Main Tour News – 23.06.2022

Let’s start with the good news …

The venues for the Home Nations have been decided and the Scottish Open returns to Scotland … as it should.

From what I understand, a newsletter was circulated and here is Phil Haigh reporting on the main points of interest:

Snooker’s Scottish Open and Welsh Open get new homes for 2022/23 season

The Scottish Open will return to Scotland this season after a brief trip to Wales last year, while the Welsh Open moves to Llandudno for the 2022/23 campaign.

It was an unusual Scottish Open in 2021, with a contractual issue forcing a late switch from Glasgow to north Wales due to the tournament being sponsored by a bookmaker.

It returns to Scotland in 2022, but not to Glasgow which has been its home for the majority of its latest incarnation, but to Edinburgh for the event that runs from 28 November to 4 December.

World Snooker Tour confirmed the switch in their Cue News newsletter, although did not announce which venue would be used in the Scottish capital.

In a previous life, the Scottish Open was last hosted in Edinburgh in 2003 at the Royal Highland Centre, when David Gray beat Mark Selby in the final to lift the title.

The newsletter also confirmed that the Welsh Open will be making the move to Llandudno for the first time in its history.

The tournament dates back to 1992 and has either been held in Cardiff or Newport since its inception, but will move north to Llandudno in 2023 from 13-19 February.

Llandudno has become a feature on the World Snooker Tour in recent years, also hosting the Tour Championship in 2019 and ’22, but the eight-man event is set to move on this season.

Hull is expected to be announced as the new home of the Tour Championship for 2023.

Now onto the bad news …

WST published this statement yesterday:

WPBSA Statement – Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon

After careful consideration the WPBSA Board has taken the decision not to admit Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon as a Member of the WPBSA.

This decision has been taken in the best interests of the WPBSA and the sport. This means that he will be unable to take a place on the World Snooker Tour for the forthcoming season.

This is due to outstanding serious disciplinary matters from when he was last on the World Snooker Tour in 2015. ​Thanawat is cooperating fully with the WPBSA to resolve the outstanding issues.

This World Snooker Tour place will now be offered to Asjad Iqbal of Pakistan who is the next in line on the Asia-Oceania Q School Order of Merit.

So, apparently, this decision is related to this nearly seven years old statement:

The WPBSA was today alerted to unusual betting patterns regarding the match between Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon and Martin O’Donnell at the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany.

The WPBSA monitors betting on ALL professional snooker and has the most sophisticated methods available today. Working with partners worldwide and by liaising with the Gambling Commission, the WPBSA will review the available facts surrounding betting on this match. A decision will then be taken on whether any further action is necessary.

It wasn’t the first time that Thanawat had been in trouble. Already in August 2013, he had been involved in a very serious incident:

Firebomb attack on Sheffield home of snooker players in corruption probe

The Sheffield home of two Thai snooker players under investigation for possible match-fixing has been firebombed in a premeditated arson attack, The Mail on Sunday reveals.

Although the police have established no fixed motive for the arson, which resulted in two people needing medical treatment, one line of inquiry is that it could be linked to gambling on snooker.

Violent crime has been a blot on Thai snooker historically. Thailand’s best player, James Wattana, a former world No 3, once had a death threat to encourage him to lose a match, and his father was shot dead in 1992, said to be as a result of gambling debts.

Suggestions that Asian fixers could be trying to influence British snooker will send a chill through the sport – hence the complete secrecy, until now, about the arson attack.

The Mail on Sunday reveals it happened at a house in the Brinsworth area of Rotherham, near Sheffield, early on Friday August 30.

The property is owned by a snooker academy boss, Keith Warren, and two of those to have stayed there are Thai players, Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon, 19, and Passakorn Suwannawat, 27.

The attack came three weeks after snooker’s governing body, the WPBSA, announced they were investigating unusual betting patterns on matches played in Doncaster by Passakorn and Thanawat on August 7.

Money had been placed on Thanawat, the world No 75, and Passakorn, ranked No 92, to lose in a qualifying event for the Shanghai Masters. Both fell to lower-ranked opponents. Bookmakers suspended betting before the matches and the WPBSA announced immediately they would liaise with the Gambling Commission to ‘establish the available facts’.

Almost seven weeks on, the inquiry is continuing. ‘We are continuing to look at the two matches, and I can confirm there was an arson attack,’ said snooker’s head of integrity Nigel Mawer, formerly the head of the Economic and Specialist Crime Command at the Met Police. ‘Whether the matches are connected to the arson, I don’t know, but that is one of several possibilities that could be considered.

The two players were not in the house at the time of the attack, having left for Thailand three or four days earlier, and wanted to remain anonymous.

A local fire brigade spokeswoman said three fire engines attended a blaze at 2.30am and two occupants were told how to stay safe until rescued. ‘The door area of the house was on fire and the rest of the property was smoke-logged,’ said the spokeswoman. A brigade investigation found the fire was ‘deliberate’ and the police took over.

It is understood that the WPBSA were alerted that cash in Asian markets had been wagered on the Thai players’ qualifiers, and peculiar betting patterns were also seen in the UK.

Snooker is grappling with one major match-fix case already. Former world No 5 Stephen Lee, 38, was found guilty last week on seven counts of fixing games or frames in 2008-09 and faces a possible life ban.

