World tennis is being rocked by allegations of widespread match-fixing just as the Australian Open, the first grand slam tournament of the year, kicked off in Melbourne.
Tennis authorities on Monday rejected reports by the BBC and online BuzzFeed News that at least 16 players in the top 50 ranking had been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) over suspicions they had thrown matches in the past decade, Reuters reported.
Eight of those players were taking part in the Australian Open, according to the BBC and BuzzFeed News.
The media reports, which follow corruption scandals in world soccer and athletics, created a stir at the event at Melbourne Park, with players expressing surprise at the allegations.
“When I’m playing, I can only answer for me, I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard,” women’s world number one Serena Williams told reporters.
“If that’s going on, I don’t know about it.”
Men’s world number seven Kei Nishikori of Japan said he had not heard of any incidence of match-fixing.
The BBC and BuzzFeed News said the TIU, set up to police illegal activities in tennis, either failed to act upon information that identified suspicious behavior among players, or impose any sanctions.
All of the 16 players, including winners of grand slam titles, were allowed to continue competing, the media reports added.
TIU director of integrity Nigel Willerton told reporters in Melbourne he would not comment on whether any players on the pro tour were under investigation, saying it would be inappropriate to do so.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the findings by the BBC and BuzzFeed News, which said they had obtained documents that included the findings of an investigation set up in 2007 by the Association of Tennis Professionals, the governing body of men’s professional tennis.
The BBC and BuzzFeed News said they had not named any players because without access to their phone, bank and computer records it was not possible to determine whether they took part in match-fixing.
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