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Chris Chase

British newspaper fans flame of match-fixing accusations

Busted Racquet

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It seems like an innocent enough story. At Wimbledon, heavy betting occurred during a match between Jurgen Melzer (ranked 30th in the world) and Wayne Odesnik (ranked 109th) after a television announcer mentioned that Odesnik was playing with an injury. Almost $1 million was wagered on the match, five times the usual amount.

The Associated Press quoted the spokesman of a British bookmaker as saying he doubted there was any wrongdoing. The common-sense explanation is that people heard about Odesnik's injury and took the other guy instead. The Brits have a different take on it.

After noting that a bulk of the $1 million in wagers came on people betting on a Melzer straight-set victory (odds went from even to 1-5 after all the action), London's Guardian newspaper comes very close to accusing Wayne Odesnik of some sort of wrongdoing. (Exactly what is never specified.) The writer takes great pains to avoid directly condemning Odesnik, but frames the piece in a way that suggests he thinks the American might be involved.

Odesnik had been spotted the evening before in a pub in London's Earl's Court, O'Neills, but insisted he had been there only "for dinner". He also confirmed the rumours circulating on betting forums prior to the match that he had been carrying an injury into the match. "I had a little bit of an injury in my last grass-court tournament this year," he said.

Those quotes around "for dinner" might as well read "we're not buying that for a second".

There's no proof that Odesnik did anything wrong, so this could just be an example of British muckraking. But why the change in tone from one side of the Atlantic to the other?

Allegations of match-fixing or giving inside information to gamblers is a very sensitive subject, so perhaps the proactive approach is necessary to ensure the integrity of the game, especially in the light of this excerpt buried at the bottom of that Guardian story:

Last week it was revealed that up to a dozen tennis players are being officially monitored by the ennis authorities after being involved in suspicious matches.

That's serious stuff. On the flip side, presuming guilt could lead into a witch hunt in which middling tennis players with injuries are accused of something other than playing a bad match while hurt.

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