Barry Hearn believes the growth of snooker in China will continue despite this year’s match-fixing scandal.
Ten snooker players from China received lengthy bans from the sport following an investigation into suspicious betting activity.
The disgraced list includes former English Open champion and World Cup winner Liang Wenbo, who along with Li Hang was accused of coercing younger players into the cheating ring.
Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao, Triple Crown event winners as recently as 2021, were also caught up in the controversy.
But former World Snooker Tour chairman Hearn thinks the sport will still thrive in China in the years to come, with professional tournaments returning there this season for the first time since before the pandemic.
“We sent 10 players home to China recently – two of those players were in the top 16 in the world,” Barry Hearn told bettingsites.co.uk.
“They were earning hundreds of thousands of pounds and to my disappointment, they broke the rules. I hope they’ve learned their lesson.”
“Some of them were very bad offences, and I think the Chinese government has actually put a surcharge on top of that to maintain the message.
“China’s a massive market. Probably 40 percent of our business in snooker comes from China.
“Can we afford to throw out 10 Chinese players? How does that affect our relationships with China? In the end we felt we had no choice but to do it.
“Nevertheless, we took the moral high ground and I’m delighted to say that our colleagues in China and the authorities there actually applauded us for taking that.
“Funnily enough, since then the Chinese young players here have suddenly sprouted some really good results.
“I don’t know why that is, but China will be a major force in snooker, providing it operates within the rules.”
WPBSA match-fixing bans
1. Liang Wenbo has been given a lifetime ban from snooker and is to pay £43,000 in costs.
2. Li Hang has been given a lifetime ban from snooker and is to pay £43,000 in costs.
3. Lu Ning has been given an 8 year suspension, reduced following early admissions and his plea of guilty, to 5 years and 4 months until 6 April 2028. He is to pay £7,500 in costs.
4. Yan Bingtao has been given a 7 year and 6 months suspension, reduced following early admissions and plea of guilty, to 5 years until 11 December 2027. He is to pay £7,500 in costs.
5. Zhao Xintong has been given a 2 year and 6 months suspension, reduced following early admissions and his plea of guilty, to 1 year and 8 months until 1 September 2024. He is to pay £7,500 in costs.
6. Zhao Jianbo has been given a 3 year and 6 months suspension, reduced following early admissions and his plea of guilty, to 2 years and 4 months until 7 April 2025. He is to pay £7,500 in costs.
7. Chang Bingyu has been given a 3 year suspension, reduced following early admissions and his plea of guilty, to 2 years until 7 December 2024. He is to pay £7,500 in costs.
8. Bai Langning has been given a 4 year suspension, reduced following early admissions and his plea of guilty, to 2 years and 8 months until 6 August 2025. He is to pay £7,500 in costs.
9. Chen Zifan has been given a 7 year and 6 months suspension, reduced following early admissions and his plea of guilty, to 5 years until 20 December 2027. He is to pay £7,500 in costs.
10. Zhang Jiankang has been given a 4 year and 5 months suspension, reduced following early admissions and his plea of guilty, to 2 years and 11 months until 1 December 2025. He is to pay £7,500 in costs.
Another topic of contention recently has surrounded the so-called Macau Five – comprising world champion Luca Brecel, four-time Crucible kings Mark Selby and John Higgins, and former ranking event winners Ali Carter and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh.
The quintet had agreed to compete in a lucrative exhibition event in Macau on the same dates as last week’s Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.
It prompted an aggressive response from the World Snooker Tour, who threatened the five with legal proceedings amid a breach in their players’ contract.
Eventually, the Macau promoters made the decision to postpone their event until December, but tensions between the authorities and the players have remained high.
Hearn initially adopted a fiery approach, labelling the five in question as “selfish” and “selling their souls down the river for an extra few quid.”
However, the honourary WST President has softened his stance as the standoff has been at least temporarily resolved.
“It’s really weird. I mean obviously they’ve become quite famous, the Macau Five,” Barry Hearn said.
“The media will make out it is a revolt against authority, but it really isn’t. It’s just a question of, when you sign a contract, does it mean anything?”
“The World Snooker Tour is really quite easy to understand. It’s 130 players under contract.
“I think everyone’s quite selfish in life. I don’t blame them, I think it’s human nature.
“You have a situation where an offer came up to some players to earn more money.
“We’re happy for people to play in other events, providing it doesn’t clash with something where the WST have made guarantees to sponsors, to broadcasters, to fans.
“We have to insist on those rules. The Macau five will get their few pieces of silver at some stage and good luck to them, as long as they follow the rules, we’ll get on fine.”
The World Snooker Tour returns to China on Sunday for the International Championship in Tianjin.
Most of the star players are going to be in attendance, including Brecel, world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan, and reigning champion Judd Trump.
The latter is bidding for a fourth ranking title in a row on this term’s calendar having won the English, Wuhan, and Northern Ireland Opens in October.
Featured photo credit: WST