Chinese players axed from top snooker tournament as match-fixing crisis rocks the popular billiards sport

YORK, UK – Nov 12, 2022: Zhao Xintong of China competes during the first round match against Sam Craigie of England at 2022 UK Snooker Championship in York.

Zhai Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images

LONDON — A match-fixing scandal has led to the suspension of 10 Chinese players from snooker’s top touring circuit, including two big names from the popular billiards sport.

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association announced Tuesday that it had suspended Zhao Xintong and his compatriot Zhang Jiankang from competing in the World Snooker Tour. Both players have the right to appeal against the decision.

Zhao — the ninth-ranked player in the world who is considered one of the sport’s top prospects — won the U.K. Championship in 2021 to claim his first ranking title and become only the fourth non-British player in history to triumph at the event.

The announcement marked the latest in a series of suspensions as part of an ongoing investigation into the fixing of snooker matches for betting purposes.

Alongside Zhao, notable among the 10 suspensions was the 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao, whom the WPBSA banned on Dec. 12., shortly before Chen Zifan.

EDINBURGH, Scotland – Nov. 30, 2022: Yan Bingtao of China reacts during the first round match against Liam Highfield of England on day three of the 2022 BetVictor Scottish Open.

Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Lu Ning, Li Hang, Zhao Jianbo, Bai Langning and Chang Bingyu were suspended in early December, after Liang Wenbo became the first player named in October.

Both Yan and Zhao were due to take part in the 2023 Masters, which begins Sunday and concludes on Jan. 15, but both have been replaced in the draw for the top-tier event.

“This decision is part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of manipulating the outcome of matches for betting purposes in breach of the WPBSA Conduct Regulations,” the body said in a statement Tuesday.

“The WPBSA can confirm that the wider investigation is now at an advanced stage, and it is anticipated will be completed shortly at which point any potential charges will be considered.”

CNBC has contacted the WST for comment from the players’ representatives. None of the 10 suspended players have spoken publicly to the U.K. press since the WPBSA announcements.

(With Inputs from cnbc)

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