The banishment of ten Chinese players involved in a major corruption scandal has not dampened the enthusiasm for snooker in China. The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) imposed varying lengths of bans on the players after an investigation into match-fixing. The ring-leaders, Liang Wenbo and Li Hang, received lifetime bans for pressuring younger teammates to participate in corruption. Yan Bingtao, the 2021 Masters champion, was also banned until December 2027. WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson expressed his disdain for the “despicable behavior” of Liang and Li, accusing them of manipulating younger players who were isolated in Britain due to the pandemic. However, despite the scandal, snooker’s popularity in China remains high.
The players’ offenses included manipulating games, cheating, betting on snooker, and fixing match outcomes. Ferguson stated that the ring-leaders had been dealt with severely and would never play snooker again. He expressed sympathy for the younger players who were caught up in the scandal, as they were put in a difficult position by the manipulative actions of a few bad individuals. Ferguson’s comments came as mainland China prepares to host its first elite international snooker event since the start of the pandemic in 2019.
Despite the negative spotlight on Chinese snooker, Ferguson believes that the demand for the sport in China is higher than ever. China is a major market for the WPBSA and has been producing a growing number of high-caliber players in recent years. Ferguson believes that the way the WPBSA handled the match-fixing affair has shown Chinese snooker fans that they can have confidence in the sport. He acknowledged the increasing sophistication of illegal betting and match manipulation, but expressed the organization’s determination to rise to the challenge.
As the Shanghai Masters gets underway, all eyes are on four-time champion and world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan. The tournament’s final is scheduled for Sunday, and O’Sullivan is looking to extend his winning streak. Despite the scandal, the return of elite international snooker to China is a cause for celebration, and fans are eagerly anticipating the thrilling competition that lies ahead.