Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Russian former world No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam event winner, can be revealed as the player whose retirement was deemed “concerning” by last week’s Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis.
The report, delivered by lawyer Adam Lewis at a news conference in London, found no evidence of internal cover-ups by tennis authorities over historic match-fixing allegations. But it did raise one note of doubt, surrounding the retirement of the unnamed “Player B” in 2003. Lewis and his panel suspected that this player — whom The Daily Telegraph can now identify as Kafelnikov — might have retired in order to avoid disciplinary proceedings following a notorious match in Lyon in October 2003.
The Daily Telegraph has seen the Report into Corruption Allegations in Men’s Professional Tennis, circulated to the ATP in 2005, which reveals that “Player B” is Kafelnikov.
In two conversations with The Telegraph over the past week, Kafelnikov repeatedly insisted he did not retire to escape disciplinary action. The match in question was Kafelnikov’s 6-2, 6-3 defeat by Fernando Vicente — then the world No. 68 — in the first round in Lyon. Bookmakers suspended their betting markets before the match had even started, and the case provoked enough of a furor to be responsible for a tightening of the ATP’s anti-gambling protocols.
Kafelnikov played his final professional match two weeks later, shortly after he had received a letter stating the ATP was conducting a “Major Offence Investigation” into the Lyon match. Kafelnikov was interviewed by the ATP over the case, but he never faced charges because there was no evidence of his complicity in the betting.
The explanation is that the suspicious bets being placed on the match had come not from Kafelnikov, but from one of his business associates, Michael Commandeur. The ATP’s Code of Conduct at the time only prohibited betting by a “player, player’s coach or immediate family member of a player.” Other friends and associates were not mentioned.
When The Daily Telegraph asked Kafelnikov about his relationship with Commandeur, he replied: “He was never my agent. He was my friend. He would book flights and hotel rooms for me. I still speak to him sometimes now.”
As for his other memories of the case, Kafelnikov said: “It was 15 years ago. I spoke to Mark Miles (then the ATP’s chief executive) about it and that was all.”
The details provided in the Independent Review Panel’s report show Kafelnikov was closely watched by the on-site supervisor, who had been alerted to the unusual levels of backing for Vicente. According to the report, the supervisor stated that, in his opinion, Kafelnikov had performed “a professional tank” — tennis jargon for giving up easily. But no fine was imposed under the Code of Conduct clause that required players to produce their “best efforts.”
As for gambling offences, the way the code was worded at that time made it extremely difficult to bring disciplinary action. Nevertheless, according to the IRP’s evidence, a letter was drafted informing Kafelnikov that he was being fined US$100,000 and suspended for three years. But after a discussion of their legal position, the letter was shelved.
For a case to be brought, it would have been necessary to show that Kafelnikov had both known about Commandeur’s bets — which are understood to have run to several thousand euros — and actually directed them to be placed. The Russian denied both points and there was no evidence to contradict him.
When interviewed by the ATP, Commandeur admitted placing bets on Kafelnikov to lose. For these bets, he used two credit cards that were linked to accounts in other names — one belonging to one of Commandeur’s relatives and the other to a different, low-profile player who worked with Commandeur’s management company. He told the investigators that he placed the bets based on his own judgment that Kafelnikov was not match fit.
Commandeur used Kafelnikov’s credit card to place bets on three other matches at Lyon, which included Vicente’s next match against Arnaud Clement. But Commandeur insisted Kafelnikov had no knowledge of the bets.
Kafelnikov ended his career as one of the game’s greats: he won the French Open title in 1996, the Australian Open in 1999, and won the singles gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
As a direct result of the investigation, the gambling sections of the ATP Code of Conduct were redrafted into the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program, which came into force on Jan. 1, 2005. From then on, gambling on a player’s matches was prohibited for a wider group of people, including managers, agents, guests and associates. As for Commandeur, he lost his ATP accreditation, but no further action could be taken against him because he had not technically broken the Code of Conduct.
The Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis, the 2,000-page report released last week, mentions an “assertion of confidentiality” surrounding “Player B.” It was for this reason, the report says, that “the panel is concerned about the circumstances of the player’s retirement.” Yet during last week’s news conference, Lewis acknowledged that, “It’s now clear … that there’s no question of them (the ATP) asserting confidentiality in relation to their evidence.” When the final report is delivered in the autumn, “Player B” is expected to fade into the background.