Secret files containing evidence of suspected widespread match fixing, including at Wimbledon and involving top level tennis players, have been uncovered. Over the past decade, a total of 16 players who have ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged with the Association Of Tennis Professionals (ATP) over suspicions that they had rigged matches.
A joint investigative report by BBC and BuzzFeed News revealed that all of the players identified in the files, including winners of Grand Slam titles, had been allowed to continue competing in matches despite the allegations against them.
The Tennis Integrity Unit, which was set up to investigate the suspicious betting activity following a game involving Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello in 2007, led to a much wider enquiry involving gamblers linked to top-level players.
Both Davydenko and Arguello were cleared of violating any rules following the investigation. However, documents obtained from the enquiry revealed that betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy, and Sicily made hundreds of thousands of pounds betting on games which were thought to be fixed. Three of the games took place at Wimbledon.
A confidential report submitted to the ATP in 2008 flagged 28 players, saying they should be investigated. However, the report was never followed up. The body introduced a new anti-corruption code in 2009 and was advised that previous corruption offences could not be pursued.
"As a result, no new investigation into any of the players who were mentioned in the 2008 report were opened," a Tennis Integrity Unit spokesman said. Subsequent to the report, there were repeated alerts sent to the unit involving a third of the same players named earlier, but no action was taken.
Mark Phillips, one of the betting investigators in the 2008 enquiry, said that during the investigations they discovered repeated suspicious betting activity involving a core group of players.
"There was a core of about 10 players that we believed were the most common perpetrators that were at the root of the problem. The evidence was really strong. There appeared to be a really good chance to nip it in the bud and get a strong deterrent out there to root out the main bad apples."
BBC and BuzzFeed News said they were given the names of other current players that the unit had been repeatedly warned about by betting organisations, sports integrity units and professional gamblers. Many of these players had been on the radar of the authorities as far back as 2003.
The European Sports Security Association, which monitors betting for leading bookmakers, flagged up more than 50 suspicious matches to the TIU in 2015. It had said that tennis attracted more suspicious gambling activity than any other sport.
The TIU, which says it has a zero-tolerance approach to betting-related corruption, defended its actions. Nigel Willerton, director of the unit said that while it welcomed the support of the betting industry, "it was not the role of the betting companies to make judgements about corrupt activities. All credible information received by the TIU is analysed, assessed, and investigated by highly experienced former law-enforcement investigators."
Both the BBC and Buzzfeed News have not named the players involved since they were not able to verify the information provided as they do not have access to the players' phone, bank and computer records. However, they noted that the integrity unit did have the power to demand such evidence from the tennis players.
The BBC said eight of the players repeatedly flagged to the TIU over the last decade are due to play in the Australian Open which starts on Monday, 18 January.