Three and a half years after sending a text that would change his life forever, tennis player Brandon Walkin has spoken for first time about the match-fixing scandal which almost ruined his career.
One of the rising stars of the Australian tennis scene, 22-year-old Walkin arrived in the capital this week for the ACT Claycourt International and said he simply wants his side of the story known so he can get on with the rest of his life.
“It’s upsetting to see my name in the paper saying I’m a disgrace to Australian sport, seeing that stuff is difficult. My parents want to see my name in the paper for the right reasons and I don’t like typing my name into google and seeing ‘Brandon is a match-fixer’,” Walkin told Fairfax Media.
Walkin became embroiled in a fix in September 2013 at a Futures tournament in Toowoomba, where he was asked to forward on a message to his friend Andrew Corbitt. The message told Corbitt that his opponent, Nick Lindahl, was willing to throw their first round match for a price.
Walkin was not offered any money for his role and said he did not want to be involved, but passed on the message anyway – something he now counts as one of his biggest regrets. Corbitt said he thought he could beat Lindahl anyway and after winning in straight sets reported Walkin’s approach to the match referee.
Lindahl, a 2006 Australian Open boys singles finalist with a career-high ranking world No.187, was convicted of orchestrating the attempted fix and fined $1000 in a Sydney court last year.
The Tennis Integrity Unit conducted its own investigation which saw Lindahl banned for seven years and fined $47,550.
In September last year, almost three years after the Toowoomba tournament, Walkin was informed he was being sanctioned for match-fixing, and after cooperating with authorities was handed a six-moth suspended sentence.
On the same day Walkin won his opening round doubles match at the Canberra Challenger in January, details of the incident emerged and the Queenslander felt the full wrath of the Australian public.
“My name got destroyed, my face was on the front page of the Australian and it’s disappointing when I think back to what actually happened and what is portrayed in the media,” Walkin said.
“I got phone call from a friend saying this is the situation and I relayed the message in a text, idiotically, like a teenager does, because I was too lazy to do the right thing. I said I don’t want to be involved in this but you’re free to do whatever you like,” Walkin said.
“In hindsight I think ‘well that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done’, but at the time I thought this doesn’t involve me so I don’t want to get involved. I didn’t realise just because it didn’t involve me didn’t mean I didn’t have to report it.”
Walkin described the ordeal as a steep learning curve and tough on his family and friends, but confirmed the tennis community has welcomed him back.
“Anyone who knows what happened is fine with me. Without a doubt I made a dumb mistake, as most teenagers do, but at no stage did I receive or ask for financial compensation and I’ve still been portrayed as a criminal,” Walkin said.
“As soon as they called me about it I said here is my phone, here is the message I sent. I gave a full interview and was willing to testify in court for the police.
“I was corporative because I realised I made a mistake and wanted to be as helpful as I could so my name wasn’t ruined for sending a text message, but it has been.
“I’ve been sitting back reflecting on it for a while now and I’ve reached a stage where I realise nothing can change what happened, I’m aware of the mistake I made and all I can do now is learn from it and move on.”
Walkin believes the incident has opened the eyes of other players and hopes his experience will serve as a warning to immediately report any approaches to fix matches.
“There’s information in place if you seek it out, but I think as Australians we’re all kind of big on betting, everyone checks the odds before their matches and everyone is throwing multi-bets on things like basketball,” Walkin said.
“Betting became this huge thing but now that everyone’s name has been dragged through the mud and everyone understands the implications of it, people know better and it’s dying down.”
Walkin admitted he considered walking away from the game during the saga, but said that feeling is one tennis players battle with on a daily basis.
“It didn’t make me want to quit any more than I’ve already thought about. Nobody has any money, that’s a bigger reason to quit tennis,” Walkin said.
“You travel a lot and don’t see your family very often and you stay in average hotels eating average food, they’re better reasons to quit than getting some bad publicity.
“I’m 22 and I’ve seen the world, life could be worse, but sometimes I wake up and think I could be finished uni by now and have a normal job with security. I guess the grass is always greener.”
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