Snooker’s world No 9 suspended in match-fixing investigation

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Zhao Xintong, the 2021 UK Snooker Champion, has become the highest ranked and 10th Chinese player to be suspended as part of an investigation into match-fixing.

Ranked ninth in the world, Xintong was due to play Mark Selby in the first round of the Masters tournament at Alexandra Palace on Sunday but has been removed from the draw, subject to a possible appeal.

The WPBSA governing body also announced on Tuesday that Zhang Jiankang, the world No 82, has been suspended from attending or competing on the game’s world tour with immediate effect.

A further eight Chinese players, including the 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao, were suspended before Christmas pending an investigation that is said to be at an “advanced stage”.

The news casts a shadow over the sport’s reputation before the Masters, which runs between January 8-15 and is one of its three “triple crown” and showpiece BBC-televised events.

Pending his suspension, Bingtao has already been replaced in the draw by David Gilbert, who will play three-times world champion Mark Williams.

A statement said that Jason Ferguson, the chair of the WPBSA, had decided to suspend both Xintong and Jiankang with immediate effect.

“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,” said the statement.

“The suspension will remain in place until the conclusion of the investigation or any subsequent charges that may or may not be brought. Both Zhao and Zhang have the right to appeal this decision.

“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.”

Former world champion Shaun Murphy has called for lifetime bans for anyone found guilty of match-fixing but Ferguson had suggested this week that blanket bans would not be legally enforceable.

Xintong has been tipped for greatness previously by current world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who confirmed in April that he had helped the 25-year-old improve his game.

“For me, I got much more pleasure out of that [helping Zhao] than I have out of anything in a long time,” said O’Sullivan. “For me, he’s the special one, so I’ll always give him unlimited time.”

Bingtao, Liang Wenbo, Lu Ning, Li Hang, Zhao Jianbo, Bai Langning, Chang Bingyu and Chen Zifan have also all been suspended since October.

None of those involved have commented.