Game, set and governance
I have had a great week at the Australian Open, the first of the four grand slams, in my home town of Melbourne. It is a sterling event, impeccably organised and brings thousands of visitors to one of the most impressive sporting precincts anywhere. The Australian Open is known as the Happy Slam, which is a reflection of the tournament’s popularity among players. It certainly makes me happy every time I attend.
But this year’s slam has been anything but joyous for organisers with the riveting on-court action overshadowed by a number of governance issues in the form of match-fixing, questionable marketing partners and separately, by ructions at Tennis Australia, domestically the sport’s organising and governing body.
The fixing files
First, just as the tournament was getting underway the British Broadcasting Corporation in collaboration with online media organisation BuzzFeed, published a lengthy investigation into match-fixing in men's tennis.
Some of the players alleged to have been involved in scams dating back close to a decade are competing in Melbourne, understandably causing concern they might not have the unimpeachable integrity fans have a right to demand.
In a welcome development, tennis’ governing bodies have announced an independent review into the sports anti-corruption unit. Association of Tennis Professionals (A.T.P.) president Chris Kermode said ‘Let me just say that it is unprecedented that the seven stakeholders of tennis have come together so quickly with one purpose, and that is with the sole aim to restore public confidence in our sport.” Let's hope they reach this aim.
You cannot be serious!
Tennis Australia's image is at further risk thanks to its choice of marketing partner for the Australian Open, gambling purveyor William Hill. While regulated gambling is indeed legal, combined with the allegations of match-fixing allegations, my view is that Tennis Australia has made a misjudgment and should review the decision ahead of subsequent tournaments, particularly in light of the match-fixing scandal which is inextricably linked to gambling.
Three sets to love
They say all good things come in threes. I am not sure Tennis Australia would agree, as thirdly came the news of board turmoil as three of its nine directors, including the only two women on the board, had suddenly resigned.
Tennis Australia's president and chairman, Stephen Healy, refused to give a satisfactory explanation, despite the fact the facilities and stadium that are home to the Australian Open were created with the help of hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars.
Mr Healy claimed rules under which the directors operate prevent him from revealing details of the dramatic departures. But is this an adequate response, particularly in light of all that public funding?
According to the Australian Financial Review, corporate governance concerns and a bitter dispute about a controversial decision regarding broadcast rights for the Australian Open two years ago are the reasons behind the split at board level at Tennis Australia.