Barry Hearn furious as Ronnie O'Sullivan claims match-fixing rife
The fallout from snooker's biggest match-fixing scandal saw Ronnie O'Sullivan drawn into an amazing row with Barry Hearn after the world champion claimed "loads" of players had been corrupted.
O'Sullivan has issued a thinly veiled threat to quit the sport – less than five months into his comeback – after world chairman Hearn warned he faced punishment over his response to Stephen Lee being found guilty of fixing seven matches.
O'Sullivan took to Twitter to claim the scale of match-fixing in the sport was much bigger than people suspected and accused the authorities of sweeping the problem under the carpet. That prompted Hearn to write to O'Sullivan, warning that he was contractually obliged to provide World Snooker with any information he might have about possible corruption and also threatening to sanction him if he had spoken out of turn.
O'Sullivan then hit back, again via Twitter, posting: "No concrete evidence of match fixing in snooker. But, just like everyone who works in an office, they have a good idea who's s****ing who. Don't give a damn I'm not a Zionist, which will eventually get me hung out to dry, but I will keep winning tournaments and entertaining the people."
O'Sullivan, who briefly turned his hand to farming during his self-imposed exile, added: "I suppose I could always go back to workin on the farm if world snooker wanna ban me. Barry I think we need another cup of tea... I've been a naughty boy mwah xxx."
The spat between O'Sullivan and the man who was instrumental in coaxing him out of retirement was sparked by the 37-year-old's Twitter activity. Despite deleting his initial post suggesting "loads" of players were fixing matches, O'Sullivan also wrote: "I've heard there's many more players who throw snooker matches... I suppose Steve Lee was just caught out.
"I just love putting it out there bring it all out in the open.. Nothing like a bit of transparency is what I say. No need to worry if you got nothing to hide. But plenty of people have got loads to hide. That's why there is no free speech . There hiding. They will prob fine me for talking about it.. They don't like you doing that.. Like to keep things under the carpet."
That prompted a withering response from Hearn, who said in a statement: "We take these type of allegations very seriously. We have written to Ronnie asking him to explain his comments and to provide details of any match-fixing and the names of the players that he is referring to.
"Clearly, to make these type of allegations without informing the governing body through the correct channels is wholly unacceptable and extremely damaging to the sport."
O'Sullivan could be charged with bringing the game into disrepute, regardless of his response to Hearn's letter. "We always, always investigate any irregularity and, frankly, we don't have any to investigate at the moment," Hearn said. "So, it's a mystery to me what Ronnie's talking about."
Hearn revealed World Snooker now monitor every match. "We have probably one of the most advanced integrity units, in my opinion, in the world. We get instant information of any irregular betting patterns."
Lee faces a lifetime ban from the sport following the announcement of the guilty verdict on Monday, with his penalty to be confirmed next Tuesday. The 38-year-old denied fixing seven games in 2008 and 2009, including a World Championship match.
The Crown Prosecution Service dropped criminal proceedings against him after casting doubt on whether it could secure a conviction, handing evidence on to World Snooker.
An independent tribunal, which required a lower burden of proof, had little doubt the former world No 5 Lee had deliberately lost matches against Dubliner Ken Doherty and Marco Fu at the 2008 Malta Cup and agreed to lose the first frame against both Stephen Hendry and Mark King at the 2008 UK Championship.
In addition, it ruled Lee lost matches by a pre-determined score to Neil Robertson at the 2008 Malta Cup and to Mark Selby at the 2009 China Open, as well as his 2009 World Championship first-round match to Ryan Day.
According to World Snooker, payments of £40,000 were paid into Lee's wife's bank account between January 2008 and April 2009, as well as other deposits of £600, £1,000 and £2,000. (© Daily Telegraph, London)