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Over the years, sports have turned out to be one of the biggest economic force. By the year 2008, it was estimated that the sports industry generated an average of 2.5 to 3.5 of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Bures, 2008). When it comes to professional sports, there has been a significant growth in the supply of money that has resulted to the commercialization of sports from football, basketball, volleyball, tennis and table tennis among others. On a much more positive note, this has led to sports development, the building of new sports infrastructures like arenas or stadiums, live television and internet transmission of sports games to billions of people, and generations of funds to nurture and support new talent. Above all, this has turned out to be a source of employment for many athletes. This has been the case with table tennis, a sport whose popularity and growth to international scenes has largely been influenced and dominated by the Asian countries, especially the Chinese even though this was a western game.
As it is common in most cases, where there is a massive flow of money, there is usually the possibility of occurrence of corruption. According to Byers (2015), corruption in sports can be defined as any form of immoral, unethical or illegal activity that is meant to or endeavors to intentionally change the results of a sporting competition, for the personal material gain of an individual or a group of people involved. Byers (2015) further notes that from an economic standpoint, any activity whose focus is to earn money by influencing or changing an outcome of a sporting contest through bribery, losing a game in return for a monetary or non-monetary compensation can as well be placed under corruption in sports. The common forms of corruption found in sports range from match-fixing, embezzlement of funds, bribery during the selection of host nations, manipulating results, corruption in the election of sporting bodies leaders, and transfers of players.
There are few reported cases of some of the above-mentioned forms of corruption in table tennis. In 2011, the former president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), Choo Wee Khiang was arraigned in court for corruption and criminal breach of trust (Concha, 2011). Dating back to 2005, Choo accepted a bribe from table tennis player Liu Zhongze through the assistant coach. In return, Liu was to be given more opportunities to represent the STTA in international tournaments. It can be argued that this kind of behavior is influenced by players whose focus is to earn more from the rewards given to winners and participants in world tours. According to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), players are awarded monetary prize during the world tour grand finals (tournaments) based on the stage a player will reach. For example, in Men’s single, Quarterfinalists will earn $7,500, semi-finalists $15,000 and the winner goes home with $60,000 ("I T T F prize_money", 2016).The allure of this high amount of prize money has forced players to engage in corruption by bribing the association feels on their way to participate in these major tournaments.
However, the most prominent form of corruption in table tennis is match-fixing, which is meant to influence the results of a game. In organized sports, when a match is played to a pre-determined result, this is referred to as match fixing as it violates the rules of the game. This is a common problem in some of the sports like basketball, football, tennis, and volleyball among others. There are several reasons for match fixing though this is mostly connected to betting, whether legal or illegal (Bures, 2008). In such an instance, the motive is for financial gain, and this could be linked to organized crime working in collaboration with players who will earn from throwing away a match. Aside from financial reasons, games can be fixed by sports officials, coaches or players so as to gain favorable advantages during the tournaments. In an online article, Tan (2014) acknowledges that Chinese players have been a formidable force in table tennis over the years given the comprehensive training the players undergo. Despite that, the most reported cases of table tennis match-fixing have been by the Chinese teams. Following allegations of match fixing which during the 2012 London Olympics, it was later revealed that China had a long history of match-fixing involving its players.
According to Tan (2014), the first recorded case of match-fixing occurred during the 1961 world championships that were held in Beijing. Li Furong was instructed by the leaders to let Zhuang Zedong win. This was a pre-determined result that was followed by into the next two season finals when the two players met again in the finals. Though not for financial reasons, this was meant to exalt the status of the Chinese players on the world stage as a three-consecutive times champion. Aside from the national pride, China had also resort to match fixing as a form of punishment to players, who despite being better than their opponents, were considered disobedient and problematic. A case example is during the 1981 world championships finals in the women’s singles finals. Despite Cao Yanhua winning all matches in the squad competitions against Tong Ling, Cao was instructed to let Tong win (Tan, 2014).
