The tennis match-fixing sort-of scandal is what journalists call “a story with legs.”
Yes, but does it have teeth?
We’ll get to Novak Djokovic’s wisdom teeth and their role in the saga in a moment. But first, our story thus far from the BBC and BuzzFeed News: Over a 10-year period, 16 players – half of whom are playing in the Australian Open, including a Slam winner – allegedly threw matches. No one has been named, because phone records etc. of the accepted bribes don’t exist. But the point seems to be that official tennis knew and did nothing. Everyone from Martina Navratilova to Roger Federer has said in effect to the investigators, Put up or shut up.
The latest chapter comes from Italian newspaper Tuttosport, which accuses Novak Djokovic of throwing a match in Paris in 2007 when he was the 20-year-old third-ranked player in the world and his opponent, Fabrice Santoro, was ranked 39th. Djokovic said at the time that he was recovering from having his wisdom teeth pulled and the effects of the medication and hadn’t practiced enough. (I can tell you from having had all four of my wisdom teeth extracted at the same age that it’s like having your jaw wired shut. The throbbing pain is horrendous, you can’t eat and the medication, in my case, made me sick. I’m assuming the only reason Nole dragged himself on the court at that time was because that’s his job.)
Today, he added:
"What (is there) to say? I've lost that match. I don't know if you're trying to create a story about that match or for that matter any of the matches of the top players losing in the early rounds. I think it's just absurd. It's not true.
"My response is that there's always going to be, especially these days when there is a lot of speculation – this is now the main story in tennis, in sports world – there's going to be a lot of allegations. I said everything I needed to say two days ago. Until somebody comes out with the real proof and evidence, it's only a speculation for me."
Here’s how this plays: Someone accuses you of having an affair with someone you don’t even know. You deny it, which now becomes a story about the denial and links you with the person for real in a way you never thought possible. Meanwhile, you call the press into question, which makes the Fourth Estate part of the story when reporters are supposed to be the window, not the view.
It almost doesn’t matter now what Nole or any of the other players did or didn’t do. As he points out, every win or loss is going to look suspect. The damage is done.
Tennis, BuzzFeed, the BBC, whoever needs to put all the cards face up on the table – if indeed they have the cards. Truth, Sophocles said, is the best defense. And it sets you free, as Jesus observed, because once you acknowledge the truth, the anxiety of speculation ceases.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray called the Australian Open on its allowing the betting agency William Hill to be a sponsor:
"I think it's a little bit hypocritical, really. You know, because I don't believe the players are allowed to be sponsored by betting companies but then the tournaments are. I don't really understand how it all works. I think it's a bit strange."
To say the least.