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Should Snooker Lose Bookie Sponsorship?

Irish amateur John Sutton’s suspension pending a hearing into an alleged betting scandal once again threw the sport of snooker into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Stephen Lee is unable to compete until 2024, effectively ending his career - photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Stephen Lee is unable to compete until 2024, effectively ending his career – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Last week’s German Masters was a superb spectacle, in particular Fantastic Friday’s evening session which produced four out of four deciding frame climaxes, yet it still struggled to garner extensive media attention.

In comparison, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association’s statement concerning Sutton has been widely covered by not only the regular snooker outlets, but more general news and sports publications as well.

Indeed, on SnookerHQ alone, Sutton’s pledge of innocence following the outbreak of the story in September proved to be 2014’s most read article on this website.

It has always been the case – bad news sells.

And almost all of this “bad news” concerning snooker of late has revolved around alleged match-fixing.

For the sport, and its largely trustworthy batch of participants, it’s frustrating, because even if Sutton is acquitted of any wrongdoing it wont be covered as expansively as it is being done now when the suspicion still exists, and regular Joe public will be left with the lasting impression, false maybe, that snooker is full of cheats.

While this has been proven true on a few occasions, most notoriously when Stephen Lee was given a 12-year ban in 2013, predominantly the sports is, of course, a clean one full of reputable competitors.

However, these cases, and more like them, prompted one reader yesterday to question the merits of having bookmakers as professional tournament sponsors.

While in Europe and Asia it has been different, the last three majors in the traditional hotbed of snooker Britain – the World and UK Championships along with the Masters – have been sponsored by major betting companies Dafabet (twice) and Coral.

In fact, the Welsh Open, which is due to start next Monday in Cardiff, is going to be represented by a similar firm in BetVictor.

The question is, does their presence have a negative impact on the players both currently on the circuit and those making their way up through the junior ranks?

As World Snooker attempts, rightly, to stamp out the existence of match-fixing within the sport, some argue that this form of sponsorship sends out a mixed message.

This may be accurate, but would it really make any significant difference if these bookmakers were replaced with companies from another industry?

Personally, I don’t think it would alter matters much at all and there are many reasons why somebody would choose the wrong path.

One reason, but certainly not the only one, is that snooker players, perhaps because they spend most of their days and nights practicing in clubs, can sometimes find themselves surrounded by shady characters who may then frequently act as a bad influence.

Furthermore, unregulated money matches are common in cue sports, especially on the amateur scene, with many punters at times getting in on a piece of the action.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this on the lower level. It’s just the way it has been, the way it is and the way it will continue to be.

However, this perhaps then can lead to some players being misled as they move up into the professional ranks, with poor decisions ultimately being made.

So while I can understand people suspecting the influence of bookmaker sponsorship, I believe their presence is largely irrelevant.

Even if they are replaced by other sponsors, the bookmakers themselves will continue to exist and certain folk will continue to gamble.

The fact is, all sports have bad eggs.

Most carry the weight of doping on their shoulders; others bribery, falsified age or something else.

Snooker’s virus is match-fixing, but a relatively small and increasingly controlled one thanks to the more persistent pursuance of suspicious betting patterns by the Integrity Unit.

While Sutton may yet be found not guilty, these actions by the WPBSA will send out a consistent message and likely be the true deterrent in anybody involved in the sport’s attempts to defraud the game.

Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.