Match fixing involving players from the same team has also been favored by coaches who feel that a particular player in the team has a better chance of winning against a particular opponent. According to the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC America), this match fixing by officials was reported in 1987during the world championship ("Table Tennis 101: History", 2016). After Dai Lilli had been defeated by the Korean Yang Young Ja, the Chinese coaches asked He Zhili to concede against fellow teammate Guan Jianhua whom they saw had a higher chance of winning against the Korean. In defiance, He Zhili ignored this and went ahead to defeat Guan and the Korean to win the finals (Tan, 2014). The following year, before the Seoul Games, Chinese officials dropped He Zhili from the team despite being the reigning champion in women’s singles. It was later revealed that this was punishment after refusing to throw away a match against Guan Jianhu. In contrary to Ze Hilli who defied her coach’s orders, in the 2012 Olympics, Wang Hao obeyed the orders from his coach to loose against Zhang Jike. In an appearance on a local television show, Wang Hao’s coach noted that this match-fixing was in favor of the team’s performance in the men’s doubles final (Tan, 2014). The reasoning was that compared to other team mates, Wang Hao was capable of mentally withstanding a loss in the finals without having any impact on the performance of the men’s double finals where he was to team up with Zhang Jike. This fixing paid off as Zhang and Wang went on to win the men’s doubles finals.
In a summary, from the research conducted on corruption in table tennis, match fixing involving players and coaches from the same team is common, especially with the Chinese teams. As discussed, the motive is to bring pride and glory to the nation, at times as punishment to players deemed disobedient in addition to increasing the chance of a team winning medals in the tournaments. Coaches mostly perpetrate this match fixing.
Siegel and Packham (2016) points out that the rapid rise in mobile betting has transformed international sports gambling faster than regulators can control or react to. This has been fueled by the revolution and growth in internet technology that has made it possible for anyone to access both the legal and illegal betting sites that are mushrooming from almost everywhere. As a result, the betting industry is now flooded with a lot of cash that has a significant contribution to the corruption scandals recently witnessed in football and the tennis game among other sports.
In a more worrying and growing trend, there are various reported and ongoing cases that some athletes are involved in betting or approached by individuals to throw away matches in return of huge cash payouts. Earlier in the year before the opening of the Australia Open tennis, following an investigation by BuzzFeed News and the BBC, Blake and Templon (2016) reported that a significant number of tennis players ranked among the top 50 in the world were involved in match-fixing and betting. After analyzing the betting patterns where suspicious bets had been placed against some of the winners of the singles and doubles grand slam tournaments, 16 players were found to have deliberately thrown the game.
Even though this was dismissed by the Tennis Integrity Unit which conducted its investigation and found no evidence as reported by Rothenberg (2016), it will be unwise to reject the report by BuzzFeed and BBC.
NBC reports that experts believe one-on-one sports like tennis can be easily fixed compared to other team sports like football or rugby. This supported in an article by Lebanese’s The Daily Star ("Mobile betting fuels corruption concerns", 2016). Besides, the large disparity of money paid to top players and the lower or upcoming players has made the sport more susceptible to corruption.
Players are likely to be approached by organized betting criminal gangs who would offer quite an attractive high payout to players compared to prize money offered in tournaments for them to lose matches ("Fears of corruption, match-fixing in professional tennis driven by earnings gap between journeymen and star players on tour", 2016). On January 25th this year, Australian player Nick Lindahl pleaded guilty to deliberately losing a match after informing bettors in advance that he is going to throw away the match (Eddie, 2016). Aside from being offered money to lose matches, some players are participating in betting by placing bets on their games, which is illegal. In this instance, the player goes on to lose the match. On 24th July, it was reported that Italian players Marco Cecchinato and Ricardo Accardi were barred for 18 months and one year respectively (Rothenberg, 2016). This followed an investigation into an ATP Challenger Tour quarterfinal match in October 2015. It was revealed that Accardi and his father had used several accounts with different betting sites to place bets in a match where Cecchinato was the favorite but throw away. Were it not for the Autonomous Administration of State Monopolies that discovered the unusual large bets in favor of a weak opponent for Cecchinato, this could have passed unnoticed. With the emergence of many legal and illegal betting sites, it is increasingly becoming difficult for sports authorities to identify fixed matches and the individuals involved, whether players or not. This betting by players is likely to affect all types of sports, table tennis included.
