The “same offence” confusion

Following my article yesterday about the petition to get Stephen Lee back in the game I have got a lot of reactions, positives and negatives, amongst them a significant number questioning why some other players were allegedly treated more leniently for the same offence. Names were put forward, Jamie Jones, Stuart Bingham, John Higgins being the once most frequently cited.

I think this deserves an answer, and it’s actually quite simple: none of those three did actually fix matches, so they weren’t guilty of the same offence

Whilst reflecting on the past decade, I covered the John Higgins case in some depth when I wrote about the year 2010 . Please read it. In short, John Higgins went to Kiev, having lost in round 2 at the Crucible, without knowledge of what his manager had been up to, namely arrange matches to be fixed and make profit from it. Of course, this was a setup, but Mooney didn’t know it, and Higgins knew even less. Higgins was guilty of cowardice – he could and should have refused to play along during that meeting – and of taking a very bad decision by not reporting the approach immediately. He always claimed that he never intended to fix matches. Whether this is the truth or not, we will never know for sure. What is definitely fact is that he did not fix any match, and was not aware of his manager’s doing until very shortly before that meeting.

Stuart Bingham did not fix any matches, what he was guilty of is to bet on snooker matches, some his own. Betting on snooker is forbidden to all professional players, it’s part of the rules, and of their contract. Here is a rather in-depth article by the BBC analysing the case at the time:

Stuart Bingham banned over betting on snooker matches

Former world snooker champion Stuart Bingham has been banned for six months for betting breaches.

Bingham, 41, was found guilty of breaking World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) rules on betting on matches involving himself and other players.

The world number 10 must also pay £20,000 in costs.

The WPBSA said there was no suggestion that he aimed to “influence matches or engage in any corrupt activity”.

Half of his ban will be suspended.

The organisation said the estimated total of his betting on snooker in the past seven years is £35,771, including several bets on his own matches.

The WPBSA said he often used proxy accounts to bet, meaning it is not possible to establish whether he won or lost from his betting activity.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said: “It is very disappointing to see such a high profile player fall foul of the WPBSA betting rules.

“Stuart is a great competitor and I have no doubt he has always played to the best of his ability. This case shows that there are no exceptions to the rules.

“Players must understand that they cannot bet on snooker at all, even if they are not involved in a match or event. Any player found to breach the betting rules will face the most serious of consequences.”

Analysis

By Frank Keogh, BBC Sport

While Bingham has the right to appeal, this is a costly suspension – ruling him out of three of the most lucrative events on the calendar – the International Championship, UK Championship and the Masters.

A popular figure, who is ranked 10 in the world, he had previously claimed he did not know the rules prevented him betting on other players’ matches.

And while there is no suggestion of corruption, his suspension is a warning from snooker’s governing body that it won’t take breaches of its betting rules lightly.

In July, Joe Perry was given a suspended three-month ban after placing nearly 200 bets on matches. Perry said he did it “purely out of boredom or distraction”.

What bets did Bingham place?

  • He bet on snooker using an account in his name in 2009-10 to a total of £424.44, with losses of £280.20.
  • He bet on snooker using an account in his name in 2012-13 to a total of £20, all of which were losing bets.
  • He placed bets on snooker matches that he was playing in using his manager’s account. There were 36 matches between 2003 and 2015 to a value of £4,636.
  • Between 25 August 2009 and 11 January 2017 he bet on snooker using an account in his manager’s name.
  • Between 1 January 2012 and 11 January 2017 he bet on snooker using a different account in his manager’s name.
  • A second party placed bets for Stuart Bingham’s direct or indirect benefit to a value of £1,706.85.
  • Between 1 December 2014 and 8 November 2016 he placed bets with a third party to a value of £4,000 that his highest break in a competition would be beaten. All of these were winning bets, making a profit of £7,000.

I have put in bold the most significant parts.

Jamie Jones din’t fix any match, nor did he bet on snooker, he was guilty of not reporting an approach aimed at a fellow player, David John. 

Again here is the BBC report at the time:

Jamie Jones: Player cleared of match-fixing but breached snooker’s rules

Snooker player Jamie Jones has been cleared of match-fixing but admitted failing to report a corrupt approach.

The Welshman, 30, was suspended in October after being accused of being part of a plan to fix a match between David John and Graeme Dott in 2016.

But a disciplinary panel found that he had not breached the betting rules.

Ex-professional John admitted fixing two matches in which his opponents were unaware of the plots. John and Jones will be sanctioned at a later date.

Jones, the world number 39 at the time of his suspension, admitted failing to report an approach to his compatriot John to fix the match against Dott.

“The committee considered this to be an extremely serious matter in itself, particularly in the context of the responsibility of a professional player to ensure as far as possible the integrity of the game,” said a statement from the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.

However, he was cleared of more serious charges under the organisation’s betting rules.

He could still face a suspension but his punishment is unlikely to be as severe as John’s, who fixed a 2017 match against Joe Perry, in addition to the Dott match. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by his opponents.

The verdicts follow one of the biggest corruption cases in the sport’s history – the BBC revealed last month that two Chinese players had been given lengthy bans from the game.

Yu Delu was banned from snooker for 10 years and nine months, while Cao Yupeng also pleaded guilty to fixing and was banned for six years, although three and a half years of his sentence were suspended.

Again, I have put the most important sentences in bold. The consequences for Jamie Jones were particularly severe: he lost his tour card and now needs to requalify for the main tour.

Of course there were cases where players got away with what appeared to be plain match fixing. The most prominent probably being the last 32 match between Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett at the UK championship in 2008, pre Barry Hearn era. Both were arrested, but no charges were brought. The core reason for this outcome was the fact that WPBSA at the time didn’t act with the required diligence. Therefore the “victims” – the bookies – brought the case to the police for investigation. The difficulty with this is that the level of “proof” needed to bring charges is very different from the one required when the case is dealt whith by the sports authorities, in this case WPBSA. When a case is referred to the Crown Prosecution, the proof must be deemed “beyond reasonable doubt”. That means, for instance, that abnormal betting patterns – which are “circumstancial” – or the analysis of the shots by a panel of experts – which is to an extend is subjective” – aren’t enough. As a result, charges are rarely brought in this kind of cases.

Here is an article by the Guardian at the time

No charges against Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett over fixing claims

Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett will not face criminal charges after the Scottish Crown Counsel decided that there is “insufficient evidence to justify prosecution” over match fixing allegations, after a two-and-a-half year investigation into the pair.

Suspicions of match fixing were fuelled by an unusual pattern of betting on Maguire’s 9-3 victory over Burnett in the UK Championship in December 2008.

Strathclyde Police assembled betting information from bookmakers and shot analyses from snooker experts, although it is understood that the latter was always viewed as potentially too difficult for jurors with little or no knowledge of snooker to follow.

However, with the completion of the police investigation, a World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association disciplinary enquiry will begin. Its chairman, Jason Ferguson, said: “We will be given access to the evidence connected with the case and our disciplinary committee will review that evidence thoroughly. We are treating this case very seriously.”

Whereas the standard of proof for a criminal prosecution is “beyond reasonable doubt”, that for disciplinary proceedings is “the balance of probabilities.” If disciplinary charges are preferred, shot analysis evidence could be considered by people with long involvements in the game

The sad reality is that, in the years before Barry Hearn era, the WPBSA wasn’t acting fast or diligently when made aware of possible problems. This in turn resulted in players not reporting issues as they had no faith or hope that they would be dealt with adequately. 

I hope this answers some questions…