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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Tennis officials on Wednesday launched an independent review into their anti-corruption practices after allegations the sport's watchdog had not done enough to stamp out possible corruption in the game.
The announcement at the Australian Open came in the wake of media reports criticizing the Tennis Integrity unit (TIU) for not adequately investigating some 16 players repeatedly flagged over suspicions they had thrown matches in the past decade.
Recent corruption scandals involving the world governing bodies of soccer and athletics have thrown those sports into turmoil and tennis was not keen to follow them down that path, Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Chairman Chris Kermode said.
"We are in a toxic environment for sport at the moment, in terms of it's an easy target for people to have a go with recent allegations at other governing bodies," Kermode told reporters in Melbourne.
The review would address issues of transparency and resourcing at the TIU, structural or governance issues, and how to extend the scope of tennis' anti-corruption education programs.
Tennis authorities repeated they felt the allegations made in the report by the BBC and Buzzfeed News were historical, but could help the sport in the long run.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova, who won 51 grand slam titles, said she was skeptical about the match-fixing reports and wanted proof.
"The first report was a bunch of baloney, because there were no specifics," she told reporters at Melbourne Park.
"The only way to control it is for the ATP, WTA and ITF to work together and put money into the integrity unit, because they need more resources.
"But ultimately it's up to the players."
Prominent London barrister Adam Lewis QC will head the inquiry and its report will be made publicly available.
"This should have been done a long time ago," said one UK-based professional gambler, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I think they are just telling people what they want to hear."
Allegations of match-fixing surfaced at the Australian Open when a global bookmaker suspended betting on a mixed doubles match last Sunday after unusually large amounts were bet on it.
The players have denied any involvement and International Tennis Federation (ITF) President David Haggerty said they had spoken to the TIU afterwards.
The review will also examine the sponsorship of tennis by betting companies. One prominent bookmaker is an official partner to the Australian Open and some players have questioned the relationship.
"The Australian Open are not in breach of anything that currently is within the rules," Tennis Integrity Board chairman Philip Brook said.
"I think one or two players made comments about they didn't understand the relationship. I think it's one of the things we would expect the review to take a good look at."
Brook said it was now important that tennis authorities worked with local enforcement agencies and governments to strengthen match-fixing and sports corruption legislation globally, particularly in countries where it was not considered a criminal offense.
"We put it out there to say, 'is it possible for this to be re-looked at in order not to help just tennis, but sport in general?'" he said. "This is not just a tennis issue."
Additional reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast