Snooker, like any sport, has seen its fair share of scandals over the years, but the current match-fixing affair is quickly becoming a crisis for the game.
Concerns about just how deep this saga goes are growing after Yan Bingtao was added to the list of Chinese competitors who are now suspended.
The former Masters champion was called for an interview ahead of his English Open contest with Ashley Hugill on Monday, and the decision was duly made to suspend him while an ongoing investigation into snooker match-fixing continues.
- CLICK HERE: Chang Bingyu claims Liang Wenbo threatened him
Last week, Lu Ning, Li Hang, Chang Bingyu, Bai Langning, and Zhao Jianbo were all also suspended with immediate effect.
It comes less than two months after Liang Wenbo was the first of what is now seven suspended, and there are claims that the former English Open champion could be at the centre of the catastrophe.
In a now deleted post to Chinese microblogging website Weibo, 20 year-old Chang alleged that Liang threatened him to lose his British Open tie against Jamie Jones this summer, and then again to cover it up.
While that is already a serious and worrying accusation, the update regarding Yan’s potential involvement has taken this story to an even grimmer level.
Ranked inside the top 16 in the world rankings, the 22 year-old is widely considered to be one of the brightest young stars in the game and a probable future world champion.
“WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson has taken the decision to suspend Yan Bingtao from attending or competing on the World Snooker Tour with immediate effect,” the statement from the governing body on Monday said.
“This decision is part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of manipulating the outcome of matches for betting purposes in breach of the WPBSA Conduct Regulations.”
“The suspension will remain in place until the conclusion of the investigation or any subsequent charges that may or may not be brought. Yan Bingtao has the right to appeal this decision.
“No further comment will be made except in the event of any significant further developments.”
Speaking to Eurosport, Ferguson later added, “Yan Bingtao turned up this morning and he was interviewed at length by Nigel Mawer, our head of integrity.”
“As a result of that interview and discussions, I took the decision to suspend Yan Bingtao with immediate effect, pending any outcome of this investigation or any potential disciplinary proceedings which may follow.
“We’re a long way down the road with this investigation. We’re constantly monitoring markets and everything else.
“We know what’s going on. And if any player thinks they can get away with it, by the way, they’re completely foolish, because we can find it easily.
“It is not a good look for us, but we are a sport that chooses to deal with it. We are a sport that chooses to put it out in the public domain. We will not have it talked about behind the scenes.
“Expose it, get it out there, deal with it, and we can move on with the professional sport that we’ve got.”
Not being a good look for the sport is an understatement, and there are players and fans who are already anxious that it could get worse.
Former world number five Marco Fu said that he was “devastated about these snooker suspensions,” while English professional Chris Wakelin expressed his disdain on Twitter as well.
“This is a dark day for snooker,” world no.46 Wakelin wrote on the social media website.
“I doubt the World Snooker Tour have got to the bottom of this investigation yet but it scares me how deep the rabbit hole may go.”
“Integrity is everything in sport, this could jeopardise ours for many years to come.”
There have been match-fixing scandals in snooker for decades, and many of those have resulted in big bans.
Arguably the most high-profile case was the one involving five-time ranking event winner Stephen Lee, whose string of manipulated matches led to a 12-year ban that he’s still currently serving.
Four-time world snooker champion John Higgins also generated humbling headlines in 2010, eventually receiving a six-month ban for failing to report an approach for illicit gambling, although the Scot was cleared of any wrongdoings in relation to match-fixing.
- CLICK HERE: Stephen Lee answers comeback calls
In 2018, Chinese pair Yu Delu and Cao Yupeng were handed lengthy sentences for matches fixed at the Welsh Open two years earlier.
While Cao is already back competing on the Main Tour, Yu won’t be eligible to return until 2029.
Fast forward to the present day, and there is speculation as to just how many players from China may be involved in this current fiasco.
There are many other questions being raised, though.
How long has this been going on for? How many matches have had their outcomes influenced? And just what will be the long-term effect for the sport, particularly in China?
We await the answers as the investigation continues, but one thing is becoming increasingly obvious.
Snooker is in the midst of a crisis – one that’s developing in ways that could make it the sport’s most damaging ever.
Featured photo credit: WST