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Betting concerns discussed

June 23, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

WIMBLEDON, England -- The eve of Wimbledon dovetailed with another surge of chatter about tennis' sore subject of the last 10 months: match-fixing.

The Times of London and the Independent both published lengthy Sunday articles detailing that the 45 matches in the last five years deemed suspicious in an independent panel's May report included eight from Wimbledon and four from the 2007 men's singles.

On BBC-TV, nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova advocated a lifetime ban for any player found guilty of match-fixing.

Ever since a match last Aug. 2 at the ATP Prokom Open in Poland attracted wildly irregular betting patterns that caused the London agency Betfair to cancel all wagers, the various governing bodies of tennis and the four Grand Slam tournaments have merged on the issue and commissioned the May report. They're expected to approve a fresh set of recommendations today.

Already, Wimbledon has reduced the entourages allowed in the locker rooms to player and coach only, acting on advice from the report and from two ex-detectives studying the issue.

In an interview at Centre Court on Sunday, Wimbledon Chief Executive Ian Ritchie welcomed the scrutiny but called the Sunday reports "old stories" that reiterated the 67-page report from May. He said the months of suspicion have led to "the endless repetition of small numbers of facts," and that, "If you're a governing body in tennis, you can only deal in evidence and facts, and those are few and far between."

He also contended that strange betting patterns do not necessarily equal corruption and stressed "proportionality" of the 45 matches set against thousands of annual matches, recognizing a threat but echoing the report's conclusion that it's "not endemic."

"But I think it's right not to be complacent about it," he said, and added that he and other tennis executives had spent the "intervening month concentrating on putting the 'Integrity Unit' together."

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