Corruption Rife in Snooker?

October 14, 2012 4:09 pm

 

It’s been two years since John Higgins was cleared of allegations made by News of The World regarding match-fixing. The incident shocked snooker fans around the world but was greeted by a customary silence amongst the players and close members of the snooker community until now, as Joe Jogia and others have spoken. Is match-fixing commonplace in the sport? Are the players aware of it? Do the players indirectly elicit it by failing to report these offences?

We are still very much living in the legacy of the ‘Higgins incident’ as the recent emergence of similar cases can clarify. It was a significant moment in the history of snooker. For a humble man like Higgins to be involved in such a serious case would make any sport’s governing body sceptical of the integrity of their sport. Fans of Higgins would have been slightly relieved when he said he had:

Never deliberately missed a shot, never mind intentionally lost a frame or a match.

But the fact remains that he and his then manager Pat Mooney arranged to meet with an undercover reporter (who was posing as a Ukrainian businessman) and appeared to agree to alter the outcome of frames in return for £261,000. The meeting and subsequent discussions were all recorded by a secret camera and presented to the disciplinary committee. It was, therefore, fairly clear-cut that Higgins agreed to the ‘Ukranian’s’ requests but whether he had arranged the interview himself or, in fact, knew anything about it, is a different issue. However, his manager must’ve at least outlined the reasons why they were going to Ukraine – you don’t just casually visit another country with your manager, on a whim. On the other hand, slices of ambiguity surrounded  Higgins’s intention to put the agreement into practice and actually throw a frame in a competitive match. Given Higgins’s reputation within the game, I suppose this was a big doubt and was probably the saving grace for Higgins. 

Regardless, the credibility of the sport and, more importantly, the integrity of the players had now been cast into doubt as a result of Higgins’s fiasco. No doubt, honest players were now scouring the backrooms for potential cheats. Unfortunately, this is indicative of the snowballing effect of corruption in sport. It will eat away at the very traditions and values that are so pertinent to a sport like snooker and will eventually, if not treated with enough severity, bring the sport into total disrepute. Any sport relies on spectators, not only as a financial necessity but to create a sense of intensity and pressure for sportsmen to thrive off. If certain frames or even matches are already pre-determined then the key aspect of any spectator sport has been negated – that of unpredictability

The whole point of watching a sport is the suspense it offers and that sense that anything can happen next. Corruption in sport is highly disappointing from a spectator’s point of view. Certain incidents like the Higgins one need to be made an example of, otherwise corruption will tear through the very fabric of the sport (I don’t mean the green baize!) A six month ban and a measly fine isn’t enough to deter a sportsman engaging in a deal worth over £200,000. Governing bodies and independent tribunals need to make the bans heftier to maximise the potential risk for cheats.

This hard-line strategy has been successfully deployed by various sporting councils, including the International Cricket Council, in the way they dealt with the recent ‘spot fixing’ allegations facing Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. The harshest punishment was endured by Salmon Butt who was sentenced to thirty months in a UK jail and banned from any professional cricket for life. This sort of punishment should be commonplace for those who risk bringing a whole sport into disrepute and is the most important step in tackling the problem. As Haroon Lorgat, chief executive of the ICC said in a statement:

We hope that this verdict is seen as a further warning to any individual who might, for whatever reason, be tempted to engage in corrupt activity within our sport.

However, the problems with corruption in sport are more deeply set and have as much to do with the political stability of the country than the security and popularity of the sport in question. This is especially applicable to Cricket in the far-east where an extensive underground betting network still operates in India, revealing a deeply saddening tale of epidemic corruption – the network can only survive if players take part in ‘spot-fixing’. This form of black market is often built up by rich businessmen who tempt players, mostly impressionable youngsters like Amir, with hundreds of thousands of pounds and promises of frequent visits from a choice of luring ladies. However, players are less likely to comply with these people if they know that they are at risk of losing their career, reputation and livelihood.

These harsh punishments have seemingly not been put into place in snooker, as the Higgins incident may testify to and so, according to world number fifty-seven Joe Jogia, corruption is still rife in snooker. Jogia was banned until the end of the 2014 World Championships and claimed that he had been made “a scapegoat” for the rampant corruption that takes place in the sport. He said:

I’m going to go and tell my stories now, about people on the tour and what they get up to.

In fact, snooker legend Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins has readily shown the public that corruption was prevalent in his day at least. Although he flatly denied taking a bribe in his controversial career, he did claim that he was offered £18,000 to lose a Masters quarter final and £20,000 to fix a match at the Irish Masters. He also said that he knew of specific match-fixing incidents, saying:

I’m still in touch with top agents in the game and the only thing they’ve said about this is, “How greedy do you want to be?” I know of at least four pros who have taken big bribes to chuck games. The names would shock the public if it was proved they were on the take.

It was a shocking discovery at the time and put things into perspective about the state of the game. Although these incidents took place a good while ago, they look set to continue if the governing bodies of the sport do not take the right steps to ensure its integrity. From a financial point also, snooker will never achieve the heights of the 80s if widespread corruption gets exposed in the press. People will simply cease to pay the money to watch!

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