There was also a report by Snookerbacker at the time:

Arson About at Thai Player’s Home

It’s been made public this morning that the residence in Rotherham which houses the Thai snooker players was subjected to an arson attack back in August, just three weeks after two of them fell under suspicion for match fixing.

While it has not been established if there is a concrete link between the dodgy goings-on in Doncaster which saw Passakorn Suwannawat and Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon both lose in the wake of unusual betting patterns it does seem coincidental that their house, which they were not in at the time, was targeted.

If this is the case, this is a sinister twist in the story, I understand that the attack followed a visit from the police to question the players about any involvement in match fixing.

Nigel Mawer, the head of the sniffer dogs at the Integrity Unit said ‘Whether the matches are connected to the arson, I don’t know, but that is one of several possibilities that could be considered.’ He didn’t mention what the other ones were.

Thai snooker is no stranger to controversy of this kind and even a casual Google Search of James Wattana will reveal death threats and even murder linked to such things, so it’s not something that you really want to get yourself involved with if you value your health.

The fire brigade have established that the fire was started deliberately and it is now in the hands of the police to investigate who might be behind it and for what reason.

I have also received unconfirmed reports that Passakorn is unlikely to continue his professional snooker career having had his funding withdrawn and is back in Thailand unlikely to return.

Passakorn indeed didn’t return to the main tour, but Thanawhat did.

As for the threats on James Wattana, here is more information:

Snooker star in death threat

Bradford-based snooker star James Wattana received a death threat just hours before a major match in Bangkok, it was revealed today.

Wattana was told to “be prepared to die” less than three hours before he lost 5-2 to Ken Doherty in the second round of the Thailand Masters.

The call, which was taken seriously, was made to Wattana’s mobile phone from a public booth believed to be near to the venue.

He was given full police protection, but his mother, Ployrung, still pleaded with her son to withdraw, claiming it was not worth the risk to continue.

The anonymous call, which is under investigation, could well have been linked to an illegal betting ring.

Seven years ago Wattana’s father was gunned down by an assassin in Bangkok while, some 6,000 miles away in Derby, his son compiled a maximum 147 break at the British Open.

“I told James not to play,” said his mother, who was seen crying during the match. “This tournament just isn’t worth the risk. I lost my husband and I don’t want to lose my son as well.”

After the match with Doherty, Wattana joked: “It was good that the guy asked me to lose. What would I have done if he’d asked me to win? Against Ken that would have been very difficult.”

His father Kowin Phu-ob-orm, was shot dead in an argument over gambling debts. Two men suspected of the killing were later shot dead in a Bangkok street by police.

The Daily Telegraph snooker correspondent, John Dee, who is covering the tournament in Bangkok, said today: “We did not know about the death threat until after James had played.

“I spoke to him last night and he was very subdued. After the match he gave his snooker cue and case away – he was suspicious about it bringing bad luck. A lot of the players here are shocked at what happened but James will be moving onto China next week for another tournament and trying to put this behind him.”

Wattana became an adopted Bradfordian in 1989 when he moved to the city from London. He is based in Allerton and practices there at the Cuedos Snooker Club.

In December Wattana, who spends half the year in Bradford and half in Bangkok, broke down in tears at a press conference after a shock 5-1 defeat in the Asian Games in Bangkok.

After a doubles defeat where he was representing his country, Wattana said: “The pressure has been unbelievable , the worst I have ever felt. I could not see straight, walk straight or think straight….it was that bad.”

After last night’s dramatic death threat, Wattana, who was the Thai Masters Champion in 1994 and 1995, lost his match.

Now, what do I make of all this?

Well … so many things feel wrong to me here.

  1. From the moment Thanawhat entered the Asia-Oceania Q-School, there was always a real possibility that he could win it. Why take his money and allow him to compete if he wasn’t going to be allowed to join the main tour anyway?
  2. The “initial” 2015 statement is nearly 7 years old. Why hasn’t this been resolved yet? Why dig it out now?
  3. James Wattana stories and the arson show that some Thai players have been put under very serious threats by – as far as we know – the Thai betting mafia. Whilst match fixers must be punished, it seems to me that in these cases the main culprits – the betting rings – aren’t punished at all, whilst their victims – the frightened players – are put in an impossible situation. 

I do hope that WPBSA will explain their decisions further and that we will eventually understand the how and why of this mess.

3 thoughts on “Main Tour News – 23.06.2022

  1. Monique – totally agreed. Admittedly taking on the Thai mafia might be a tall order for the WPBSA. But the Thai players – caught in impossible situations – must be protected and supported, not hung out to dry.

  2. Passakorn Suwannawat hasn’t set foot in England since 2013. It’s notable he didn’t enter Q School, despite some recent success in asian events. Both he and TT have played in the 6-Reds World Championship since, but perhaps WPBSA don’t get to veto that. Since the investigations didn’t report, it’s most likely that the main ‘crime’ is refusal to answer questions. A legal appeal would be very costly for TT, so I think we can assume we’ve heard the last of this. Of course, I am always uncomfortable being reminded about that terrible fire and its consequences.

    It seems planning an Asia-Oceania Q School in Bangkok at such short notice, with 4 tour cards available, has proved to be a bit problematic…

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