IRISH amateur John Sutton has been charged with match-fixing on Monday over an International Championship qualifier in September.
Sutton, who failed to gain a place on the tour last year in Q-School, has taken part in four of the main ranking events this season as a ‘top-up’ player including the UK Championship in December.
And he stands accused of two breaches of snooker’s betting rules over a match played at the Barnsley Metrodome that he lost 6-0 to Jamie Burnett on September 24.
Sutton will have the chance to defend himself at a formal hearing of the WPBSA disciplinary committee.
Some coverage of September’s match and probe was not kind to Burnett, with injudicious use of his picture almost certainly as a result of a previous investigation into a match against Stephen Maguire at the UK Championship. No charges were brought leaving both leaving both clear of any wrongdoing – but to be clear Scot Burnett is not under any suspicion over this match.
A WPBSA investigation involving the International Centre for Sports Security and the Gambling Commission was launched following reports of suspicious betting patterns.
Some bookmakers suspended betting – and Sutton has been charged on counts of corruption and match-fixing, and misuse of inside information.
The player, who also lost 6-0 to Ding Junhui at the UK, has been suspended with immediate effect, with the hearing date and venue to be announced shortly.
Jason Ferguson, chairman of the WPBSA said: “John Sutton is not a WPBSA member or current tour card holder. He is an amateur player who gained access to some events through our open qualifying structure.
“He was bound by the WPBSA Rules as a condition of accepting his invitation to play in this event.
“Under our policy for the global governance of the sport we treat any potential breach of our betting rules very seriously and I have taken the decision to suspend John Sutton from competition.
“This suspension will remain in place until the conclusion of the hearing or hearings and the determination of this matter.”
The rules in question are:
WPBSA Members Rules – Section 2 Betting Rules
126.96.36.199 to fix or contrive, or to be a party to any effort to fix or contrive, the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match.
2.1.3 Misuse of inside information:
188.8.131.52 to use for betting purposes, or to provide to any other person for such purposes, any information relating to the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match that the ember possesses by virtue of his position within the sport and that is not in the public domain or readily accessible by the public.
Back in September Sutton said: “All I can tell you is that I am a snooker player who has always and will always try my best to win every match.
“And I have completely cooperated with WPBSA on this matter and snooker means the world to me.”
Where does this leave the sport? Obviously Sutton has been charged for now, and not found guilty. But the inevitable ‘snooker dragged back into the gutter yet again’ headlines are clearly not good news for the game, not good for attracting sponsors, and succor for those outside snooker only too ready to give it a kicking at every opportunity.
There are a couple of things worth saying more generally. Firstly it is fair to point out that the numbers of these incidents are not high despite the scrutiny, and it is equally fair to point out that it shows snooker is closely monitoring betting activity and investigating, and charging, where it finds suggestions of wrongdoing and believes there is a case to answer.
The will is there, snooker is nothing if it is not clean and seen to be clean, and those running the game know that.
The authorities will be deeply frustrated by this latest case, since Sutton is such a peripheral figure in the game, not a WPBSA member or current tour card holder, and yet still able to generate bad publicity when not even found guilty – and you can have some sympathy with them over that aspect. But they have set out on a course to clean up the game, and there will be days like this.
As someone right in the middle, an intermediary between the game on one hand and the sports editors that decide what goes into national newspapers on the other, I know bad news sells. Even people who don’t care to admit it consume bad news in newspapers, on TV, radio, online, everywhere.
But I do think snooker suffers unfairly from a lack of balance. These stories will get reported, and they should. The issue I have – and it is something that has afflicted other sports, horseracing and cycling spring to mind in the past – is that you can find certain sports become solely a repository for bad news of the murkier kind. That is not how football, rugby, cricket and tennis are treated, and balance is needed.
Last week’s German Masters saw snooker at its absolute best, and Friday night’s fireworks should have seen a lot more coverage than they got. The bad news days are inevitable as well as important, but there are people out there ignoring the good news days and that seems wrong.
They are either interested in snooker, or they are not. You can’t ONLY like it on match-fixing charge day. In the meantime the bigger and more pertinent wider challenge is to rid snooker and sport of this curse, then there would simply be nothing to say about it.