Robert Farah Suspension: Fiddling with the Gray Area and Betting Hypocrisy

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Betting and the scandals related to it have caused a headache for sports in general for more than a century. Not as much in tennis, but the numbers have been on the rise in the last few years. With the commercialization of sports, betting spread out wide–waiting to pounce on and blemish the fairness of sports as we know it. The Robert Farah suspension incident, due to him promoting a betting website on social media, gave rise to an important question: Where to draw the line and not fiddle with the gray area? When to stop flirting with hypocrisy?

Wrong side of right?

The first ever known betting scandal in sports hit football in 1915, on a match between Manchester United and Liverpool, leading to the lifetime ban of seven British footballers. It set a benchmark for sending a message of intolerance towards dishonest activities inside a sport. A century later, it’s far more common and frowned upon–and, a far more complex situation in tennis.

Match fixing is a criminal offense that should be dealt with, and mostly is dealt with, if found proper evidence against the player. And it’s slowly been creeping into tennis’ echelons where players often struggle to make a living out of the sport. But that’s a different topic for a different day. The issue at hand is Robert Farah’s suspension and how fair (or, unfair) is it. The authorities at the helm make the rules and know them better than anybody else. And yet, not every implementation of the rules can be pinpointed as right or wrong.

Robert Farah Suspension

The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) is the governing body when it comes to handling sporting offenses. Their rules and regulations are largely fair, barring a few exceptions which lie on the borderline. Robert Farah, a successful men’s doubles tennis player, in February 2018, tweeted an endorsement of an online betting website, BetPlay. However, Tennis Anti-Corruption Program’s Section D.1.b states that “No covered person shall, directly or indirectly, solicit or facilitate, any other person to wager on the outcome or any other aspect of any event or any other tennis competition. For the avoidance of doubt, to solicit or facilitate wagers shall include appearing in commercials encouraging others to bet on tennis.” When approached about the breach, he apologized and deleted his tweet to co-operate. Fair enough, banning him for an offense he shouldn’t have committed.

The crux of the matter

But here’s the crux of the matter. Despite the ITF parting ways with BetPlay at the beginning of 2017, many professional tennis events, including the Australian Open, are still directly sponsored by various gambling websites. This is where the authorities start fiddling with the gray area. Players aren’t allowed to endorse gambling websites because it taints the image and integrity of the sport. Should the tournaments be seeking the help of those similar websites for mutual monetary benefits? This was called out by stars in the past– most notably by Andy Murray in 2016, when he directly hit out at the rule because of its hypocritical nature.

And, that is not all. American Steve Johnson, a former top 30 player, once mentioned of a tournament-sponsored drink being present in their locker rooms at Dusseldorf event, which, if they drink, they would be tested positive for drugs. Unsurprisingly, this is not a one-off incident.

Whether the Robert Farah suspension was fair or not, that is subjective. But, that it was hypocritical, is a given. In this era of commercialization and striving for fair play going hand-in-hand, transparency across all sports is a necessity. Doubtful decisions aren’t quite the need of the hour when the integrity of players (and organizations) is in question. Authorities never discuss with the players before implementing a rule, as is often the case. This time though, they need to review their decisions of carrying on their partnership with betting websites. And, unless the chief governing bodies find a middle ground that eliminates the grey area, this hypocrisy will continue to prevail. And baffle.

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