Snooker has found itself caught up in another fixing episode after Leo Fernandez was banned for 15 months for a rules breach in April’s World Championship qualifying.
The 40-year-old from Ireland pleaded guilty to a breach of corruption and spot-fixing betting rules at a WPBSA disciplinary hearing.
Fernandez, who had only just regained his pro card for this season, was found to have deliberately fouled the white in the first frame of a qualifying match against Gary Wilson on April 6 at Ponds Forge.
And individuals connected to Fernandez had staked £1,599 on a ‘first foul’ market with bookmaker Paddy Power for a planned profit of just £1,299.17.
Wilson, who was not involved in any way, won the frame 71-34 and the match 10-4.
As well as seeing his on-off professional career virtually in ruins Fernandez has also been fined £2,000 towards costs, and will now assist in educating young players over corruption.
Fernandez did though escape a ‘default’ lifetime ban. His previous good conduct, an early guilty plea, an absence of personal gain, and the offer of anti-corruption work were taken as mitigating circumstances.
Jason Ferguson the Chairman of the WPBSA said: "This demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that all aspects of matches in World Snooker events are competed in a fair and honest manner.
“Working closely with our many international partners, the WPBSA has developed the strongest anti-corruption strategies available in sport today.
“Leo Fernandez had just qualified to play on the WSL tour this season as a full professional and by his actions he has thrown away this opportunity.”
The case saw the WPBSA work closely with the betting industry and the Gambling Commission.
It also deemed the betting market itself, while not mitigating the player’s actions, as “incredibly unhelpful”.
Expert testimony was taken from former leading player and now commentator Neal Foulds over the incident.
Snooker’s most high-profile fixer Stephen Lee remains banned until 2024 after being found guilty in 2013 of several match- and spot-fixing offences.
Others including Quinten Hann, Joe Jogia and currently another Irish player John Sutton have also been banned for breaches of the betting rules.
So where does this latest case leave us as a sport?
Obviously it is not as bad and as damaging for the sport as the Lee case, who was a top player and multiple ranking event winner, and showed little or no remorse or contrition for his actions – the impression often given where Lee was concerned was that he felt unfairly treated merely because he was the one who got caught.
Fernandez in this case might have been very stupid over what may even have been a joke that got out of hand, but he has also been contrite and genuinely remorseful, saved a lot of time and money by pleading guilty, and will provide a valuable perspective in anti-corruption education for young players.
A 15-month ban will be hard for him to come back from, but it would have been a lot longer without these factors.
As ever there will be a split in the wider media. Most will go with ‘snooker in the dock again, another fixing scandal’.
An alternative view might be that at least the sport is doing something about its’ problem, not sweeping it under the carpet, tackling what remains of any issue head on and providing a deterrent for any players tempted.
I would lean towards the latter on balance, but it will still be of concern to Barry Hearn and others that even after Lee’s 12-year ban for match- and spot-fixing offences, seen as a game-changing deterrent, a player is still risking his career for very small sums of money.
Another interesting aspect was the criticism of the bookmaker involved, Paddy Power, for offering the ‘first foul’ market in the first place.
While not freeing Fernandez or anyone else from responsibility, the WPBSA – and you can hear these sentiments being echoed across the world and a wide range of sports governing bodies – called the market “incredibly unhelpful - providing an opportunity to easily manipulate an aspect of the match”.
The governing body clearly saw this market as offering no real value to the bookmakers’ range of bets, but needlessly putting temptation in a lowly paid players’ way.
It is highly unlikely, though, that bookmakers are going to trim down their offerings on the off chance that a player might prove vulnerable to its possibilities. And nor should they be doing that for that reason.