Tennis enthusiasts were disappointed earlier in the week, some would say outraged even, by the lacklustre performance of Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios in his second round match at the Shanghai Masters.
For those who missed it, Kyrgios essentially tanked his match against German Mischa Zverev. He lost in straight sets 6-3, 6-1.
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) responded by issuing Kyrgios with an 8 week ban and $25,000 fine for ‘conduct contrary to the integrity of the game’. That sentence can be reduced to 3 weeks should Kyrgios enter into a ‘a plan of care under the direction of a sports psychologist or an equivalent plan approved by the ATP’.
I don’t intend to go into the details of what Kyrgios did on the court, nor go through his previous behaviours as that is not really central to the story. For me, the response by the ATP to sanction Kyrgios for his performance should be applauded.
Professional sports is big business. Big in terms of sponsorship dollars, big in terms of media rights for tournaments and competitions and big in terms of the cost to spectators who want to follow their favourite player or team by attending matches and buying official merchandise. And tennis is no exception.
It is vital that all professional sporting codes remain focused on protecting their sports by upholding the integrity of the game. There is plenty of focus globally on the impact that betting on sports is having with match-fixing and corruption but this recent incident shows that there are other threats to the integrity of sports.
Throwing a match is a serious issue. Failing to put in your best effort, try hard and fight for your match undermines not only the integrity of the match you are competing in, but the tournament and the sport as a whole. It calls into question the entire result from that tournament and invites speculation as to what else goes on in that sport?
If we take a pure betting or gambling view on tanking a match, most everyone would agree that throwing a match in order to profit from the betting markets is a no-no. It’s even frowned upon. Oh and yes – and in most countries it also constitutes a criminal offence!
So why is throwing a match because you cat be bothered a big deal? Well its not too far removed from the match-fixing angle to be honest.
Whilst the player may not be profiting from the betting markets, the effects of tanking are still felt far and wide. Tanking in a match affects the outcome of the entire tournament, especially if you are one of the higher ranked players as Kyrgios is.
Consider all of the regular punters who took a plunge on that match that Kyrgios played in. Think about those who might have had a dabble, even at longer odds, on Kyrgios winning the tournament following his stellar performance at the previous tournament where he won. Think about the other punters who, never in a million years, would have considered Kyrgios losing in straight sets, in the second round to a relatively unknown player.
Setting aside the outcome of the match and ultimately the tournament itself, what Kyrgios did last week shows either a blatant and complete disregard for the ATP, the tournaments he competes in and the spectators who come to watch. Or it shows a lack of awareness that the impact his actions can have. Or maybe its a bit of both.
All around the world, die hard fans work hard and save their money to enable them to support their favourite team or player. They spend their hard earned dollars on merchandise, tickets to matches. And as we all know, the better the players or teams are that are involved in a match, the higher the ticket prices.
The decision by the ATP to sanction Kyrgios is a smart move. He may feel hard done by but by banning him for throwing his match it draws a line in the sand for other players to take note. If you want to compete and be a professional player then you need to do just that – compete. There is more riding on that game than just whether you win or lose as a player or team.
There are die hard fans who are watching for their weekly entertainment, for the chance to escape their day to day lives. They have invested considerable time and money to support you the player, you the team and your sport in general. And that needs to be respected and upheld.
Cue the applause for the ATP and let’s hope that Nick has learned a valuable lesson.