots and put my purse down. I liked the boots so I decided to buy them. I picked up my purse and noticed my Blackberry was missing… So I paid for the boots and then looked for the Blackberry. It was nowhere to be found. I called it and found out that it was turned off. Someone got it and turned it OFF! All of you out there that have Blackberries know that they’re not easy to turn off – you have to purposely turn them off, or they will always stay on. Every time I called it I went straight to voicemail. Someone took it out of my purse and turned it off so when I called it I would not hear it ring. Who would do this people? I mean really! It’s so upsetting, and I feel as though my privacy has just been violated. I feel raw and alone now that I don’t have my BB. My BB is out there, all alone, cold and scared. She had a great life, a warm bed and a wonderful mom that took great care of her. I wish I could just see her one more time. I did not even get chance to say goodbye.

Must have been a dreadful experience for poor Serena …… and her BB. Still, I can think of worse places to be lost even if you happen to be an inanimate, albeit, social object.

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