Sat, Nov 03, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Match-fixers should be thrown out: tennis chief

AP, LONDON

The head of men's tennis would ban players for life if they are caught match-fixing.

ATP president Etienne de Villiers told a sports business conference in London on Thursday that tennis was being seriously threatened by match-fixing and gambling syndicates. Some players have said they turned down money they were offered to lose matches.

"It's definitely a threat and we take it very, very seriously and the more you can do to tackle it the better it will be," he said.

De Villiers said that tennis players who are found guilty of doping should be allowed back after serving their punishment. Anyone found guilty of deliberately losing, however, would be thrown out for good.

"I would draw the distinction with doping," he said. "We know there are a number of reasons why people get into trouble. A lot of it comes down to accidental or third party influences. We have taken the view that also society takes, that you are allowed to make a mistake, you will serve your punishment but come back into society. The punishment should fit the crime."

De Villiers said the same could not be said for anyone who throws a match, especially for financial gain.

"Where it comes down to match-fixing we are categoric. There is no excuse for that," he said. "You are undermining the integrity of the sport, you are destroying a level playing field. As far as we are concerned in tennis, if they are involved in match-fixing they will be thrown out."

The threat of match-fixing in tennis emerged after a match in Poland in August. The online gambling company Betfair voided bets when fourth-ranked Nikolay Davydenko withdrew against 87th-ranked Martin Vassallo Arguello in the third set, citing a foot injury. Unusually large amounts were wagered on the lowly-ranked Argentine throughout the match, even after he lost the first set 6-1. The ATP is still investigating that match.

Since the Davydenko match, other players have said they have been approached by outsiders trying to influence a match. Last month, Gilles Elseneer said he was offered -- and turned down -- more than US$100,000 to lose a first-round match against Potito Starace of Italy at Wimbledon in 2005. Arnaud Clement of France said on Monday he turned down money, although did not elaborate.

The gathering of sports officials and business leaders also heard outgoing World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound, who said some sports were making progress but other federations were still too slow to keep up with the drug cheats.

"We are dealing with 21st century problems with 19th century organizations," he told the conference. "Out there with many Olympic federations the primary concern of international federation presidents is to be re-elected, not necessarily doing anything. If you want to do something like tackling doping it's a very complicated deal and I find that most of them don't have the stomach for the fight."

Pound said that cycling, and particularly its biggest event the Tour de France, was paying the price for avoiding the problem.

"They have let the situation get out of control. The third tour in a row is a disaster and finally they get it," he said.

"The leadership in cycling has not come out and said: `Here's our deal, we do not use these drugs and we want to make sure that doesn't happen.' It's saying: `We have allowed it to creep into the sport and it's embedded right now and getting it out is much harder than preventing it from getting in.'" Pound said. "I think they let it happen and closed their eyes to it and now they're paying the price."

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