Snooker betting scandal: shared blame?

On Sunday 2 May, British newspaper the News of the World published an exclusive story about 2009 World Snooker Champion John Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney seemingly accepting an offer of payments in return for deliberately losing frames in future tournaments.

The video evidence looks bad – John Higgins suggests ways that a payment could reach him without raising suspicions – and the allegations are very damaging for a professional sport that has suffered a significant decline in recent years. However, it is worth considering briefly how the alleged deal came about.

According to the news article, the undercover reporters initially lured John Higgins and his manager to Kiev to talk about the wholly legitimate World Snooker Series. Higgins and his manager, who deny the allegations, say that they felt intimidated by the situation in which they found themselves and believed the safest approach was to go along with the deal. The newspaper claims to have raised the issue of match-fixing with Pat Mooney at previous meetings and promises more revelations next week.

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association is conducting an investigation and there may be other enquiries as well so it is too early to draw full conclusions but for the moment it looks as if the undercover reporters have created a scandal, not necessarily exposed one. It will be interesting to see if the conduct of the reporters is scrutinised as thoroughly as that of Higgins and Mooney.

Gambling has been inextricably linked to sport for at least 200 years but the industry has grown enormously since the 1980s. In fact, onling betting company Betfred.com took on the title sponsorship of the World Snooker Championships last year in a four year deal.

Although betting and sport can and do co-exist without any problems, the risks posed by the industry to the integrity of sport are undeniable. According to an article in The Independent last year, industry watchdog the Gambling Commission has investigated numerous cases of alleged match-fixing and illegal betting relating to British sporting events. Around the world evidence of match-fixing has been uncovered in a number of professional sports, including football, tennis, baseball and cricket.

Whether the News of the World investigation helps or hinders the work that governing bodies and the betting industry are doing to tackle the problem is a matter of opinion but spare a thought for Neil Robertson and Graeme Dott, whose battle to reach the final of the 2010 Betfred.com World Snooker Championships has been completely over-shadowed.

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