All those, even the likes of the great Roger Federer, who said 'put up the names of tennis players involved in match fixing or shut up' - give yourselves a swift uppercut.

That predictable jerk of the knee followed the BBC/Buzzfeed story alleging 16 unnamed players (including eight in the current Australian Open) who have ranked in the top 50 (and at least one grand slam champion) were allowed to continue playing for years in spite of being highlighted to the sport's anti-corruption unit after suspicious betting patterns around their matches.

While it's true allegations without names unfairly coats all in suspicion (visited on Novak Djokovic and Lleyton Hewitt afterwards), calls for the players to be identified demonstrate naivete and little knowledge of what happens behind the scenes when such claims are in play. It also ignores the way many sports bodies are abrogating their responsibilities.

Proof can be elusive. You can bet the mortgage libel suits with a daunting array of noughts would have swiftly followed any media identification of the players. Sometimes caned for "sensationalism" and "speculation", it is also not unknown for journalists to experience the twin frustrations of a legal letter followed by their employer's decision to drop inquiries rather than face the costs of a legal fight.


The tennis allegations followed recent revelations involving Fifa, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), cycling and cricket - of either corruption, doping, match-fixing or a combination thereof. Such disclosures have often been led by the media (Fifa, cricket's 2010 spot fixing scandal after which three Pakistani cricketers, one of whom is currently touring New Zealand, were jailed after a video sting by a British newspaper; plus the Lance Armstrong affair).

Yet the media can hardly assume the function of the world bodies of sport. In recent times, it has been possible to wonder if any sports body actually wants to address such issues rather than going out to buy a fetching carpet to sweep them under.

They have been criticised for not doing enough, with the clear implication they choose to cover up or avoid rather than address things head on. World anti-doping head Dick Pound's second instalment of his independent report into world athletics said scandal at the IAAF went beyond sporting corruption and may be "criminal in nature". The IAAF leadership council "could not have been unaware" of doping and rule-breaking and was not responsive "to the real issues", displaying a lack of political appetite to confront the now-banned Russia, he said.

Tennis's ATP, although they hotly deny doing nothing, look bad because the BBC/Buzzfeed report stemmed from a 2008 report recommending 28 players be investigated. Tennis authorities changed the anti-corruption rules and said they could not prosecute players investigated under the old ones. This kind of thing leads to perceptions sports bodies can be more focused on protecting revenues and sponsors than addressing the problems. Status quo is a forgiving friend but maybe not when the quo has lost its status.

This column has long espoused the concept of jail sentences and life bans for drugs cheats and fixers. Many countries (including New Zealand when it comes to match fixing) are now doing so. However, with criminalisation comes extra burden of proof; the sports bodies' more general guidelines give way to proving charges in court beyond reasonable doubt.

A few years ago, I knew journalists on the trail of former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, charged with conspiracy to corrupt along with other footballers and a Malaysian businessman. After two trials, Grobbelaar was cleared - and then started libel action against The Sun newspaper who broke the story. He won £85,000 in damages but, on appeal in 1998, had the damages reduced by the Law Lords (overturning the Court of Appeal) to £1; he was ordered to pay The Sun's costs, estimated at £500,000.

Although Grobbelaar had cleared his name of any criminal wrongdoing, the judge said Grobbelaar had accepted bribes but had not been shown to have let in goals to fix results. But Lord Bingham said: "He had in fact acted in a way in which no decent or honest footballer would act, and in a way which could, if not exposed and stamped on, undermine the integrity of a game which earns the loyalty and support of millions.

It would be an affront to justice if a court of law were to award substantial damages to a man shown to have acted in such flagrant breach of his legal and moral obligations."

Police and journalists could find no evidence showing money had changed hands specifically for match fixing. That's the problem. Even if money is traced, it has to be proved it was paid for corrupt reasons - highly difficult unless there is a confession and hard evidence.

That's partly why sports bodies don't bite the bullet and why it is so important for them to do so.