In recent years, the English-language version of Chinese-state newspaper The Global Times has carried a regular range of snooker coverage. The reason for this is obvious: China’s snooker players have been a revelation in a sport previously dominated by players from the U.K., to the point that around 20 of the world’s current top 100 players are from China, plus several from Hong Kong. Yet, last week, as the brilliant young Chinese player Si Jiahu (斯佳輝) made a shock run to the semifinals of the Snooker World Championships, The Global Times appeared not to offer any updates.
The reason for this absence is likely obvious, too. In a case of “very unfortunate” timing, according to former World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn, the hearing of ten high-profile Chinese players facing match-fixing charges began on Monday, April 24, right in the middle of the aforementioned World Snooker Championships. So, to talk about one was to invite conversation about the other. And the sum total of the match-fixing charges has been to leave a dark cloud over both snooker as a whole — and Chinese snooker in particular.
Going into the hearing, the charges against the ten players stood as follows, according to the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association’s (WBPSA) website:
Former U.K. Championship finalist Liang Wenbo (梁文博) 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 (李行) 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.
Lu Ning (魯寧) 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.
Former Masters winner Yan Bingtao (顏丙濤) has been charged with fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour and betting on snooker.
Former U.K. Championship winner Zhao Xintong (趙心童) has been charged with being concerned in fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour and betting on snooker.
Zhang Jiankang (張健康) 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 (陳子凡) has been charged with fixing matches on the World Snooker Tour.
Chang Bingyu (常冰玉) and Zhao Jianbo (趙劍波) have each been charged with fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour.
Bai Langning (白朗寧) has been charged with being concerned in fixing a match on the World Snooker Tour.
Right now, an independent panel, chaired by sports and entertainment lawyer Ian Mill, is considering the evidence against the players. According to the BBC, the hearing is taking place in private and is expected to last several days, while verdicts will be announced at a later date. The players will remain suspended until the outcome of the Independent Disciplinary Hearing is published, according to the WBPSA.
Of course, ahead of this outcome, discussion of the players has been widespread. SnookerHQ last week made the comparison between the ten Chinese players and one of the sport’s most successful ever players, John Higgins. In 2010, Higgins was suspended for six months after “failing to report an approach” made to him to fix matches. SnookerHQ suggests “Some of the Chinese snooker players may receive similar bans following this hearing, [although] lengthier penalties are expected to be dished out for the more severe examples of corruption.”
Elsewhere, on Weibo, one large snooker-based account, called “Bottle Cap Says” (瓶盖说) asked its followers to judge a photo of the ten suspended Chinese players on the following terms: “This is a very bad picture, who do you not like in the picture?” (“這是一張很不好的圖片[怒]，你不喜歡圖裡哪些人?”). One user responded “Except for Zhao [Xintong], I don’t like any of them” (除了趙心童 其他都不喜歡). Another said “I only like Marco Fu (傅家俊) and Si Jiahui” (現只喜歡傅家俊和斯佳輝). There are some shows of support, however, with one user saying on a separate post, “I hope it won’t be that bad for Zhao” (希望趙公子不要太嚴重).
Regardless of the verdict for the players involved, Chinese snooker will still remain the up-and-coming force in the sport. As some of the older coverage on The Global Times points out, China’s talent pool is still far greater than anywhere else, plus or minus those involved here. However, an interesting new angle on this is that the winner of this year’s World Championships, Luca Bracel, is the first mainland European player to win the title, and he used the opportunity to say he thinks snooker in Europe is “going to explode” as a result of his win.
For now, that looks a long way off. But it’s another reminder that sporting success is very hard to guarantee. And Chinese snooker’s ascent to the top of the sport will look just that bit harder after recent events.