17.9.13

SNOOKER IN A FIX

Does snooker have a match fixing problem?

Yes.

Do most other sports have a match fixing problem?

Yes.

Why?

Because ever since there have been games, people have cheated at games. To have even one match a year not contested honestly constitutes a problem because the bedrock of any sport is its integrity.

Ronnie O’Sullivan today issued a broad-brush allegation that there was plenty more match fixing in snooker. If he has any evidence of this he should present it to the authorities, otherwise his actions are akin to walking past a burning house and lobbing a can of petrol through the window.

O’Sullivan is the highest profile figure in the sport and he must have known before he tweeted that his accusations would receive plenty of media coverage. They should be examined and he should be asked to explain them.

In general, players should report malpractice or suspected malpractice. Too many of them live by some daft code that says a ‘grass’ is worse than someone who cheats.

This may be true if you’re 12 years old or in The Sopranos but in the world of sport the only way to stop cheating is to root out cheats. Stephen Lee isn’t a scapegoat, he’s someone who has been shown to have fixed the results of matches. Anyone else found to have done the same should face similar sanction.

O’Sullivan would be right if he claimed snooker had been historically bad at dealing with all of this.

I recall going to a tournament in Aberdeen early in my journalistic career where I was anecdotally told the results of three matches before they were played. The prevailing view backstage was that this was all a bit of a laugh, as if the players in question were entitled to lose on purpose with no consequences.

I know of a match in a ranking event where the referee afterwards went to the tournament office to state for the record that he believed one of the players had lost on purpose.

I know of another referee who actually overheard two players arranging the result of a match in a round robin tournament. His complaint went nowhere.

It’s all too easy to be sanctimonious about the Lee case but what does genuinely offend me is that he chose to fix a match at the World Championship.

I first visited the Crucible when I was 13, starry-eyed at snooker’s theatre of dreams. I knew I would never play there but Lee had talent sufficient to be world champion. Instead, he chose to dishonour the venue, the tournament and the sport.

Let’s be clear, though: sport is not pure and never has been. Neither are the people who watch it. Every human being on the planet is a mass of contradictions and paradoxical attitudes which they employ only when convenient to them.

As we’ve seen in the spheres of politics and religion, the biggest moralisers are usually the biggest hypocrites.

Why do sports people cheat? Because everyone else does. All the time.

Does it make it acceptable? No. But let’s not pretend it doesn’t go on.

Snooker does not receive anything like the media coverage it once did, certainly in the UK. All too often the only stories the general public notices concern match-fixing, which makes the link that snooker has a problem.

Actually, it has no greater problem than any other sport. Neither does it suffer from drugs use like athletics, cycling and other sports yet to properly address this issue.

But there is a more serious problem: I genuinely think some players don’t understand why it is wrong.

Players who cheat are very often – indeed almost always – influenced by the curious collection of people with whom they choose to surround themselves. So many ‘managers’ down the years have been exposed as con-artists but players have usually been the last to see it, leading to financial difficulties and, I suppose, the greater likelihood of corruption.

The explosion in internet betting has led to greater temptation but should not be used as an excuse, any more than the captain of the Titanic should have blamed the iceberg.

The integrity unit, set up after John Higgins was caught in a News of the World sting in 2010, is the most rigorous body snooker has had for rooting out corruption, although this wouldn’t be difficult as it is the only body the game has ever had for this purpose. It is certainly a welcome step up from what happened 15 or so years ago when betting was suspended on two qualifying matches and the WPBSA’s solution was to send one of its board members into the arena to watch both matches simultaneously before concluding ‘there was nothing in it.’

Niger Mawer has been forensic in gathering evidence and presenting a case. But this case has been easier to prosecute than any that demands evidence from, for instance, Asian bookmakers. The battle goes on and it’s getting harder and harder.

As a boy watching snooker on TV, I would never have believed the players I admired could be capable of cheating. Such idealism disappeared almost the minute I began working in a sport full of great people but also operating in the real world, with its often distasteful realities.

Is snooker clean? No, not completely. Neither is any other sport or, indeed, any other walk of life.

To pretend otherwise is to indulge in dangerous self-delusion. But to hope the players of the future properly regard the sport whose fate rests in their hands is to hope that the message has finally got through: making a living from the game is a privilege, not a right. Treat it with respect.

22 comments:

jamie brannon said...

I'm not sure everyone cheats, as most snooker players haven't been caught cheating, it is one of the few sports where everyone calls their own fouls.

That said, behind the scenes more players could be involved in far greater malpractice.

O'Sullivan's comments were a little naive.

