Heidi Blake: the investigation that rocked the tennis world
Sports Journalist of the Year nominee talks to Alys Bowen about tennis match fixing and the journalism industry
For most sports fans, Heidi Blake is a not a household name like Gabby Logan or Clare Balding. However, she has been nominated for Sports Journalist of the Year Award for the second time in two years.
Her joint investigation with John Templon, The Tennis Racket, for the BBC and Buzzfeed News uncovered extensive corruption surrounding match fixing in the tennis world.
Their investigation revealed that the sport’s governing bodies had a list of 16 players, including former Grand Slam champions, suspected of match fixing but none of them had ever been sanctioned.
They also reported that gambling syndicates in Russia and Italy had made hundreds of thousands of pounds from suspicious bets on a number of matches.
Heidi didn’t always think that this investigation was going to have the response that it has. She has often found that despite an investigation being strong, it can sometimes lack the weight behind it to get the consequences that it deserves.
But not with this story, Heidi believes the big break in the investigation came when they received a huge batch of documents from an anonymous source inside the sport showing that the authorities had been repeatedly warned since 2008 about the same cohort of players.
All these players had been allowed to carry on playing despite evidence that an investigation was justified.
Their revelations, published in January 2016, sent shockwaves across the sport. It forced the tennis authorities to establish an investigation into not only the problem of match fixing but also how governing bodies had handled previous allegations.
Despite what the tennis authorities have done in the wake of the investigation Heidi is still sceptical. She said; “I am always pretty suspicious any time that a global organisation at the centre of a multi-billion-dollar industry pays someone to come and investigate it as it doesn’t really seem that independent.”
Undeniably, this is a problem for all sport; it is very difficult for sporting bodies to police themselves and maintain the confidence of fans and sponsors, when allegations like this are made.
What Heidi wants to see in the wake of this investigation is an independent global governing body for all sports that doesn’t have the self-interest involved in governing just the one sport.
She said; “This would be the only time that we would have genuinely fearless governance of sports such as football, tennis, athletics but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
The impact that this investigation has generated across the sporting world confirms that her nomination for Sports Journalist of the Year is fully deserved.
Heidi, despite being an investigative journalist at heart, has really made a name for herself in sports reporting, uncovering corruption in FIFA in 2014.“I find it difficult to imagine any other life for myself and journalism is just part of my heart and soul now and who I am. Journalism is part of my identity””
She also has a special weapon when it comes to being the best investigative journalist she can be; her femininity. In the world of journalism, sexism exists like a parasite on the industry but for Heidi she has found a way to make it work to her advantage.
She divulges, “If you are a young female journalist people don’t really see you as much of a threat and they don’t see you coming quite as much as they do with a male journalist. Sometimes people will be talking and disclosing things and they just assume you will miss the point a bit. It's a great skill as a journalist to be easy to underestimate. In a way, as a woman, you automatically have that quality over a lot of people you are going up against.”
Heidi was also part of the Insight Team at The Sunday Times who won the Sport Journalist award in 2014 for the FIFA files. She will be attending the event again hoping to win this prestigious award for the second time.
St. Mary's University is sponsoring the BJA Sports Journalist of the Year Award in 2016. The winner will receive their award from Greg Dyke, currently a Visiting Professor at St. Mary's and Olympic Gold Medalist, Susannah Townsend and currently a student on the MA in Sports Journalism.