The developing match-fixing investigation in snooker could have consequences for the sport that prove difficult to recover from.
The BALCO scandal. Does anybody remember that?
Around 20 years ago, an investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative resulted in famous athletes from a range of sports being implicated for doping.
Up until that point I had been a blind lover of all sports, with a blatant and naive disregard for the possibility of collaborated cheating.
Of course, by then a teenager, I was aware it existed. But for the most part, I was still caught up in the romaticisation that sport was better, joyous, ethical.
The BALCO scandal was the beginning of the end in terms of my love for track and field athletics specifically, with many more cases of performance enhancement later adding extra salt to the wound.
Would I still watch and enjoy the big events for the entertainment value they delivered? Of course.
Would I trust everything I was watching? Well, that’s another matter entirely. Quite frankly, it’s never been the same since BALCO.
The damage being created by the current match-fixing scandal in snooker could be just as irreversible for some.
On Wednesday, it was announced that all ten Chinese players embroiled in the case are being officially charged with corruption.
That includes two members of the current top 16 in the world rankings – 2021 UK champion Zhao Xintong and former Masters winner Yan Bingtao.
The pair had represented two of the brightest young talents over the course of the last few seasons, not only from China but in the game generally.
What the ten players are charged with:
Zhao Xintong, world number nine, has been charged with being concerned in fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour and betting on snooker.
Yan Bingtao, world number 16, has been charged with fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour and betting on snooker.
Lu Ning, world number 46, has been charged with fixing a match and being concerned in fixing matches and approaching a player to fix a match on the World Snooker Tour, seeking to obstruct the investigation and betting on snooker matches.
Liang Wenbo, world number 56, has been charged with being concerned in fixing matches and approaching players to fix matches on the World Snooker Tour, seeking to obstruct the investigation and failing to cooperate with the WPBSA investigation.
Li Hang, world number 64, has been charged with being concerned in fixing matches and approaching players to fix matches on the World Snooker Tour, seeking to obstruct the investigation and betting on snooker matches.
Chang Bingyu, world number 77, has been charged with fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour.
Zhang Jiankang, world number 82, has been charged with fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour, failing to report approaches for him to fix matches and betting on snooker matches.
Chen Zifan, world number 93, has been charged with fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour.
Bai Langning, world number 126, has been charged with being concerned in fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour.
Zhao Jianbo, amateur, has been charged with fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour.
The charges brought against each of the ten players vary, meaning they will likely receive different levels of punishment following the impending independent hearings.
But what is certain is that this has been a sophisticated scam involving a significant percentage of the main tour – more than one-third of the overall Chinese contingent on the professional circuit.
The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association deserves some credit for its swift handling of the matter in recent months, and a final outcome is expected by the end of the season.
But important questions need to be asked, such as how was this even able to happen, especially on such a serious scale?
Even a quick glance at the comment sections on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter will tell you that there are many in an unforgiving mood.
The fact that this match-fixing scandal has involved only players from China means that there will be some supporters – wrong though it may be – who will from now on paint every snooker player from the country with the same brush.
Every poor safety will be questioned, every missed pot will be scrutinised. The entire episode may turn off potential new fans of the sport altogether.
The elephant in the room is that snooker relies heavily on the gambling industry, with more than ten of the calendar’s tournaments currently sponsored by betting firms.
Then there’s the ramifications in China itself, a vital market for the sport financially, albeit one badly impacted by the pandemic in recent years.
News this week that the Shanghai Masters is expected to return to the city’s international sporting calendar in 2023 has been welcome.
But, in terms of the long-term lucrative opportunities for the sport in China, nobody really knows what the byproduct of a probable ban on the ten players will be.
What we know even less about is how this match-fixing scandal will affect aspiring snooker players, particularly from China but also elsewhere across the world.
The likes of Zhao and Yan would have been heroes to many young fans of the sport, with a despondent dose of denunciation now replacing the inspiration once instilled.
Unfortunately, experience tells me that scandals as big as these are difficult to forgive, and they are even harder to forget.
Featured photo credit: WST