What does the safest bet in tennis think about the controversial relationship between betting houses and tennis? After his first-round win at the Australian Open, runaway world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was asked just that.
“Well, this is a subject for discussion, I think, today and in the future,” said Djokovic on a day when that relationship came under greater scrutiny, following a report from BuzzFeed UK and the BBC which alleges negligence by tennis authorities in regards to potential evidence of match-fixing. “It's a fine line. Honestly it's on a borderline, I would say.
“Whether you want to, you know, have betting companies involved in the big tournaments in our sport or not, you know, it's hard to say what's right and what's wrong.”
Last October, William Hill, a bookmaker based out of the United Kingdom, was named the “official betting partner” of the Australian Open. That was clear from Day 1 Down Under, as William Hill advertisements were displayed along various courts, and promotional tie-ins were seen on social media:
On the Australian Open website, which lists William Hill as a partner, it is made clear that “William Hill has a strong track record working with global sporting bodies to uphold the integrity framework of sports, including Tennis, and encourages a socially responsible attitude towards gambling , having implemented a range of responsible gambling initiatives all over the globe.”
For critics of tennis, which has previously allowed betting companies to sponsor tournaments, that statement is at best meaningless, and at worst lethal for the game.
“One of the reasons why tennis is a popular and clean sport is because it has always valued its integrity,” Djokovic continued. “Protecting that integrity was one of the highest priorities of each and every leadership that was part of the association. I think especially in the Grand Slams that are and always have been the most valued and respected and known tennis tournaments around the world throughout the history of this sport.”
But Djokovic, who revealed that his team was once offered $200,000 if he threw a match in 2007—“it made me feel terrible,” the Serb said—didn’t take a hard stance in either direction. He even suggested that tennis could be receiving more from legal betting activity.
“You know, I know that there is also many betting companies that on the websites are using the names, the brands, images of tournaments and players and matches in order to profit from that,” said Djokovic. “Tennis hasn't been really getting the piece of that cake, if you know what I mean.”
Considering how well Djokovic is playing, the questions from press may be harder to answer than those posed by his opponents.