September 26, 2013

Stephen Lee: Spot the Difference

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:28 am
Who's Bad?

Who’s Bad?

A raft of coverage has been given to yesterday’s announcement, lots of it duplicated and lots of it getting quite frankly, a little bit dull. It’s inevitable that a ban of the length given to Stephen Lee will attract comment from those not normally pre-disposed to discussing snooker and hand-in-hand with that unfortunately goes many views from a scale of misinformed or misguided to those just talking total bollocks or making stuff up.

I don’t wish to labour the points being made but a few people have asked me a quite legitimate question about this whole episode and I felt that the blog was probably the best place to answer it.

As well as Stephen Lee, frequent references and comparisons were made on social media sites yesterday with the case of John Higgins, there were also some less frequent mentions of Aussie bad-boy Quinten Hann and even less frequent ones about Peter Francisco, with many asking how Lee’s sentence compared in terms of fairness to the one’s dished out to others.

Firstly, I will qualify what I am about to write by saying that these offences happened under different administrations, this is the first response that you would get from any official involved in any of the cases mentioned if you are asking them to justify the length of sentence and consistency. That’s their ‘get out of jail card’ if you’ll forgive the pun.

There are huge differences between the cases of Lee and Higgins, there are sketchy similarities in the cases of Lee and Francisco and there are similarities in the cases of Higgins and Hann. Let me explain.

Lee v Higgins

I always thought it was an odd decision to have these two heading up a World Championship launch in front of the Bet Fred banner a few years back (Ronnie pulled out at the last minute so Lee stepped in). Higgins had emerged from his 6 month ban in tact and in the process had nabbed back his World Crown, Lee was in and out of court and had been investigated by the Crown Prosecution Service, an investigation that yesterday resulted in his 12 year ban.

But there is a huge difference between the two cases, OK, Higgins was filmed agreeing to throw frames in exchange for £300,000, he looked relaxed and was accompanied by his manager Pat Mooney who would later be lambasted for his part in the whole affair. Higgins didn’t look (as he later claimed to be) afraid for his life and he failed to report the meeting to the governing body on arriving home. The fact however remains that Higgins did not fix the match in question which was never played, we are not to know whether he would have done given the chance, but he didn’t. Higgins’s sentence reflected the fact that he had failed to report this approach, for his part he said afterwards that he didn’t think he would have done even if the meeting had not been exposed as a set-up, he did however maintain that he had no intention of going through with it and was only agreeing to do so to get out of the meeting as quickly as possible and back home. The sentence also reflected his previous record of exemplary behaviour and his role as an ambassador for the sport.

Stephen Lee has been found guilty of fixing 7 matches, from all of which it has been shown he made a substantial financial profit. There lies the difference between the two cases.

Result: Lee (12 years plus £40,000) v Higgins (6 months plus c. £85,000).

Potcha HannHiggins v Hann

Quinten Hann was a renowned bad-boy of the circuit and an explosive personality, prior to the snooker-based scandal he found himself accused and completely cleared of rape, he had frequent scrapes with other players (an account of his behaviour towards Graeme Dott in Dott’s book is unintentionally hilarious), he freely admitted turning up to play at the 2005 World Championships with a hangover because he thought his cue hadn’t arrived and was happy to admit he did not practice. He also famously challenged Andy ‘short and bald’ Hicks to a fight after their 2004 game at the Crucible and stepped into the boxing ring to fight Mark King. For all that, he was a popular member of the tour and a media godsend.

Where did it all go wrong? Well, like Higgins he was caught in a ‘newspaper’ (I use the terms loosely) sting. He was filmed arranging to fix the outcome of a match in the China Open in exchange for £50,000, the payment was not made and the match in question was never played. Hann was given an 8 year ban on the grounds that “a member shall not directly or indirectly solicit, attempt to solicit or accept any payment or any form of remuneration of benefit in exchange for influencing the outcome of any game of snooker or billiards.”

The ban came after Hann had announced a few days earlier that he was quitting snooker anyway and he did not attend the hearing to defend himself, unlike Higgins. Also unlike Higgins, he could hardly draw on his exemplary behaviour in the past to carry any weight. There were suggestions in some quarters that he had been intending to quit for some time and knew that the whole thing was a hoax.

I got very close to an interview with Quinten a couple of years ago, I agreed to tell his full side of the story in his own words on here but at the last minute he pulled out. He did claim that snooker ‘left a very sour taste in my mouth’ and at one point seemed tempted to say more. I got the distinct feeling that he felt he had been royally shafted by the administration at the time.

For all his faults, I think we all kinda miss him.

Result: Hann (8 years plus £10,000) v Higgins (6 months plus c. £85,000).

Francisco: Had a mare.

Francisco: Had a mare.

Peter Francisco

Arguably, the South African is the Godfather of Bad Boys and just as Stephen Lee was embarking on his career, Peter’s was coming down to earth with a bump. The bizarre thing about this one is that despite him being famous for losing 10-2 at the Crucible to Jimmy White in a match that saw odds plummet on that scoreline from 9/1 to 7/4 before a ball was struck, he was not handed a 5 year ban for match fixing and still picked up the prize money he was due for that match. He was officially banned for “not conducting himself in a manner consistent with his status as a professional sportsman” whilst being cleared of match fixing by the then chairman John Spencer, who also liked a bet. Francisco’s representative later said that the sentence and ruling amounted to banning someone for not playing well, meanwhile the cleaners at the WPBSA headquarters were busy sweeping notes under the carpet. Peter is now back playing and was eligible to return to the professional ranks this season having done very well back home, but he declined, probably for the best.

Result: Francisco (5 years)


Anyone who was making comparisons yesterday between the cases of Stephen Lee and John Higgins should read this and then read it again. They are simply not the same, regardless of how you feel about the difference in sentences or the players themselves. I’d argue that a better comparison for those who believe Higgins was dealt with leniently, an argument which for what it’s worth I believe to be true, is to look at what happened to Hann. One might argue that Higgins’s reputation and a heavier fine bought him seven and a half years, but again I point to different administrations in charge of the game at the time.

Is Lee’s sentence fair? Well, based on the evidence and judgement yes it is, he should not be allowed back onto the professional circuit and the 12 years will see to that. He has bitten the hand that feeds and no excuse of being weak-minded, easily led or financially strapped for cash should be given the time of day. He continues to protest his innocence, but I can’t help thinking this will do him more harm than good in the long run. If you can’t do the time, as they say, don’t do the crime.

Be careful with your comments on this post, Cheers.

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