Youssef Hossam was one of African tennis’ finest prospects. He looked set to play in world-class tournaments with the sports’ biggest stars. But, instead of living up to his potential, he decided to roll the dice. And, as a result, will never play the game professionally again.
The Egyptian was given a lifetime ban from tennis on the 4th of May by the Tennis Integrity Unit after he was found guilty of multiple match-fixing and other corruption offences.
The TIU found that the Egyptian had committed 21 breaches of anti-corruption rules between 2015 and 2019.
It also ruled that he conspired with others to carry out betting-related corruption at the lower levels of the sport.
The 21-year-old had previously reached a career-high rank of 291 in the ATP World rankings and was touted as a promising prospect amongst pundits.
He was provisionally suspended from tennis in May last year and was found to have committed eight cases of match-fixing, six cases of facilitating gambling and two cases of soliciting other players not to use their best efforts.
He was also found guilty of three failures to report corrupt approaches and two failures to co-operate with a TIU investigation.
"As a result of his conviction, Mr Hossam is now permanently excluded from competing in or attending any sanctioned tennis event organised or recognised by the governing bodies of the sport," said a TIU statement.
This is certainly not the first time match-fixing has been an issue within tennis and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Two years earlier his brother, Karim Hossam, was also found guilty of multiple match-fixing offences and was handed a lifetime ban as well as a $15,000 fine.
Despite the best efforts of the TIU, tennis has a long-held integrity problem.
A remarkable report from BuzzFeed/BBC in 2016 revealed that the TIU proceeded to discover and dismiss reports of rampant match-fixing across all levels of tennis over a period of several years.
Leaked documents identify a “core group” of 16 players ranked in the top 50, including Grand Slam winners, repeatedly flagged for fixing. Some had been offered $50,000 or more to throw matches. None faced discipline, and all were still competing at the time of the report.
At least three Wimbledon matches were singled out as suspicious in 2017, resulting in zero sanctions.
There have been criminal proceedings, too. In June of 2018, police in Belgium arrested 13 people as part of an international probe, uncovering a Belgian-Armenian crime ring that had been fixing matches since 2014.
From players to coaches and even match officials, the sport is riddled with corruption.
This begs the question, why on earth would someone jeopardise their career for a bit of extra cash?
Simply put, it’s easily done.
To throw a set, or serve a few double faults, can be achieved without anyone thinking suspiciously of it. Just take a look at this video, "How to fix a tennsi match", and see for yourslef.
For lower ranked players, substantial prize money is quite rare to come by and for those players struggling to make ends meet it’s easy to see how the desperation can make them succumb to match-fixers.
Paul McNamee, who won four Grand Slam titles, says he can see why some players would be tempted to throw matches.
“It’s not that hard for a player. It’s a two-horse race, it’s not a team sport.
It’s very easy to throw a set or lose a service game or serve a couple of double faults, and the temptations are huge.
If you’re not known, if you’re living in poverty and you’ve got nothing to lose, then guess what?
You’re going to be desperate and do something stupid that you’ll regret for your whole life.” he told ABC.
There are around 15,000 professional tennis players but only the top 250 women and the top 350 men manage to break even before coaching costs.
The majority of match-fixing comes from the lower level Future and Challenger circuits as the matches are not televised which makes it easier to throw a game, that combined with meagre prize money leaves players susceptible to criminal advances from the corrupt underbelly of tennis.
The players who get caught up in it only do so as they are broke and urgently need the money to keep their career afloat.
Whilst it is easy to be sanctimonious and dismiss players who match-fix as greedy and stupid, what can they do if they don’t have wealthy parents, a sponsor or some other way to finance them as they climb the ladder?
None of these players are getting rich by dropping a set and losing the occasional service game.
Their careers will come to a halt if they can’t find the money, and winning tournaments such as the Future and Challenger circuits simply aren’t enough.
Of course, I am still completely against match-fixing as it entirely undermines the integrity of tennis, but it is hard not to sympathise with the likes of the Hossam brothers who essentially sold their careers for pennies to crime organisations.
Only the very elite players are able to make a decent living out of the sport and the financial support for those in the lower echelons is little to none, as a result of this, corruption will last forever in tennis.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk