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Rise in tennis match-fixing as sport sees online gambling increase

“If you throw the first set, I’ll give you €2,000; then you can go on to win the match.”

When Alexandros Jakupovic offered Britain’s rising tennis star Oli Golding the chance to make a quick buck, Golding says it wasn’t a huge surprise.

“You hear about these sort of things happening and you’re aware it is a problem but it wasn’t a situation I’d found myself in before.”

Golding immediately reported the approach.

So far so good.

But what happened to him after that, at the hands of the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), makes him question whether he’d ever turn whistle-blower again.

Within days of alerting the authorities his anonymity was blown; Jakupovic meanwhile carried on competing.

More than a year passed before the hearing that would eventually lead to the Greek player’s life ban.

No one helped Golding prepare for that hearing, no one went along with him or told him what to expect, he was just handed a transcript of his original statement and before he knew it, was being grilled by Jakupovic’s lawyers.

“I’ve never been questioned by lawyers in my life, I almost felt a little bit guilty for reporting him.”

Oli Golding was offered €2,000 to drop the first set of a match he was playing in. Credit: ITV News

As the case wore on he even questioned his own decision to get involved: “There is a problem in tennis and it does need to be stamped out, so I’m sure I did do the right thing, but it is a tough process to go through.”

Golding’s lonely experience is certainly not a good advert for the game’s war on the cheats or indeed does it serve as encouragement for other players to do what he did.

“If it happened again it would be in the back of my mind, 'God, I’ve got to go through this again,' which I don’t think anybody really wants to do.”

In response to Golding’s claims, the TIU told ITV News it makes every effort to protect the anonymity of any player acting as a witness.

It also defended its personal handling of Golding: “The TIU investigator involved believes she made every effort to keep in contact with the witness and provide him with support.”

Those efforts were clearly not enough and depending on how widely Golding has shared his experience with fellow pros, you could forgive them for turning a blind eye and indulging in a bit of good old fashioned Omerta.

What isn’t in doubt is tennis has a problem.

Alexandros Jakupovic received a lifetime ban following the attempted match-fixing. Credit: ITV News

Britain’s big bookmakers say betting "in-play" on tennis is their fastest growing online market.

Coral alone told us they take bets on a staggering 33,000 matches every year.

Separately, the Sport Betting Intelligence Unit has revealed to ITV News that for the first time tennis is now providing the largest number of red flags across all sport, recently overtaking football for the first time.

In figures published on Wednesday for the last quarter, tennis accounts for almost half the number of all suspicious gambling alerts.

These alerts, shared right across the industry, are prompted by unusual betting patterns - sometimes an indicator of match fixing.

In Athens I met up with Konstantinos Mikos, a former Greek Davis Cup player who was banned for life earlier this year.

He says the evidence against him was negligible, a couple of bets on two tennis accounts and a jokey text message about throwing a game to, ironically, Jakupovic.

Konstantinos Mikos believes poorer players who accept match-fixing money are 'victims'. Credit: ITV News

The TIU claims he is “at best” being economical with the truth saying he actually made thousands of tennis bets.

Mikos says the problem is widespread and admits being offered money to fix on two separate occasions in Bulgaria which he didn’t report, but says of his own case he’s been made a scapegoat.

“They are spending so much money in acting like they are searching, they have to present some results," he said.

The implication being as an “unknown” he is worth the sacrifice whereas the bigger names are untouchable.

You would not expect the TIU to share that view but where they do agree is that the most likely arena for corruption is at the lower level tournaments, where, because of the small amounts of prize money, unless you win on a regular basis, it is difficult to make ends meet.

Hence the TIU focus at this level “all of the intelligence obtained by, and provided to us indicates that the lower levels of men’s tennis, such as the ITF Futures tour, are the most vulnerable to corrupt approaches”.

Golding agrees: “The real problem the ITF faces is that a lot of these matches are played in front of one man and his dog.

"You’ve got the umpire there who is maybe umpiring five or six matches in a day and is probably not paying that close attention to the match, and with the prize money at the level that it is, the reward is always going to outweigh the risk.”

Mikos is keen to point out that the most exposed of all are players from the poorer countries, like the Eastern European nations, whose tennis federations offer less financial support.

“I didn’t see anyone that travels with two coaches on first class tickets fixing matches, I never saw that – I saw players that have two rackets maybe doing it.

"It’s not correct but someone can understand that."

He also insists that it’s not the players themselves the TIU should be targeting but the men in the shadows; the criminals who are trying to make a fortune by corrupting them.

“The real problem is the person who organises many matches, he is the real deal.

"One player if he accepts something, of course it’s bad, but for me he is the victim.

"It’s not like you take this money and buy a house or a car, you take a couple of grand and go on to the next tournament.”

An Independent Review Panel has been tasked to assess the systems in place that protect tennis’ integrity. Credit: ITV News

According to the International Tennis Federation, of the 14,000 players in professional events, 7,000 do not make a single penny in prize money.

A shake-up to reduce that figure is scheduled for 2019.

Also, an Independent Review Panel has been tasked to assess the systems in place that protect tennis’ integrity.

You might think there would be no better place to start than talking to those who’ve been approached by the bad guys and informed the authorities, but the panel has not sought out a single informant and has no plans to.

The sport owes it to Oli Golding to learn from his bruising experience; if indeed he feels minded to help out for a second time.

If he doesn’t though, no one could blame him.