New Delhi, Feb 10 (IANS) Former England Davis Cup captain Paul Hutchins believes that fixing in tennis may never be completely eradicated due to the “human nature” of succumbing to temptation, but is optimistic the malaise won’t ruin the game’s integrity and credibility.
Tennis is reeling from the devastation caused by exhaustive investigative reports that coincided with the beginning of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year which suggest the prevalence of rampant match-fixing, even in the Majors.
Hutchins, however, wasn’t perturbed by its threat to the sport’s future.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious. You are talking about human nature aren’t you? So I don’t know if there’s anything to worry about it. I don’t think it’s as serious as people making it out to be,” Hutchins told IANS in an interview.
“I think it’s just stupid people you know benefitting from it. Very small section of people. I don’t think it will affect the top end of the game.”
Even Wimbledon wasn’t exempted from suspicion as the expose questioned the outcome of at least three dodgy matches at the All England Club, which were utilised by gambling syndicates in Russia and Italy to make big amounts by placing bets on scores of matches.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), which controls the operations of Wimbledon, has vehemently denied that it hosted a corrupt match.
Hutchins, director of “Road to Wimbledon” programme, a tournament for Under-14 players, opines that without supporting evidence, such question marks about matches shouldn’t be raised.
“Yeah. But I don’t know. There’s no proof, is it?,” he questioned back when asked if Wimbledon’s pristine status, exemplified by its “all-white” players clothing rule, has been sullied.
As many as 16 players, including a US Open champion and doubles winners were under suspicion for deliberately throwing away their matches. Eight among them, including a top-50 ranker, took to the court at the Australian Open.
These allegations were given an indirect approval by World No.1 Novak Djokovic and Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis, who admitted receiving fixing offers early in their careers but declined accepting them.
Kokkinakis, 19, added it was not uncommon for young players to be propositioned ahead of big matches. The fixers used social media and didn’t require to meet the players personally to tempt them.
It elicited reactions from Britsh star Andy Murray and Swiss legend Roger Federer who demanded an elevated education system and identification of the offenders to stem the malpractice.
But Hutchins said Wimbledon individually won’t be taking any separate precautionary measures to counter fixing attempts at the Championship, keeping faith in the existing methods of the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU).
“There is a TIU that would be upgraded. The chairman of Wimbledon is also the chairman of the group of people ATP, WTA, ITF. They have met and spoken about it and are going to improve things,” the right-hand player said confidently.
He expressed satisfaction in the work of the four governing bodies — Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Grand Slam Board and International Tennis Federation (ITF), who are partners in the TIU, to stem the rot if a complete eradication isn’t feasible.
He said too much was being made of the findings of the reports that was blowing the issue out of proportion pointing out that TIU’s lengthy investigations didn’t found any clinching evidence of fixing.
He said TIU’s efforts had also resulted in 18 successful disciplinary cases including five players and one official who had been banned from the sport for life.
“My first reaction was that it was old news. Yeah I was aware of it that fixing happens in tennis, since 2008-09,” the 70-year-old, however, conceded.
“My second reaction was yeah it happens.”
“And it has brought (everyone) together to make the integrity unit better. And you always gonna have those people who are going to be stupid but I don’t think it is as serious as the most of the headlines.”
(Sayan Mukherjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)