Higgins suspended in 'bribe' storm

Eurosport - Sun, 02 May 08:04:00 2010

Three-times world champion John Higgins has been suspended after he was accused of agreeing to take a bribe to lose frames in four separate matches later this year.

John Higgins - 0

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said he had to take "drastic action" following the News of the World report with Higgins, who was knocked out in an earlier round, suspended just hours before the sport's showpiece World Championship final began in Sheffield.

The paper claims to have video footage of Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney agreeing to take 300,000 euros (261,000) in exchange for losing frames in matches at four tournaments.

In a transcript published by the newspaper, the 34-year-old apparently agreed to lose the frames so that syndicate could place bets. There is no suggestion Higgins has ever thrown a frame or fixed a match.

"John Higgins has been suspended from future tournaments, pending an immediate enquiry," Hearn said in a statement.

The newspaper described a meeting between Higgins, his agent Pat Mooney and reporters purporting to be businessmen in Kiev, which took place days after he was unexpectedly beaten in Sheffield by Steve Davis, where the subject of throwing frames was discussed.

"Pat Mooney has resigned from the WPBSA (World Snooker) board and his resignation has been accepted, with immediate effect," Hearn added.

"This matter has brought the very fabric of the game into question and the strongest possible message needs to be sent out that this behaviour has no part to play in our game and will not be tolerated. Any wrong doing will be severely dealt with."

After suspending Higgins, Hearn told the BBC: "I've read the piece, I've seen the video, I would imagine I can't see any reason not to suspend him at this moment in time."

"It was as if someone kicked me in the stomach. We are working very hard on the reinvigoration of the game and this is a huge backward step.

"Those responsible, if proved, will be dealt with in a very harsh and brutal way. People have a right to see pure sport - that's what I want snooker to be."

Mr Mooney said: "You have no idea what the circumstances were in Kiev, that's why I have no comment.

"But we were genuinely in fear for our safety."

Higgins has denied any wrongdoing, claiming he feared for his safety in Kiev. "In all honesty, I became very worried at the way the conversation developed in Kiev," he said in a statement.

"When it was suggested that I throw frames in return for large sums of money, I was really spooked. I just wanted to get out of the hotel and onto the plane home.

"I didn't know if this was the Russian Mafia or who we were dealing with. At that stage I felt the best course of action was just to play along with these guys and get out of Russia."

The News of the World said it was "surprised" at Mr Mooney's suggestions. The newspaper said its investigations editor had three meetings with Higgins's manager in Scotland's capital city Edinburgh.

"We assume Mr Mooney did not feel intimidated during these meetings where he openly discussed John Higgins and match fixing," said the News of the World in a statement.

"In a number of conversations he [Mr Mooney] explained how a snooker game could be fixed, the amount of money required to facilitate it and repeatedly assured us that Mr Higgins would be 'relaxed' with the arrangement.

"At no time whilst in Kiev did Mr Mooney or Mr Higgins show any signs of being under duress or in any way unhappy at being in our company."

The News of the World said further revelations would be published next weekend.

In the newspaper transcript, Higgins said it would be "easy" to fix the result of a frame.

Asked what the risk factor would be, Higgins reportedly replied: "No risk, because you can miss.

"It's easy, it's easy," he apparently continued. "You don't even have to make a mistake."

Higgins lost in the second round of the World Championship this year to veteran Steve Davis before apparently flying to Ukraine for the meeting.

"It will happen," Mooney, a board member of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, reportedly said. "It will work. John can make it credible."

The newspaper, who claim the 34-year-old was highly concerned about how to conceal the money he would receive, says Higgins has since refused to comment.

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