IIt has been more than a decade since the late Willie Thorne called match-fixing in snooker “endemic” after revealing he had been offered money to fix a game during his playing career. Corruption allegations are nothing new, as evidenced by Thorne’s claims, plus suspensions for Stephen Lee and John Higgins in recent years. Snooker has shown that when it counts, it gets difficult.
Higgins suspension in 2010 After admitting to breaking betting rules – the then world No. 1 was acquitted of match-fixing but found guilty on lesser charges – prompted the sport to set up an integrity unit to root out corruption. But on the eve of its most prestigious invitational tournament, snooker finds itself in the midst of a new crisis.
The Masters, one of snooker’s triple crown events, begins under a cloud in London on Sunday. Ten Chinese players have been suspended by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) amid ongoing investigations into alleged match-fixing. On Tuesday, world No. 9 Zhao Xintong became the most prominent player to join this list.
Zhao and 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao were excluded from the draw, while eight other pros from China – Zhang Jiankang, Liang Wenbo, Lu Ning, Li Hang, Zhao Jianbo, Bai Langning, Chang Bingyu and Chen Zifan – were also excluded are locked . The allegations remain the same for now, but the image they project of elite-level snooker is far from sane. A player under investigation would be worrying. Ten? That probably casts a shadow over the sport like never before.
“It’s very disappointing and very upsetting as a player,” said Shaun Murphy, world No. 11 Shaun Murphy. “The vast majority of players want to get into the sport and leave in better shape than when we arrived.
“Any player found guilty has betrayed the trust of everyone: the players, the admins, but most of all the fans. These are people you shook hands with before games and they cheated on you. It leaves a real sense of emptiness.”
However, this latest scandal seems poised to do much more long-term damage given the sport’s growth in China over the past decade. Hundreds of millions of Chinese watch the World Cup finals, and the game’s popularity there has exploded since Ding Junhui emerged as a teenage sensation.
Prior to the pandemic, elite players made frequent trips to China to play in front of huge crowds, and the number of Chinese players on the World Tour underscores the visibility and revenue the country can offer.
Professional snooker hasn’t been to China since the pandemic began due to strict lockdown regulations, but there were hopes of it The country is relaxing its rules, this could be the year snooker returns to East Asia. This study casts doubt on that.
“This could really hurt the sport and have a knock-on effect on reintegration into China,” says Murphy. “We’ve been eagerly awaiting the return of Chinese tournaments and as soon as things ease up this scandal will surface. The damage convicted players are doing to this sport is appalling. We won’t really know the extent for some time.”
The WPBSA said this week its investigation is now at an “advanced stage” and will close shortly before considering possible charges. None of the 10 suspended players have commented publicly on the allegations, but with Lee’s 12-year ban – which he is still serving – snooker has shown it’s not afraid to crack down on those found guilty of match-fixing were found.
“A lot of people would agree on lifetime bans for scammers, but I think that’s probably legally unattainable,” says Murphy.
Throughout the Masters, a great deal of attention is undoubtedly paid to the investigation, suspension and possible consequences for any player found guilty. Murphy remains confident those at Alexandra Palace can cast a positive light on the game.
“It’s the sport’s biggest invitational event and a great opportunity to put on a show,” he says. “It’s sad that 10 professionals have been suspended over these allegations, but 16 of us can turn the tide. I’m proud of how my sport has dealt with it. We didn’t sweep it under the rug, we were brave and strong and that’s to be welcomed.”