Dave's right about this being distorted due to snooker's lack of press coverage. Hardly any sport is always clear of cheating. Only bowls and darts spring to mind that haven't been embroiled to my knowledge.

Snookerbrain1968 said...

Having read Ronnie's comments, it is very difficult to disagree, however uncomfortable it may sound.
The mystery surrounding the Kiev case only deepens given that nobody seems able to mention or have an opinion about it.
This is borne out by the fact that my previous comment was deemed unsuitable. As, I'd imagine this one will be too.

Dave H said...

I'm not going to be sued because of what some anonymous person has written. If you want to make allegations then do so on your own website using your real name.

Snookerbrain1968 said...

The evidence against Lee was so damning and comprehensive it is difficult to understand why the Police investigation was shelved.

quijibo81 said...

I couldn't agree more with the point on Ronnie O'Sullivan. I'd like to see some sort of punishment for players who are in possession of knowledge about potential match-fixing but don't pass it on to the authorities, as all players should have a responsibility to ensure fairness and transparency in the sport, as much for their own good as anyone elses. There also has to be work done by sports authorities in general to dispel the apparently widely-believed myth amongst players that 'spot-fixing' is a victimless crime.

Ray147 said...

Great piece Dave,journalism doesn't get better than this.
Shame that snooker is going to get a right kicking over this from so called "superior" sports journalists. Let's get a few facts straight before they start.

Athletics (Olympic ideals!)- Competitors guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs getting banned for 2 years and then back in top flight races again. And wasn't it Duane Chambers who said "you can't get on the podium without drugs"?

Cricket - the South African scandal; the spot fixing scandal and the unedifying spectacle of Broad refusing to walk after some blatant cheating.

Tour de France - the unbelievable amount of drug taking since it began.

Football (the beautiful game!)- universal match fixing in high profile clubs; brown envelopes changing hands all over the place.

Golf (supposed to be the bastion of good sportsmanship!) - balls being moved and shots played from the wrong place and players not having the integrity to disqualify themselves for the good of the game.

I for one won't be swallowing the mendacious nonsense that will be written about snooker.

PS ROS has just proved again that snooker doesn't need any enemies.
Sad to say but TWITTER is like giving a monkey a machine gun.

Snookerbrain1968 said...

Dave, I apologise if any of my comments strayed in to libelous territory as I would not wish to expose your site to legal retribution.
These are worrying times. Even more so given O'Sullivan's revelatory remarks. It is true to say that transparency is important in order to maintain integrity and is what potential sponsors will insist on in order to invest. That said, if that same transparency uncovers widespread wrongdoing as Ronnie suggests, then attracting sponsorship may well be impossible.
Those who have engaged in this type of behaviour have every right to feel thoroughly ashamed and should expect to be dealt with severely.

Dave H said...

I agree. Although Ronnie now seems to be rolling back on his earlier comments. His latest tweet is that he has no firm evidence of match fixing.

Snookerbrain1968 said...

He's a complicated bunch of guys !

Jon Shaw said...

Great article David, agree with everything you have said. I work in the gambling industry myself and it doesn't help matters that firms are betting on markets like "First frame", "First colour potted" etc as it opens up more temptations on incidental markets. It doesn't of course excuse any of the players involved. I travelled up with a friend to the crucible from Bedfordshire and saw the two sessions at 10am and 7pm of Stephen Lee v Ryan Day in 2009. It saddens me to think we bought tickets, paid petrol and all the others costs to a match where the results was already conspired by Lee and co. :-(

It's also quite ironic that it wasn't too long ago Barry Hearn was championing Lee as a great example of someone making the most of the new snooker revolution. Didn't last :-(

Ray147 said...

Just to put the record straight ... it was remiss of me not to mention Maradona's "hand of God" and Henry's similar action. Prior to the tackle from behind being outlawed and the laws being tightened up, you could practically get away with GBH and not get sent off.
Remember Pele was kicked into submission in the 66 World Cup Finals.
Makes you laugh to hear these sports journalists calling it the beautiful game. It's all spin.

Monique Limbos said...

@Dave
Ronnie never said he's got hard evidence. His very first tweet started with "I heard …" . You certainly know better than most that one does hear a lot when around the tour. Most of it mere speculations, rumours and gossip. But it's human nature and you can't help build feelings and opinions on it.
I thing that until a not so distant pasts too many things have been more or less swept under the carpet, and if they were not, then not enough effort have been put on explaining why they were dealt with the way they did. If I'm not mistaken this one is the first where the full decision comes out.
It would be hypocrite to deny that there are talks around the tour about those things each time a new incident - even minor - takes place. And there is a feeling that there are discrepancies in the way they are tackled. Didn't Mark Allen tweet about his feeling that Higgins got away lightly only a couple of days ago? What is done about the three matches involving Thai players? (and yes I know it's extremely difficult).
Why did Jogia get a sentence that equates to a career ending one that was so worse than others who were treated more leniently? What were the reasons why WSA dropped the matters immediately in the Maguire - Burnett case? (I'm sure there must be valid reasons, but as long as they are not made clear speculations will continue). What happened with the Michie case? (other than him stepping out of the game …).
Ronnie I'm afraid only expressed what many think or feel and instead of hitting hard at the messenger - ill-advised as he might be - wouldn't it be better to tackle the causes of the malaise and put a even bigger effort into transparency and proven consistency in the decisions made?
Don't get me wrong: the situation has improved massive with Hearn and publishing the full decision on Lee is really appreciated and can only be applauded. But you can't expect things to be turned around in peoples mind from one day to the other.

jamie brannon said...

By the way, I've been trying to remember a darting controversy on a similar scale to the ones in most other sports and can't.

It seems strange as the sport does attract a lot of gambling and the money has ratcheted up in the last decade quite considerably.

An excellent piece on this case, by the way, containing the sort of balance that makes reading this blog a regular duty when I go online.

The Blog said...

"Why do sports people cheat? Because everyone else does. All the time."

Oh well, that's a bit of a bummer! Kinda ruins the appeal of sport, perhaps!

ANON said...

Jamie:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/darts/4599364.stm

The Blog said...

I love Dave's blog but his comment

"Why do sports people cheat? Because everyone else does. All the time."

almost condones the actions of Stephen Lee. If everyone cheats why should we care about Lee's actions?

I think Dave should amend that paragraph or explain it. Clearly not everyone cheats in sport. Some do but not everyone. I think I know what he was trying to say but his language, which is usually so precise, was a bit clumsy, perhaps.

jamie brannon said...

I will check that out, imagine it may be in relation to the accusation that Phil Taylor cheated in a small tournament in Cyprus.

There's still never been a story on match-fixing though, not that it doesn't necessarily go on.

Was thinking that Stephen Lee is the most successful player in terms of ranking event victories never to have triumphed in one of snooker's 'big three' events.

Dave H said...

There was originally a long explanation of what I meant but I removed it as it seemed a bit boring. What I meant was cheating isn't limited to sport and those who watch it are not whiter than white (example: a man who cheats on his wife lambasting a cheating sportsman).

'Everyone else does all the time' was probably overstating it though.

dannyb said...

"I know of a match in a ranking event where the referee afterwards went to the tournament office to state for the record that he believed one of the players had lost on purpose.

I know of another referee who actually overheard two players arranging the result of a match in a round robin tournament. His complaint went nowhere."


I'll be surprised if you approve this for moderation but my points are valid and fair. However i'm not sure you're as open to criticism as a journalist should be.

My point is this:

Surely as a snooker fan, snooker lover and above all as a journalist, you should be naming names here.

If you're confident in your facts, then both incidents will be on the record with World Snooker. If, indeed, your allegations here are true - you have NOTHING to fear legally in reporting the names of the players and refs involved.

If, however, this is another egregious example of rumour-mongering then you should withdraw your allegations.

Remember this: you are not alleging any wrongdoing by any player with your above comments. What you are alleging is TWO seperate referrees reported incidents involving players to World Snooker. As such, naming names is neither slanderous nor libellous so long as your allegations are true. If they are true, then you will have 2 refs to back you up and 2 allegations made on the record to World Snooker from said refs at the time.

Far from being outstanding journalism, it's throwaway comments like these which help fuel the perception snooker is crooked.

If you retain journalistic credibility and stand by your above comments, then why not name the incidents?

I'm not for one minute looking to get a hard working journo (and good one) into legal difficulties. But i see no allegations on your behalf of any wrongdoing by any player. All i see are 2 allegations that a ref reported misconduct involving players. As such naming the incidents should be no issue.

Dave H said...

All but one of the incidents has been reported in the press already but I have no intention of entering into a potentially lengthy and costly legal process.

dannyb said...

Thats fine but then you lose any moral high ground when you say it offends you that Lee chose to match fix at the Crucible.

If people like yourself have information or allegations yet choose to stay quiet (for reasons you stated above) then it's a bit churlish to be offended by any match-fixing.

If people want to clamp down on it, they should take their allegations directly to World Snooker. Indifference won't help the sport.

Dave H said...

World Snooker know all about all the cases I mentioned, so your moralising is pointless.