12 January 2010
News that the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) has fined Russia’s fined Ekaterina Bychkova $5,000 and banned her for 30 days for not reporting an approach about match-fixing has only been widely dispersed now that John McEnroe has spoken out on the issue. That was a report from Seattle yesterday, and an example of today’s coverage can be seen in this report from The Independent.
The approach to the player came to the attention of the authorities via this article in the Wall Street Journal in May 2009. Bychkova had been approached in February 2009 via her blog by a would-be fixer, Dmitry Avilov. He emailed her a match-fixing proposal. She said no. All parties agree on that. But when the article surfaced the TIU – the London-based body that investigates allegations of betting-related corruption – leapt into action to ask her why she hadn’t reported the approach. The upshot was her fine and ban.
As the WSJ article explained at the time: “She says she didn’t tell anyone, including tennis officials, because she thought it would ‘sound really funny’ to report someone she’d never met who contacted her through her blog.” Avilov told the WJS he “definitely” intended to contact other players through online social-networking sites and if the opportunity presents itself, to ask them to fix matches. “My job is to understand these girls and to think like them,” he said.
To punish a player for not reporting a approach is not draconian if a failure to report was a breach of rules now in place; that’s the sportingintelligence view, at least.
But what happened to Mr Avilov? Has the TIU been after him? Does it have the jurisdiction? Why not a word about the punishment (actually handed out last week) on the WTA website – not in any prominent place we can see, anyway – or on the ITF website? And would the TIU not have been better off, in the fight against corruption, in enlisting Bychkova as a double agent, if that’s not too dramatic a scenario. Could they not have asked her to help them land a scalp, and take a fixer out the game? Or would that have been too much like common sense and robust pro-active policing? Answers on the back of a used betting slip, please.