Fri, Jan 02, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Ex-mafia boss says tennis prime target for match fixers

RACKET? Although an ATP investigation cleared Russian star Nikolay Davydenko of any wrongdoing, Michael Franzese has his doubts

AFP , NEW YORK

Former mafia crime boss Michael Franzese says top-level tennis matches are being influenced by gamblers and the sport would be his prime focus were he still in the business of affecting outcomes.

Franzese, a former boss in the Colombo crime family, serves as a consultant and speaker regarding his days with the mob and has spoken with Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) players about the methods that are used to spread corruption in sport.

“It’s definitely going on,” Franzese said. “If I were in this business now, tennis would be my major target because one player can impact the game. That’s all you need.”

A decade in prison helped push Franzese to change his ways and help those who safeguard the integrity of sport, but his crime contacts lead him to believe organized crime is involved in tennis.

“I have to believe they are, certainly from the feedbacks I’ve gotten since I got involved with the ATP,” Franzese said. “Sports has become such an incredibly lucrative racket, so to speak, for guys on the street.”

Franzese has spoken to the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and elite US college athletes about the dangers of match-fixers, often counseling newcomers on how to avoid being ensnared in gambling woes.

His talks included a session with ATP players last March.

“They told me there’s a problem in the sport. It is something that has to be addressed,” he said. “Mainly, I told them how damaging and dangerous it could be for them to get involved in gambling and get around the wrong people.”

“Gambling is a very serious business. If you put yourself in a gambling situation, you’re most likely going to attract the wrong people because those same people are watching you. They want to find out who’s got a gambling problem,” Franzese said.

Less than five months after Franzese spoke came a match in Sopot, Poland, in which unusual on-line betting patterns were registered about Russian Nikolay Davydenko’s loss to Argentina’s Martin Vassallo-Arguello.

An ATP investigation into the match concluded that there was no wrongdoing.

Franzese remains suspicious.

“He [Davydenko] is a pretty top player. Something else is going on there. Somebody has a hook on him,” he said.

Franzese claims first-hand expertise at influencing athletes to drop a match to satisfy gamblers.

“None of these players want to do it. They do it because they’re put in a situation,” he said. “It’s sad because they’re doing it against their will. They have no way out. They all regret it. And that’s why it’s so damaging to their career. Psychologically, it gets to them.”

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