December 9, 2016 / 8:29 AM / in a year

Australia beefs up integrity unit ahead of first grand slam

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s tennis association has added two full-time investigators to its integrity unit and promised greater prize-money at lower-tier events in a bid to thwart betting-related corruption.

Ball boys are pictured at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Tennis Australia (TA) said on Friday it had implemented a raft of new measures “designed to safeguard the integrity of the upcoming summer of tennis”, which includes next month’s Australian Open, the year’s first grand slam.

The tournament was rocked last year by media allegations that more than a dozen top players were repeatedly flagged over suspicions for throwing matches in the past decade and none had been properly investigated by the Tennis Integrity Unit.

The TIU rejected the allegations but subsequently announced a major review into its operations during the second week of the tournament.

Tennis Australia’s national integrity unit, headed by Ann West, was now staffed with a an “information and intelligence officer” and a “safety and risk manager”, both with law enforcement backgrounds, the governing body said in a media release.

”Although we have no evidence of widespread corruption in Australian tennis, we have recognized that the potential to corrupt is there and as such we have taken extensive steps to safeguard our sport,” TA president Steve Healy said.

“We have committed significant funds and resources into strengthening our position now so that we don’t look back in five years and think we could have done more.”

While top players can earn millions of dollars a year in prize-money, lower tier professionals who make significantly less have long been considered vulnerable to corruption, and dozens have been arrested this year in stings around the globe.

Australian former professional Nick Lindahl was fined by a Sydney court in April after pleading guilty to match-fixing at a minor domestic tournament.

“We all know the potential for corruption is highest at the lower levels of the professional game,” Healy said.

“We have lobbied extensively for more prize money at ITF Futures and ATP Challengers, and from next year we will see increased prize money for lower tier Australian Pro Tour events.”

Prize-money would also be boosted during the qualifying and early rounds of the Australian Open.

TA said there would be increased “security vigilance” at local events, including tighter restrictions on player and accreditation access, and it would block access to all gambling websites on its public Wi-Fi hotspots.

All licensed Australian bookmakers would have to provide mandatory reporting of all suspicious betting alerts, the governing body added.

An independent review panel, formed to investigate allegations of corruption in tennis and the effectiveness of existing integrity procedures, is expected to release its findings before the Australian Open.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty

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