The David Haggerty Interview – A Conversation with the ITF Chairman on Gambling and Tennis

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Belgium v Great Britain: Davis Cup Final 2015 - Day Two : News Photo

Bill Simons

Melbourne—The tennis industry is a small one. I’ve known Dave Haggerty for 25 years or so. It’s been incredible to see him evolve from a chief executive at tennis companies like Dunlop, Prince and Head to become the head of the USTA, the Tennis Industry Association, and now, incredibly, the President of the International Tennis Federation. Haggerty often has a quiet smile. He’s indrawn and deeply committed to tennis. It wasn’t easy trying to have a conversation with him on tennis and gambling. But I did.

In the press conference the other day by top leaders, it was said there was a toxic environment in the sport. Do you think tennis to the casual fan has taken any type of a hit?

We set up the independent review panel because we want to erase any doubt that there’s an issue. The best way to do that is to be open, transparent and have an independent review and to see if there’s any way that we can improve from a tennis integrity perspective. Because other sports have been called into question, we don’t want to be painted with the same brush and to claim that as administrators what we do is perfect. We don’t want to be arrogant, so we feel that the best thing to do is to be open. I’m sure we’ll find things that will help.

Tennis is obviously getting closer and closer to the gambling organizations. The ITF has a $70 million deal with Sportradar. The huge William Hill gambling company sponsors the Australian Open. There’s the Bet-at-Home tournament and deals with Betway, Betfair, Sportsradar, etc. Officials say that’s good for tennis, that we’re close to the companies, we can monitor them while taking their money. Is that a little self-serving?

I don’t think so, and certainly we have a relationship with Betway. Some of our best intelligence [is from them]…We’re not going to change the world to make gambling illegal in countries where it’s legal. It’s legal, fair betting, and there’s no problem with that. People do it every day in many sports. With the betting companies we work with, we have memorandums of understanding and agreements to help us, because we have over 100 betting analysts that are able to flag any suspicious behavior so that we can then take that information and investigate…There’s nothing wrong with legal betting, the issue is corruption, and I think that we have this moral compass that some people don’t have, but it’s a very small minority. That’s why you have to be vigilant in trying to seek it out.

Many people were critical of the journalism of the BBC–BuzzFeed broadcast for many reasons, including that they didn’t name any names. But part of the report was the heads of gambling organizations saying they approached the ATP and they were not responsive. The only alternative, said the head of one Swiss gambling company, was to go to the police. Richard Ings [a former ATP enforcement official] said we don’t know what the Tennis Integrity Unit is really like – it’s surrounded in secrecy. 

One of the reasons we feel a review by an independent panel is good is that there’s been no new evidence, All the cases that were talked about happened back in 2005-2008, and from that came the setup of the TIU. So from that “controversy” and those issues, we made a big change, and [we were] one of the first three sports and one of the few global sports to set up our own unit. We’ll find out more about it. The challenge is transparency and being able to keep confidential the information of the players. The player is not guilty unless we have evidence, and there was an instance of me being given a list of 300 players and my being asked ‘Do you know what this is?’ I had no idea what it was about, so I turned it over to the TIU. Everything we get we investigate. Sometimes people have agendas with what they want to bring to us, so we felt the best thing to do is to have an independent panel that has no agenda other than to look at the processes and say are there things that we can do better and improve, and that’s what we’re going to do.

People who love tennis – including everyone from Federer to the most casual fan – knows that if the sport loses its integrity, it’s in deep trouble. Yet, already there are concerns about Adam Lewis, who was picked to head the independent review. He has such a long history of being an insider – working for FIFA, working against FIFA, working for agencies, working for broadcast interests, for Nike, and goodness, he was Richard Gasquet’s defense attorney in one of the most troubling cases we’ve had, where Gasquet got off [from drug charges] seven years ago on the basis of kissing a woman. Does that bring the message of someone who will be fresh, independent – dare I say a fearless voice?

I kind of disagree. Adam Lewis’s background is very, very strong in sport. A lot of research was conducted on a shortlist of QC’s [Queen’s Counsels] with good experience. He was highly recommended by sources outside of sport and in sport.

Can you share a little bit of that?

No, it’s better not to. But we vetted him. We had a small subcommittee that made lots of calls to make sure that we would get somebody, and what I like is that he’d argued on both sides of the fence, which means he’s not going to come in taking a view on anyone. We’re not hiring someone that’s going to tell us that everything’s perfect. We want an independent review.

Did he say that he had any awareness about the situation with FIFA and all the issues there with bribing? Was that vetted?

I didn’t have any conversation with him, so I can’t personally answer that.

FIFA was brought up in the press conference, and obviously the US government initiated a very serious legal initiative against them. What do you think tennis has learned from that situation?

What tennis learned is that integrity is critical for our sport. What caused us to act was that our fans have come to hold tennis high. There should never be a doubt as to whether there’s any issue with the sport. When our fans – the people we perform for – questioned us because other sports are being questioned, we felt it was important to do something unprecedented. That’s the best way to learn, to find out if you can make improvements, and to restore confidence.

Multiple times it was mentioned that the problem, to an extent, is perception – the view of a casual fan.

Perception is a large part of it, but again I’m open to this independent review. There’ll be some good suggestions and changes and things that come out of it to make our program even more rigorous and better. We aren’t doing it as a PR ploy. We will take on all the recommendations that come.

The Grand Slams and the ITF don’t want players interacting with gamblers, and yet the ITF has a $70 million, five-year contract that’s so much bigger than baseball and the NFL. Andy Murray said it was hypocritical. Martina Navratilova said we’re playing both sides – it’s two-faced. How is it possible to send the right message? And how can the ITF take $70 million but then tell the No. 129 player, who is struggling to survive, to not take a penny?

All the betting arrangements that the industry has, whether it’s ATP tournaments, WTA tournaments, Grand Slam events – all of those gambling sponsorships are within the rules of the TIU. We make sure of that. In many ways these gambling companies are able to help us, because we’re not going to stop legalized betting. That’s not going to stop.

Wouldn’t they help anyway when odds go up on a match with Martin Vassallo Arguello and $7 million is spent on a single match? Wouldn’t they inform you anyway when there’s a problem?

No, because we have memorandums of understanding and agreement because of what we do, and it goes beyond even the companies that we may have a sponsorship relationship with or something like that.

But aside from it being legalistically correct or acceptable, do you think there’s any perception problem there? I turn on the TV at home and see huge Betway signage or I’m told it’s the Bet-at-Home tournament. Then you see the great Roger Federer and there’s a big William Hill sign in the background. Is that a perception problem?

In the US it’s different. Gambling is not legal, and sometimes Americans’ views of gambling is different than in other parts of the world, where it’s so accepted as a part of everyday life.

Roger himself said once the integrity’s gone we’re cooked. Would tennis ever consider saying, “Look, we’re not going to take additional endorsements or seek out alliances with gambling companies or sponsors?

I don’t want to prejudge what the independent panel and the review comes back with. But again….

Would that be something you think would be a good idea in this toxic environment, to say, “Wait, we have enough links to gambling?

No. that’s not what I’m saying. I’m not prejudging anything. I’m saying we would be open to funding the review and taking on the recommendations that come with the review, but we’ll leave it for the experts to analyze and look at.

But you’re the head of the ITF, our leader. I’m getting the impression that you think that it wouldn’t be a good  idea to put an immediate moratorium on additional gambling endorsements.

That would be saying that what we’ve been doing is wrong, the arrangements that we have in place. But again that’s something that will go through review. We have our properties and sponsorships in place at this point, so we wouldn’t be looking for a different sponsor, because we already have one in that category, if you know what I mean.

So much of betting in tennis is done during matches. What are your thoughts about in-match betting? Do you think that would be something that could be curtailed?

Again we’re speculating on so many different things. In so many parts of the world in-match betting isn’t legal – in France, for example. So the good thing is this is an example of something the panel will be able to look at.

You talk about tennis having a moral compass, but what about the whole issue of tanking? You saw it with Bernard Tomic in Sydney. The New Zealand Herald just said there were four cases of tanking, players who didn’t want to make e full effort.

That’s something more appropriate for the ATP and the WTA. They have rules in place and things to look at. I’m not going to prejudge players and call them out on things.

What about guarantees to play events, Dave? Do you ever find that problematic?

Again, the different tournaments are run differently. I can speak for Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the Hopman Cup. Different properties do different things for various reasons to promote tennis and have a player field, but again that’s up to each event to make those personal decisions.

Were you concerned that even after this whole BBC report came out, the New York Times then reported suspicious betting on a mixed doubles match here? In Sydney a player once ranked No. 187 pleaded guilty of match-fixing. Now the New Zealand Herald is saying there are questions about tanking.  Is it concerning that it goes on and on?

We investigate everything that comes [along]. With the alleged mixed doubles incident the other night, the TIU talked to the players immediately after the event to begin an investigation. I don’t have any idea what went on there, nor should I, but certainly the integrity of our sport is critical, and that’s what we will continue to be vigilant about.

Were you aware of the report in the Swedish paper a while ago where an official there said about four percent of the matches were fixed?

No.

You’ve been around a long time Dave. You’ve seen player development moves, cardio tennis initiatives, moves by the TIA – you’ve seen everything and have a pretty good sense of things. So, when all is said and done, do you think the review board and its leader will come out with some strong initiatives, or is it going to be a case of officials sitting around a room having a big talk?

There’ll be some good matters and, in fact, we’re already having discussions internally about things that we can do better. You have to get the players at a young age and help educate them. One of the things we did here at the Australian Open was have a seminar with the juniors to talk about the environment they’re entering. You’re going to be approached by people about potential integrity issues, anti-doping [we talked about], all the things that help juniors make the transition. We can do a much better job, and it’s the ITF’s responsibility to make sure we put in more seminars, more rigor, more education work with the players to help. It’s not going to solve everything, but coupled with other ideas that come out of the independent review, it will strengthen the program.

And if you could change one thing in tennis?

The most important thing is really that we have more funds and more resources to develop tennis in more countries around the world. To grow participation at the grassroots level, but also help nations and regions where the top players aren’t coming out of yet, so that in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years we get more players playing in those nations and more players coming through to the [top] levels.

The Middle East is the most problematic part of our world. Can tennis get a foothold of any significance there?

There are passionate people in all countries that are doing their best to deal with growing tennis at the same time there are issues of terrorism or other challenges – political, religious – that get in the way. It’s all around the world. When you have to worry about [terrorism at] a Davis Cup final in Ghent [Belgium,] which no one would have probably had to do a few years ago, and [deal with] what happened in Paris, you have to be vigilant – in the Middle East and Asia, everywhere, all around the world, we have to be diligent.