By Nick Harris
25 June 2010
The world No1 snooker player John Higgins and his business partner Pat Mooney will find out next week what disciplinary charges they will face as a result of match fixing allegations made against them last month by the News of the World.
The paper alleged in its edition on 2 May that Mooney had done a deal for Higgins to lose four frames at four unspecified events in the future for cash, and that Higgins then rubber-stamped that deal in meeting in Kiev on 30 April.
In the News of the World on 9 May, the paper then alleged in a headline that Higgins had bet on himself to lose in the 2009 World Championship final, and in a story inside the paper, detailed how Higgins hadn’t had any bet.
The game’s governing body, the WPBSA, has been conducting an investigation into the allegations since they surfaced, and will announce charges next week, and has handed the “hearing” part of the case – where an independent tribunal will effectively act as a sporting court – to Sport Resolutions UK, an independent dispute resolution service for sport.
Higgins, 35, has been suspended from all tournaments since the original NotW story broke. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Sportingintelligence expects there to be no charges against Higgins relating to anything the NotW printed on 9 May. The story was based on a source who couldn’t remember what happened on the day Higgins was supposed to have called Ladbrokes.
There will certainly be charges laid against Higgins and Mooney for not reporting the suspicious approach to them by undercover News of the World reporters about match fixing.
Those reporters had pretended they wanted to stage the events at which the “fixed” frames would allegedly have occurred. In fact those events were never real and would never have taken place.
The same reporters also posed as gangsters allegedly wanting to make money on the fictional events on gambling black markets.
There will almost certainly be charges relating to allegations about agreeing to lose frames for cash and / or bringing the game into disrepute.
The Sports Resolutions tribunal will consider evidence from both sides, and the charges will stand or fall on that evidence.
A WPBSA statement released today said: “The WPBSA disciplinary committee has resolved to refer an investigation arising from the News of the World newspaper’s report of May 2, 2010, which contained allegations against John Higgins and Pat Mooney, to a hearing board convened under the auspices of Sport Resolutions UK.”
David Douglas, a former Metropolitan Police detective chief superintendent and the head of the WPBSA’s disciplinary committee, said: “Sport Resolutions deals with cases in various sports and is named in WPBSA disciplinary rules. It is completely independent of the WPBSA and we have no doubt that it will bring a fair conclusion to this matter.”
A statement released on behalf of Higgins today said: “John Higgins is completely focused on clearing his name and his legal team will vigorously defend any professional complaint made against him relating to this issue.
“We would remind everyone of John’s earlier statement: ‘I have never been involved in any form of snooker match fixing. In my 18 years playing professional snooker I have never deliberately missed a shot, never mind intentionally lost a frame or a match’.
“John Higgins is unwavering in his commitment to snooker – the sport he loves.”
If found guilty of match fixing charges, Higgins faces a lengthy ban.
Less clear is what will happen relating to the failure to report an approach. No player has been known to be charge and convicted of failing to report an approach, even though there have been multiple cases of failing to report approaches in the past.
As sportingintelligence has reported over the past two months, there are numerous unanswered questions about the nature of the NotW sting that entrapped Higgins and Mooney, and about the veracity of the evidence published in the paper and in video form on the paper’s website.
Once any charges are made, Higgins and Mooney will have 28 days to make representations before a hearing takes place. They will be given access to any evidence against them.
It could transpire that the NotW’s “week two” coverage could actually help Higgins’ case. That coverage alleged in a headline that Higgins bet on himself to lose, a statement that was factually untrue. That same week’s coverage was “supported” by the flimsiest evidence from a source who could not remember detail.
If Higgins were able to argue the “week two” coverage was maliciously false, that could also raise questions about “week one”.
The News of the World may yet be asked to provide full, unedited footage of the crucial meeting where Higgins allegedly agreed to the match-fix deal.
Sportingintelligence understands the paper has, so far, declined to provide uncut and unedited footage even to David Douglas.
That unedited footage, in context, should show clearly whether Higgins is guilty, in which case he should be banned, or whether the case against him is not as clear cut as suggested by headlines, pictures and quotes whose context is not yet certain.