DjokovicI continue my exploration of bribery and corruption in sports. Today we leave the world of track and field and enter the gentile realm of tennis where there have been recent reports of match fixing and attempted bribery. Unfortunately this last claim was substantiated by none other than the world’s top player, as reported in an ESPN online article, entitled “Novak Djokovic’s people offered $200K for star to lose match”, by Jim Caple.

According to Caple, “Back in 2007, someone tried to offer Novak Djokovic roughly $200,000 to lose a first-round match at a tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia, he said Monday at the Australian Open. Djokovic said he wasn’t approached directly. Instead, “I was approached through people that were working with me at that time,” he said, making clear that the offer was flat-out rejected. He didn’t even attend the tournament, but he said he still didn’t like the fact that someone even bothered to consider him for such a thing.”

Djokovic was quoted in the article as saying, ““It made me feel terrible because I don’t want to be anyhow linked to this kind of — you know, somebody may call it an opportunity,” he said. “For me, that’s an act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport honestly. I don’t support it. I think there is no room for it in any sport, especially in tennis.”” Yet in an article entitled “Novak Djokovic forced to offer denial over match-fixing claims” in The Telegraph, Simon Briggs reported that an Italian news daily, Tuttosport, “pinpointed a 2007 match in the Paris Masters event at Bercy, where Djokovic suffered a 6-3, 6-2 defeat at the hands of the then 34-year-old Fabrice Santoro. In the headline, it made the bold statement that Djokovic “wanted to lose”, yet failed to back up the claim convincingly. The only evidence seems to have been a remark from the former Swedish player Tomas Nydahl, and even he had apparently picked up the story at second hand.”

Djokovic reported he had some wisdom teeth removed before the match and was still under medication when he played. Briggs went on to write, “Djokovic admitted at the time that he had been unable to play to his maximum. “I couldn’t give my 100 percent, not even 30 per cent of my possibilities,” he said at the press conference after the match. “He deserved to win. I’m still on medications. I didn’t practise for a whole week, I only started practising two days ago. “Physically, I’m not feeling at all good. It’s been a very long season and I’m really exhausted. I hope people will understand.””

Roger Federer, quoted in the ESPN piece, said, “I would love to hear names. Then at least it’s concrete stuff and you can actually debate about it. Was it the player? Was it the support team? Who was it? Was it before? Was it a doubles player, a singles player? Which slam? It’s so all over the place. It’s nonsense to answer something that is pure speculation. Like I said, it’s super serious and it’s super important to maintain the integrity of our sport. So how high up does it go?”

The allegations against Djokovic appear fuzzy at best. Yet just as an impressive or record setting performance in track and field, a miracle recovery from an injury in football or even playing baseball at an all-star level into your late 30s or early 40s can bring claims of using performance enhancing drugs; now losing can give rise to a different form of corruption.

As anomalous as this seems for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, there are some valuable lessons to be learned. First and foremost is that attempts to corrupt your employees need to reported internally. Federer spoke to this point in the ESPN piece when he said, “if he heard someone was offered money to fix matches, he would encourage him to go to the tennis authorities. So, yes, I guess I would encourage that person to go and say something. Otherwise, I would say something or I would encourage us to go together.” He added, “If the player did not, he would.”

To Federer the reason to report is clear, a player “needs to feel he’s been supported by the tour, or whatever the governing body is, that there’s a place he can go and speak about it.” He admitted that “It’s uncomfortable, not a fun thing. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’ve just been approached, it’s all cool,’ and we don’t talk about it. I think it’s really important that you get supported and get also told how to manage that.”

For the CCO, it is important that employees have confidence and trust in the organization so they are willing to make such reports. To stop the scourge of bribery and corruption in any international sports group, the management must take the lead in communicating that such actions will not be tolerated and that anything less would result in expulsion and banishment. That is similar to any top management that must clearly set the expectation that it is more important for employees to follow the law than to make their quarterly numbers. For if management does not do so and communicates that making your quarterly numbers are more important, employees will find a way to make their quarterly numbers.

Moreover, it is important any company knows if a vendor, sales agent or any other party has offered or demanded a bribe to do business. Even if your employees tosses them out of the office on their collective ear, it is incumbent you be made aware of the demand/offer so you can bring it to the attention of the counter-party and take appropriate remedial action. Indeed, in many industries the number of agents or other representatives is small enough that they can be known. If there is a collective refusal to do business with such corrupt third parties, it can be a powerful driver of business behavior.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016