News broke earlier this week of Australian teenage tennis prodigy Oliver Anderson being charged by Victorian Police for match fixing. The incident occurred in late 2016 and involved Anderson allegedly throwing the first set of his match (a match he ultimately won) against Harrison Lombe at a Challenger tournament in Traralgon in country Victoria.
Anderson was charged by members of the Victorian Police sporting integrity intelligence unit following identification of suspicious betting patterns and Anderson is believed to have made full admissions and is co-operating with police. This is a great result for Victorian Police and law enforcement in Australia that will hopefully send a message to match-fixers that authorities in Australia are starting to take these things seriously.
In what has to be deemed terrible timing for Tennis Australia, this latest match fixing controversy in Australian sports comes on the eve of the 2017 Australian Open which is set to commence on the 16th January. If you cast your mind back 12 months, you will recall there was another match fixing controversy on the opening day of the 2016 Australian Open. That time is was leaked media documents of investigations into alleged wide spread match fixing at major tournaments involving up to 16 players.
That’s two match fixing controversies in successive years, and right before the start of the tournament. Is it just me or is that a bit strange? A bit of a coincidence? Could be bad luck. It also could be law enforcement wanting to use the profile of the upcoming tournament as a platform to highlight their good work and send a message to those involved in match-fixing.
Anderson is the reigning Australian Open boys champion and one has to wonder what on earth he was thinking? I don’t personally follow tennis closely enough to know who the up and comers are, or what kind of future lies ahead for someone like Anderson, but given his success to date you would presume he has a decent shot at some sort of pro career. If that’s the case one has to ask what was he thinking? And why risk everything and be so stupid?
For the story click here: Oliver Anderson charged with match fixing
I guess we won’t ever know why he did it, unless he does one of those 60 minutes paid ‘tell all’ stories but this incident should send a message to all sporting codes and organisations – organised crime syndicates are targeting your sport and, as this incident has shown, they are targeting younger players, semi professionals and even amateurs.
They are targeting them to fix or throw matches, for inside information on rosters, injuries and playing conditions. They are targeting them for social friendships to build their own profile, to sell them illicit or recreational drugs and to provide them with performance enhancing and illicit drugs.
What I find interesting is the fact that organised crime had success in recruiting someone of Anderson’s calibre. More worringly for the sport is how prevalent this must be, at least in terms of players being approached. You can’t tell me that Anderson was the only player approached and the crooks got lucky on the first request? Surely they have approached other players and been rebuffed (or not?). What did those players do? Did they speak up? Did they report it to Tennis Australia or their local tennis association? We can only hope.
Sport is now big business in a global sense. And when I say a global sense, I am talking about the money that can be made off of sport, not necessarily by the sporting codes, clubs and bodies themselves. Money that can be made through both legalised and illegal betting.
Organised crime syndicates have recognised this and are applying their resources and focus to this lucrative area. Why manufacture and sell drugs and risk going to gaol for 25 years if you can get involved in match fixing, probably not get caught and if you do, get off with a relatively light punishment?
Match fixing presents a relatively low risk opportunity for criminals to make serious coin and to launder their ill-gotten gains to build their criminal enterprise. To be effective, most organised crime groups groom a diverse range of people they need access to in order to assist their criminal activities.
Almost all of the major sporting codes across Australia have in place some form of integrity program either at the head code/body level and amongst their participating members (clubs, teams etc) however most of these programs are either relatively new or are still in their formative years. These programs focus on ensuring the sport has the appropriate anti-corruption and integrity related policies with accompanying education and training for those involved in the sport. It is fair to say that at the elite level, most athletes are well aware of their obligations when it comes to behaviour, anti-corruption or match fixing and doping. Despite this we are still seeing an increase in the number and frequency of integrity issues across most major sports.
Naturally, most of the spend on these integrity programs is targeted at the elite or professional level where the money and greatest risk is, however as this recent incident involving Anderson demonstrates, integrity risks are present at all levels of sport.
The past 12 months in Australian sport have clearly shown that integrity risks are now front and centre for all sports and not only impact the professional ranks, but also impact the semi-pro and amateur ranks.
The challenge for sporting codes is how they protect against these integrity risks in a coordinated manner to maximise effectiveness. This is especially difficult for codes that have a fragmented approach between the professional level and the participating junior levels that can operate based on state-based jurisdictions and multiple pathways. Whilst the professional body can set the standards and expectations, without funding and a mandated and coordinated approach these guidelines can be pretty toothless.
To be effective, these integrity programs need to be coordinated from the grassroots level all the way to the elite or professional level. Imagine a company like BHP having one set of standards and approach for their folks in head office in Melbourne, but then expecting each of the satellite offices at their mining sites around the world to design, implement and manage their integrity program remotely? Can you imagine the chaos?
And therein lies the challenge. Despite the money flowing into professional sports thanks to media rights and betting revenue, the fragmented and disjointed approach between the junior or grassroots level and the professional ranks has created an opportunity for organised crime syndicates.
Organised crime syndicates have recognised this opportunity and that they can target amateur and semi-pro levels of sporting codes safe in the knowledge that those integrity programs are lacking or in some cases even non-existent. They can groom up and coming athletes and entangle them into their circle by offering lucrative incentives or in some cases, extortion tactics to fix matches, provide inside information and sell the players performance enhancing and illicit drugs.
They can take a short term view to fix a match now, or groom an athlete with a long term view of when they turn pro. Whilst we haven’t seen a reported case of this just yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see at least one scandal in the next decade where an athlete will admit to being groomed by organised crime from their teen years and before they turned pro.
Looking at the Anderson case, and others that are sure to follow this year, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the problems that are likely to manifest in the next 5-10 years as organised crime syndicates continue to target young athletes and entrap them into their insidious way of life.
We are going to see more examples of younger athletes being targeted and getting caught out for integrity matters. But what about the ones we don’t hear about? What about the ones that are targeted early and who start doing the wrong thing but don’t get caught?
Some of those will make it to the pro ranks and will end up in codes and clubs where they will pose an even greater risk to the sport and the players around them.