The UK Gambling Commission is considering calling in the police to investigate whether the ten Chinese players at the heart of snooker’s match fixing scandal have been coerced by an organised crime ring.
The Times reports that the ten, all aged in their early thirties or younger, have been threatened by an ‘external force’, which has allegedly sent threats to the players and their families directly so that they rig specific frames or entire matches.
The group includes Yan Bingtao, the former Masters champion, and Zhao Xintong, the 2021 UK Championship winner, who between them have won more than £2 million in prize money. The concern is that they have acted under duress – otherwise why would they have put their careers on the line, given that a lifetime ban can be handed to those involved in match fixing scams?
One of the games under the microscope of investigators is the German Masters final in February 2022, which Zhao won by whitewashing Yan 9-0. It’s thought that suspicious betting patterns on that scoreline prompted a more comprehensive investigation.
The World Snooker Tour (WST) are still conducting enquiries into the ten players that have been charged with corruption-style offences, with Yan investigated for ‘fixing matches on tour’ while Zhao has been charged with ‘being concerned in fixing matches.’
Easy Targets Snookered
More than a dozen young Chinese players live and practice together at a small number of academies in the UK, which have been designed to ease their integration into the radically different culture.
Each of the ten players embroiled in the match fixing scandal are housed at one of two academies in Sheffield, the spiritual home of snooker where the World Championship is played each year.
The players live alone in student accommodation style housing, and it’s thought that this set-up has been the catalyst for so many becoming involved in the scandal.
They may have a figurehead amongst them, too. Liang Wenbo is, at 35, an elder statesmen compared to the new breed of Chinese player, but unsavoury allegations made against him by another pro suggest he has been threatening his colleagues if they don’t do as they are told.
Chang Bingyu alleges that Liang ordered him to lose a match at the British Open in September, making a series of threatening phone calls to the 20-year-old. Out of fear of being attacked, Chang claims he agreed to lose.
So concerned are many that an organised crime gang is involved, the government’s former minister for sport, Tracey Crouch, has called upon the WST to protect young players from China from illegal gambling syndicates and other organisations.
A tribunal is currently in session to decide on the possible guilt of those involved, with Liang under scrutiny for ‘….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 and Lu Ning have also been accused of approaching other players in an attempt to get them to rig games.
Chang, Zhao Jianbo and Chen Zifan have been charged with fixing matches, while Zhang Jiankang faces allegations that he himself wagered on snooker matches and failed to report the approaches to him to fix games.