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Snooker world rocked by match-fixing scandal as 10 players are banned amid allegations of bullying and the involvement of criminal gangs, leaving the sport shrouded in controversy on the eve of 2023 Masters

  • Ten Chinese Snooker stars have been suspended from the World Snooker Tour
  • It comes amid a match-fixing scandal that has seen players accused of bullying
  • World number nine Zhao Xintong, 25, is among those that has been banned
  • The controversy comes on the eve of the 2023 Masters, which starts on Sunday 

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The match-fixing scandal rocking snooker is believed to involve criminal gangs, with leading players bullying their younger rivals into cheating.

A source close to the situation told The Mail on Sunday that one alleged plot involved one or more experienced Chinese players coercing younger compatriots to fix elements of games for profit.

A second plot is said to entail more conventional fixing ordered by criminals. Both scenarios are thought to involve the exploitation of betting markets.

World number nine Zhao Xintong is among ten snooker players who have been suspended

World number nine Zhao Xintong is among ten snooker players who have been suspended

Ten Chinese players have now been suspended from the World Snooker Tour, including the 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 of the other players is Lu Ning, age 29 and ranked No 46. The others are former English Open winner Liang Wenbo, 35, ranked No 56, Li Hang, aged 32 (ranked 64), Chang Bingyu, 20 (77), Zhang Jiankang, 24 (85), Chen Zifan, 27 (93), Bai Langning, 20 (126), and 19-year-old Zhao Jianbo, unranked.

The suspensions all relate to alleged offences of ‘manipulating the outcome of matches for betting purposes’ but not all those suspended are suspected necessarily of fixing games. It may be that they allegedly had knowledge of it without being involved.

The MoS can reveal the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) began their fixing probe in October last year after several of their anti-corruption safeguards were triggered. It is understood that a whistleblowing hotline received intelligence of alleged wrongdoing around the time that betting monitors logged unusual activity in some snooker markets, triggering concerns.

2021 Masters winner Yan Bingtao (left) has also been suspended amid a match-fixing scandal

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 was set to play former world champion Mark Selby in the first round, and Yan Bingtao was due to face former world champion Mark Williams. Both men have been replaced as their futures in the game hang in the balance.

The WPBSA’s investigation is expected to conclude its evidence-gathering phase ‘within weeks, not months’, before decisions are made whether to charge any players.

Snooker’s governing body has made a concerted effort to expand the sport into China since the mid-Noughties, staging more events in the country and helping develop talent there. There was a handful of Chinese players ranked inside the world top 100 in 2008, for example, and today there are 24, including eight of those suspended.

Masters champion Neil Robertson said it was 'important to get to the bottom' of the allegations

Masters champion Neil Robertson said it was ‘important to get to the bottom’ of the allegations

‘We’re pushing as hard as we can because this type of thing is very damaging and we have to prove to the public that we can take swift action,’ Jason Ferguson, the WBPSA chairman, told The Mail on Sunday.

Ferguson would not comment on any specific aspects of the investigation, or give any detail on the location or scope of matches that might have been fixed. ‘But I can assure fans we know we have to be completely clean, so they can have faith that every ball played is being done so with integrity,’ he said.

Neil Robertson, the Masters champion, says he is confident the investigation will get to the root of the allegations. ‘The most important thing to get to the bottom of is how this has all happened, and I trust the investigation will do that,’ said the former world champion, who begins his Masters defence against Shaun Murphy at the event today.

‘We don’t know the seriousness of each individual case. And as the cases are dealt with, we need to find out how so many came to be involved, that there was enough evidence to suspend them.

‘Are there even sinister organisations involved? Are they getting enough education? I know they get some. But they all have to know this is illegal, is not just a slap on the wrist, and could wreck their careers.

‘Obviously I’d rather not be talking about it, and only about the defence of my title. But if you are a top player and one that has been around a while, you have to address it.’

Source: Daily Mail UK

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