Will Tennis Players Make Sumo Wrestlers Look Like Schoolgirls?
Back in August, we blogged about allegations of match rigging at Wimbledon. According to a new report by SI.com, that may have been only the tip of the iceberg; now, 150 matches are being investigated by tennis officials.
My hunch, having seen no data and only read this article, is that the number of rigged tennis matches will ultimately turn out to be very small. My reason for this conclusion is that there is something absent from tennis that is present in sumo wrestling: a highly non-linear incentive scheme. The eighth win in a sumo tournament is worth far more than a six, a seventh, a ninth, or a tenth win. As such, the sumo wrestlers themselves can see strong gains from trade. In tennis, however, the only apparent incentive at work is bribes related to gambling. (There have been some quirky changes to tournament formats, in which players are grouped in a manner similar to World Cup soccer qualifying matches — but that is a different story.) The lack of incentive for tennis players to trade wins has to mean that endemic cheating is far less likely. The fact that betting markets are small — especially on unimportant matches– also makes it more difficult to cheat, because big bets will stick out like a sore thumb. In key matches, the prize money stakes are so high that rigging is unlikely.
In fact, I would be willing to bet that steroids are much more common in tennis than match rigging.
(Hat tip: Allen Sanderson)