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Higgins allegations rock snooker to its core

May 3, 2010 2 comments

British tabloid News of the World yesterday (Sunday) broke a story claiming that world number one John Higgins had agreed to take a £261,000 bribe to deliberately affect the outcome of certain frames. Upon hearing the news, World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn was mortified and suspended Higgins pending further information. It is a story that has rocked the sport and worthy of a more in depth look.

I must make clear at this point that there is NO EVIDENCE that Higgins has ever fixed a snooker match or frame, but the News of the World fake sheikh style sting alleges that he AGREED to do so.

The tabloid has published a video of Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney meeting with an undercover reporter. The newspaper claims that the video was filmed at a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine and this detail is an important part of the story.

Ukraine is unfortunately a country that is no stranger to match fixing controversies. Dynamo Kiev has been implicated in the past and UEFA recently suspended a Ukrainian referee as part of their bribe probe. Criminal gangs operate in the country and it is claimed that they are often behind match fixing plans.

Higgins and Mooney have stated that they feared for their safety during the meeting as they were not sure who they were dealing with. Mooney said he felt that it could be the Russian Mafia and that they went along with it out of fear. He said they were spooked and felt that the best option was to go along with it and get out of Ukraine as quickly as possible. The News of the World argues otherwise and claims to have had meetings with them in Scotland. So we have a red top tabloid’s word versus that of an elite sportsman and his manager. You can make up your own mind.

Barry Hearn was unimpressed with the whole saga and whilst he made it clear that no one is stating unequivocally that Higgins has cheated, he felt that the Scot had a case to answer and so opted to suspend him. Hearn has seen the tape and feels that ‘it doesn’t look good,’ but he has taken a cautious approach and set the disciplinary procedure in motion. How the story will end is, at this point in time, anybody’s guess.

Hearn, who was appointed World Snooker Chairman in December and plans on revolutionising the sport in much the same way as he has darts, has vowed to stamp out any kind of deep–rooted issue in the sport with regards to match fixing, but does snooker really have such a problem?

Maybe is the answer. In February this year, Stephen Lee was arrested on suspicion of cheating and police in Scotland are investigating a match between Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett but nobody has yet been found guilty of any wrongdoing.

In 2006, Australia’s Quentin Hann was the victim of another tabloid sting, this time by The Sun. The newspaper claimed that he agreed to lose his match in the China Open against Ken Doherty in return for money. He did not attend the disciplinary hearing but was found guilty in absentia. He was banned from snooker for eight years and fined £10,000. Hardly a match-fixing epidemic.

The Higgins story is therefore not the first of its kind so why has it made such an impact?

The reasons are two-fold. Firstly, the story broke on the day the World Championship final was due to start at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, unfortunately overshadowing the match itself. Secondly, and more importantly, the accused himself. John Higgins is an excellent snooker player, an all-time great, an MBE and a devoted family man. His squeaky clean image does not exactly go hand in hand with the accusations.

The snooker world is in shock with former world champion Steve Davis proclaiming: ‘It’s the darkest day I’ve ever experienced in snooker,’ but let us not forget that there is no proof yet, that anyone has done anything wrong and so let’s hope that Higgins is treated with respect and as he should be; innocent until proven guilty.

Categories: Snooker