Snooker is Latest Sport to Succumb to Match-Fixing, Corruption

Posted on: January 4, 2023, 06:48h. 

Last updated on: January 4, 2023, 02:06h.

If it involves money, there will always be someone willing to try to game the system. Nothing is off-limits – not football, soccer, tennis, or even snooker, where the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) finds itself having to banish a number of Chinese players for match-fixing.

Ronnie O'Sullivan
Snooker pro Ronnie O’Sullivan contemplates his strategy at the table. Snooker is dealing with a match-fixing scandal involving at least 10 Chinese players. (Image: EuroSport)

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) has suspended two Chinese players from the World Snooker Tour after confirming that they colluded to rig matches. Zhao Xintong and Zhang Jiankang are now banned. But they’re not the first two to fall.

In total, there are 10 Chinese players who the WPBSA has gone after for match-fixing. None of the group is allowed to participate in any WPBSA-sanctioned event or attend its matches as spectators.

The Fix is In

Jason Ferguson, the chairman of the WPBSA, announced the latest suspensions after analyzing a series of complaints received about the manipulation of the results of the games. It’s the latest setback for snooker, which is repeatedly being peppered with controversy.

Liang Wenbo, Lu Ning, Li Hang, Zhao Jianbo, Bai Langning, Chang Bingyu, Chen Zifan, and Yan Bingtao have previously received suspensions or sanctions. Especially remarkable is the case of Bingtao. He won the Masters, one of the most important tournaments in snooker, in 2021. That gave him the distinction of being the youngest snooker player to win a Masters since Ronnie O’Sullivan did it 16 years earlier.

Zhao, meanwhile, had become one of the most relevant players in snooker. He won the UK Championship in 2021. That boosted him in the rankings, where he achieved ninth. But he will now have to wait before he can try to move up again.

Zhao was going to participate in the next Masters, starting January 8. He would have faced Mark Selby in the first round, but that will no longer happen. With his sudden exit, the most likely candidate to face Selby is Iranian pro Hossein Vafaei, who is ranked 19 behind David Gilbert.

Despite the harsh condemnations of Ferguson, none of the Chinese players has spoken up regarding the suspensions. Selby, meanwhile, has been critical of those named in the scandal. The winner of 21 ranking tournaments has requested a “lifetime” ban for all of them. Ferguson, however, said that sanction is “somewhat unlikely.”

Snooker Friction on the Rise

Ferguson didn’t explain what evidence the WPBSA uncovered or how long the suspensions will be in place. The players can appeal the decision, but that won’t change the bans in the meantime.

The WPBSA is in the middle of an identity crisis, to which the match-fixing scandal adds fuel. Ronnie O’Sullivan, the top snooker player in the world and the man everyone wants to beat but can’t, recently caught flak from rival Shaun Murphy.

The 11th-ranked Murphy publicly blasted O’Sullivan during the UK Championship for not being a true ambassador for the game. He called him out for being a snooker snob. But O’Sullivan, who’s considering hanging up his snooker cue, didn’t bite.

During the English Open last month, Elliot Slessor and Neil Robertson faced off in a match that still has the snooker community talking. Robertson was up and had to bring in a spider – a type of bridge used to clear the cue stick over a ball – to make a shot.

As he took the shot, the referee called a foul. She argued that the cue hit the ball Robertson had to clear.

That led to a reaction of bewilderment by Robertson. The ref didn’t have a clear view of the angle and there was no indication the ball moved. Despite the incident, Robertson went on to win the game.