The match-fixing scandal rocking snooker is believed to involve criminal gangs, with top players bullying their younger rivals into cheating.
A source close to the situation told The Mail on Sunday that a suspected plot involved one or more experienced Chinese players forcing younger compatriots to fix elements of the games for profit.
The second framework is said to require more common fixes ordered by criminals. Both situations are thought to involve exploiting the betting markets.
World number nine Zhao Xintong is among ten snooker players suspended
Ten Chinese players have already been suspended from the World Snooker Tour, including world No 9 Zhao Xintong, 25, a winner of two ranking events including the 2021 UK Championship, and Yan Bingtao, 22, the world No 16 and the Masters winner in 2021.
The highest ranked other player is Lu Ning, age 29 and ranked No 46. The others are former English Open winner Liang Wenbo, 35, ranked No 56, Li Hang, age 32 (ranked 64), Chang Bingyu , 20 (77). ), Zhang Jiankang, 24 (85), Chen Zifan, 27 (93), Bai Langning, 20 (126), and Zhao Jianbo, 19, are unranked.
All of the suspensions relate to alleged offenses of ‘manipulating the outcome of matches for betting purposes’ but not all of those suspended are necessarily suspected of fixing games. They may have knowledge of it without being involved.
The MoS can reveal that the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) began its investigation arrangement in October last year after some of its anti-corruption safeguards were triggered. It is understood that a whistleblowing hotline received information about the alleged wrongdoing at a time when betting monitors logged unusual activity in some snooker markets, raising concerns.
2021 Masters winner Yan Bingtao (left) has also been suspended amid a match-fixing scandal
The controversy comes at a terrible time for the sport, with the 2023 Masters starting on Sunday at Alexandra Palace in London. Zhao Xintong is set to play former world champion Mark Selby in the first round, and Yan Bingtao is set to face former world champion Mark Williams. Both men were replaced as their futures in the game hung in the balance.
The WPBSA investigation is expected to complete its evidence-gathering phase ‘within weeks, not months’, before decisions are made on whether to charge any players.
Snooker’s governing body has made a concerted effort to expand the sport in China since the mid-Noughties, holding more events in the country and helping develop talent there. There were a handful of Chinese players ranked inside the world’s top 100 in 2008, for example, and now there are 24, including eight of those suspended.
Masters champion Neil Robertson said it was ‘important to get to the bottom’ of the allegations
‘We are being pushed as hard as we can because this sort of thing is very damaging and we need to prove to the public that we can take swift action,’ Jason Ferguson, the chairman of the WBPSA, told The Mail on Sunday.
Ferguson would not comment on any specific aspect of the investigation, or provide any details on the location or scope of the matches that may have been fixed. ‘But I can assure the fans that we know we have to be absolutely clean, so they have faith that every ball played is done with integrity,’ he said.
Neil Robertson, the Masters champion, said he was confident the investigation would get to the root of the allegations. ‘The most important thing to get to the bottom of is how it all happened, and I trust the investigation will do that,’ said the former world champion, who begins his Masters defense against Shaun Murphy at today’s event.
‘We don’t know the seriousness of each individual case. And while handling the cases, we need to find out how many were involved, with enough evidence to suspend them.
‘Are there sinister organizations involved? Are they getting enough education? I know they get it. But they all need to know that this is against the law, not just a slap on the wrist, and could ruin their careers.
‘Obviously I’d rather not talk about it, and just be about defending my title. But if you’re a top player and one that’s been around for a long time, you have to deal with it.’