Corruption in sports has become rampant, and it is increasingly difficult for authorities to detect with increased commercialization of sports. This has been made even more challenging by growth in internet technology which has resulted in the establishment of many gambling sites that has led to a high supply of money and organized crimes fueling corruption in sports. From the research conducted, even though there are little information or reported cases of corruption in table tennis, this does not imply that the sport is immune to corruption. The common form of corruption in table tennis has been identified as match fixing. Players, coaches, and officials collude to influence the results of a game. It has been widely reported on Chinese table tennis teams where coaches and officials have ordered the players to lose games. However, there may be a lot of unreported cases or those that have gone unnoticed in other countries as well. Furthermore, the development of mobile and internet technology has made gambling easily accessible to many people and players around the world. Nowadays, players are opening accounts with multiple betting sites under different aliases and proceed to bet on their opponent bearing in mind that they are going to throw away the games. With the existence of illegal sites, it is becoming difficult for authorities to detect such unethical behaviors. It is only through the analysis of betting patterns that suspicious activities could be identified. It is, therefore, necessary for sports association, local and international authorities, and betting companies to collaborate through sharing of information in eliminating or reducing cases of corruption in sports.
Blake, H. & Templon, J. (2016). The Tennis Racket. BuzzFeed. Retrieved 9 September 2016, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/heidiblake/the-tennis- racket?utm_term=.oywPklol8#.slXKEVbVQ
Bures, R. (2008). WHY SPORT IS NOT IMMUNE TO CORRUPTION (1st ed.). Transparency International – Czech Republic. Retrieved from https://www.coe.int/t/dg4/epas/Source/Resources/EPAS_INFO_Bures_en.pdf
Byers, T. (2015). Contemporary issues in sport management. SAGE Publications Ltd.
Clearinghouse : Match-Fixing and Illegal Sports Betting. Clearinghouseforsport.gov.au. Retrieved 10 September 2016, from https://www.clearinghouseforsport.gov.au/knowledge_base/organised_sport/sport_integri ty/match-fixing_and_illegal_sports_betting
Crooks, E. (2016). Tennis hit by more corruption allegations with two officials banned. Mail Online. Retrieved 11 September 2016, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-3438980/Tennis-hit-corruption- allegations-two-officials-banned-bid-manipulate-scoring-betting-breach.html
Eddie, R. (2016). Former tennis pro Nick Lindahl, 27, pleads guilty to corrupt betting. Mail Online. Retrieved 10 September 2016, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article- 3414933/Tennis-player-Nick-Lindahl-pleads-guilty-tanking-match.html
Fears of corruption, match-fixing in professional tennis driven by earnings gap between journeymen and star players on tour. (2016). ABC News. Retrieved 9 September 2016, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-20/journeymen-players-money-struggles- prompt-tennis-corruption-fear/7100082
I T T F prize_money. (2016). Ittf.com. Retrieved 11 September 2016, from https://www.ittf.com/_front_page/ittf1.asp?category=prize_money
Mobile betting fuels corruption concerns. (2016). The Daily Star Newspaper - Lebanon. Retrieved 9 September 2016, from https://www.dailystar.com.lb/Sports/Tennis/2016/Jan- 21/333051-mobile-betting-fuels-corruption-concerns.ashx
Rothenberg, B. (2016). Italian Match Fixing Suspensions Imposed Amid Criticism of Tennis Watchdog. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 11 September 2016, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/25/sports/tennis/italy-tennis-match-fixing- suspensions.html?_r=0
Rothenberg, B. (2016). Tennis Integrity Unit Is Finding Doubters. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 9 September 2016, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/sports/tennis/tennis- integrity-unit-is-finding-doubters.html
S, W. (2016). Who’s afraid of insider trading?. The Economist. Retrieved 10 September 2016, from https://www.economist.com/blogs/gametheory/2016/01/corruption-tennis
Siegel, M. & Packham, C. (2016). As mobile fuels sports betting boom, corruption concernsmount. Reuters. Retrieved 9 September 2016, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us- tennis-corruption-mobile-idUSKCN0UY0SU
Table Tennis 101: History. (2016). NBC Olympics. Retrieved 10 September 2016, from https://www.nbcolympics.com/news/table-tennis-101-history
Tan, P. (2014). Chinese Table Tennis Team's History Of Match-Fixing. TableTennista.com.Retrieved 9 September 2016, from https://tabletennista.com/2014/11/china-s-history-of- match-fixing/.
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