Spanish Authorities Dismantle Match-Fixing Gang, Arrest 34

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At least seven players involved in the scandal

The despicable art of match-fixing in tennis was dealt a major blow in Spain through the “Operación Futures.” According to MARCA, the Economic Fraud & Money Laundering Unit of the Spanish Civil Guard capped a 20-month investigation by arresting 34 people allegedly involved in the plot.

It all started when a player whose identity remains unknown reported an approach by someone trying to coax him to fix a match. A Court in Sevilla detected an abnormally large betting volume on several matches, which led them to track down a Twitter group. As reported by Europa Press, an active player played a key role as a mediator between the crooked organization and his Futures-level peers.

“A few days before each tournament, the intermediary set up meetings with players, offering a specific sum should they accept fixing a certain nuance of a match, usually dropping pre-determined games on serve. Whenever the pros declined to cooperate, the liaison would double or even triple down on his commission bid. If that was still insufficient, one of the ringleaders would make a last desperate attempt to persuade the player.”

Once the corrupt band came to terms with a player, a private group on Telegram would be created. In order to be granted access to such premium betting information, outsiders were asked to pay 200 euros via PayPal.

The investigators are certain the organization committed fraudulent actions in at least 17 events. Those took place in Sevilla, Huelva, Tarragona, Madrid, and Porto (Portugal). While the average gain per match sat around €5,000, those implicated earned over €500,000 euros overall. Bet365 was their go-to site.

Among those detained there are seven Spanish players between the ages of 17 and 30. Their ATP ranking lies within the 800-1,400 range, which partially explains why they were susceptible to fixing their matches.

We shall take this into account: if an unranked player entered a $10,000 Futures event and won the singles title, he would bag roughly €1,300 before tax. This player would show up around 800-900 in the ATP list with 18 points. None of these low profile players arrested wins titles or reaches finals on a regular basis. Not even close. Their weekly expenses almost always outweigh their income. The possibility of making easy money clouded their minds.

Sanctions imposed by the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) aside, these athletes are facing up to four years of prison time. According to El Pais, we cannot rule out additional arrests in the coming days.

As Fernando Carreño points out in his MARCA column, the much-applauded decision by the ITF of upgrading the $15,000 events to $25,000 came with side effects in 2016. A jaw-dropping 56 out of 62 ITF men’s and women’s tournaments in Spain have distributed the bare minimum of $10,000 in prize money. These events are often funded by local administrations and small private companies whose sponsoring budget has been slashed by the financial crisis.

The outlook could get murkier next year, since the minimum prize money ascends to $15,000. While the previous sentence may seem misleading, it´s not a typo. On the one hand, the players are set to receive larger compensation, presumably deterring the cheaters from fixing as often. Will most tourneys be able to raise those extra five grand, though? That remains to be seen. I would be gladly surprised if the total number of events does not significantly shrink.

On the bright side, Miguel Diaz, the newly elected president of the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation [RFET], pledged in October to grant an allowance of between $3,000 and $7,000 to every ITF tournament on Spanish soil… in 2017. Who knows what will happen the season after.

That’s enough fortune-telling for today. Let’s celebrate the “Operación Futures.” For more info about match-fixing on Last Word On Tennis, I encourage you to check out this piece by Stefano Berlincioni and all its sublinks.

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