Official blasts fixers as snooker returns to China

Ten Chinese players were handed bans of varying lengths by the WPBSA

AFP September 15, 2023


A top world snooker official on Friday blasted the "despicable behaviour" of the ring-leaders of a group of Chinese players banned in June in a major corruption scandal, as the sport returns to the country.

Ten Chinese players were handed bans of varying lengths by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) after investigators uncovered a far-reaching match-fixing ring.

World number 72 Liang Wenbo and 71st-ranked Li Hang were given lifetime bans from snooker after pressuring younger team-mates to participate in corruption.

Also banned, until December 2027, was the 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao.

Speaking to AFP at the Shanghai Masters, WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson took particular aim at Liang and Li, saying they "manipulated" younger Chinese players who were isolated in Britain at the time because of the pandemic.

"Quite frankly, I found their behaviour to be despicable," Ferguson said.

The WPBSA said in June that Chinese players in Britain to practise and play "felt lonely, bored and even more isolated" during the pandemic.

They were unable to visit home because of China's strict Covid rules, which were relaxed late last year.

The 10 players' offences included manipulating games, approaching players to cheat, betting on snooker and fixing the outcome of matches.

"The elders of that group have certainly manipulated some of the young ones," Ferguson said, adding that the ring-leaders "have been dealt with very severely by us".

"I make no apologies for ruthlessly dealing with those people. They will never play snooker again," he said.

"There were a couple of players in there that I've known from very, very young, who have come through the ranks and made it to the top of the sport, and that was a very sad thing," he added.

"But all it takes is one or two bad people to manipulate innocent people, and I felt very sorry for some of the younger players in that they got caught up because they were put in a very difficult position."

Retired professional player Ferguson made the remarks as mainland China hosts its first elite international snooker event since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019.

Four-time Shanghai Masters champion and world number one Ronnie O'Sullivan is looking to extend his winning streak, with the tournament's final scheduled for Sunday.

Despite the scandal throwing Chinese snooker into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, Ferguson said that "demand for snooker is probably higher than ever" in the country, which is a major market for the WPBSA.

China has also been producing a growing number of high-calibre players in recent years.

The WPBSA's handling of the match-fixing affair had "shown the Chinese snooker fans that they can have confidence in the sport", Ferguson said.

He said the organisation was determined to rise to the increasingly sophisticated challenge of illegal betting and match manipulation.

"This latest phase was without doubt the most sophisticated way of corrupting matches that we have ever seen," he said.

"The problem is every day new technology comes out, new (illegal betting) platforms are being launched," he added.


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