The Russian Mafia's Stranglehold On.........John Higgins

Antony Herbert@LeeUwishWritingAnalyst IIIMay 4, 2010

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - MAY 02:  A fan outside The Crucible reads the News of the World, regarding the bribe scandal surrounding World snooker champion, John Higgens as the final between Graeme Dott of Scotland and Neil Robertson of Australia is played for the World Snooker Championships at The Crucible Theatre on May 2, 2010 in Sheffield, England.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Warren Little/Getty Images

Snooker is a sport in decline, there are no two ways about it. If it was to not exist in a visibly competitive manner in years to come few would be surprised.

This weeks fresh match fixing accusations therefore just seem to edge the sport closer to extinction.

Credible and often highly regarded Scotsman John Higgins is under investigation after footage emerged showing him accepting over quarter of a million pounds to throw four frames in a future tournament.

Other competitors such as Stephen Lee and Stephen Maguire have also found themselves in similar positions. Stephen Lee was caught amidst betting irregularities earlier this year and Maguire came under investigation due to a barrage of bets being placed on the eventful final 9-3 victory against opponent Jamie Burnett prior to the game.

All three incidents have brought the sport into disrepute, leaving it hanging by a thread.

What makes things worse is that it provides the only real focal point for discussion as little in the way of intrigue is being displayed at the table.

Only Ronnie O’Sullivan’s outbursts seem to have garnered much more attention in the past couple of weeks, as an unexpecting Neil Robertson claimed victory in the World Championship final.

Prize money for trophies is still in freefall, as ranking tournaments have fell as the way side. Now players overall get less for their efforts, however glorious they may be.

Amongst the likes of football, rugby, cricket and golf the world just doesn’t seem to care anymore. It hasn’t done so for a good few years.

So from a financial point of view is there validity to such a controversial match fixing agreement being made?

Food has to be laid on a plate, and sports stars earn a living that they become accustomed to. It is not necessarily their fault if the sport is not kept alive and kicking. They are not entirely responsible for keeping the rewards fruitful. 

Only as a collective should the action be enticing enough to warrant a continuation of previous benefits, and with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan in the sport this is still achievable.

The organisation of Snooker in general seems more at blame for the downfall in prize money. With the loss of profitable sponsors they have mishandled the sport and increased the decline through a lack of urgency being portrayed.

A new wave of ownership however has heralded a promising reverse for the depressing downwards trend .

New snooker chief Barry Hearn outlined some clear aspects of the current saga in what he sees as important to the outcome. He proclaimed that if there is ‘sickness in snooker, it will be the death of snooker if it is not removed.’

Dennis Taylor has somewhat backed his opinion by announcing that John Higgins should be permanently banned from the sport if the allegations are revealed to be true.

Such affirmative action is definitely required to attempt a resolution for the sport in crisis.

And although some may symapthise with the Scottish champion Higgins, in his claims that he took the agreement for fear of a ‘Russian Mafia’, others will instead echo Taylor’s thoughts.

Should a player really be allowed to continue in a sport that through their actions they have shown little respect for? Should they be forgiven for further shattering the illusion that Snooker is full to the brim of respected and professional talents?

Most if not all sportsmen in other fields will tell you that they thrust themselves into their position for the love of their sport and for their ability to perform in it.

Consequentially to love a sport as such means you partake in the responsibilities that accompany it and that you relish in the opportunities given to positively portray your position of influence.

Would you in any sport want to risk the occurrence of such an envied position being tarnished? Of course you wouldn't. Even if you did your conscience must surely get the better of you and you'd be tempted more convincingly to alert the correct authorities.

If you are caught ultimately, the price to pay would be career destroying.

In alternative sports where similar derogatory behaviour has been displayed the punishments have been detrimental. 

Flavio Briatore was banned from Formula 1 race events after his Renault teams race fixing scandal in Singapore. Nelson Piquet Jr as a result lost his Formula 1 career.

Similarly Luton Town’s demise in the English football league was born out of illegal operations taking place. Their subsequent points and financial losses left them lacking in the chances afforded to reverse their misfortunes. 

Maybe with Snooker the temptations are easier due to the financial constraints. You cannot afford a Rooney mansion on a snooker players wage.

Yet the same principles must still apply. To be a sportsman, and to be merited for your inspirational gifts you must adhere to a certain set of ideals that will encompass the reputation that you leave behind you. This must also not compromise with the sports reputation which should always go hand in hand.

Of all people John Higgins had his legacy set in stone with multiple title triumphs. Now this may be destroyed by a momentary lapse in moral direction.

This would be a shame for such a consistently admired player as it is certain that redemption if the outcome is negative would be almost impossible to strive for.


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