Cheats deserve to be left snookered: Allen
Mark Allen admits he suspected the worst when three-time world champion John Higgins was the subject of a tabloid match-fixing sting earlier this year.
Higgins was subsequently cleared of match-fixing, although at a tribunal he admitted bringing the game into disrepute by not reporting the illegal approach made to him to throw frames.
Higgins was fined £75,000 and banned for six months — and made his return to big-time snooker this weekend in the £625,000 UK Championship in Telford, beating Stephen Lee 9-6 in the first round.
“There was talk at the time that the ban should have been longer — and I was one of those people who said that — but after seeing all the details of the hearing it's clear that John didn't do much wrong,” said Allen.
But the Antrim cueman is realistic enough to acknowledge that snooker — like many sports — has corruption issues such as match-fixing.
“I am definitely not saying it's just, but I can understand why some people would do it,” revealed Allen, who starts his last 16 clash against defending champion Ding Junhui tonight, playing to a finish tomorrow.
“If people don't feel the sport is going in the right direction, or there is not that much money in the sport, it maybe opens the door to scams.
“It can be a little bit frustrating for players at times but if you perform well you will get results and the money will come if you are playing well enough, no matter how few tournaments there are,” he said.
“I was at the two recent tournaments that John played in and he was welcomed back by players and fans as I expected he would be. John is one of the most likeable people on the tour and I for one am happy to see him back.
“So he will be welcomed back by the players in Telford though most of them will want to avoid playing him even though many feel he will not be as sharp as usual. But I lost to him in one of the tournaments and he is definitely sharp. He won one tournament and got beaten in the final of the other so he's not doing too bad for someone who has had six months off.
“He will be one of the favourites for the UK — and deservedly so.
“He's in the harder half of the draw but he's more than capable of winning the tournament,” said Allen, who got off to a good start in Telford with a 9-5 victory over Leicester’s Tom Ford, while fellow Ulsterman Patrick Wallace plays to a finish against former world champion Shaun Murphy this afternoon.
And Allen outlined some of the measures now in place to combat corruption.
“There was a meeting in Germany a few weeks ago at the Players Tour Championship tournament which a lot of the players attended.
“Officials went through John's hearing and all the ins and outs of a new Integrity Unit. They have set up a private email and contact number for the players so if there are ever any illegal approaches we can speak to World Snooker in confidence.
“It's what snooker needs because it's not really that popular in the eyes of a lot of people any more and if there are betting scams going on there is going to be even less interest from sponsors — and that's not good for snooker,” he said.
Snooker boss Barry Hearn has brought former Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Superintendent David Douglas in as a Director of the WPBSA with special responsibility for disciplinary matters aimed at maintaining the integrity of the game.
“I think Barry Hearn will soon stamp it out. David Douglas has been brought in to deal with that side of things and he was already involved when John's case came to light,” added Allen.
“He told the players at the meeting that he has been speaking to different betting firms and they have told him that there are 20 different betting scams in one particular sport. He didn't tell us which sport it was, although it wasn't snooker. He reckons snooker has had two betting scams in the last five years.
“When you put that alongside other sports, snooker is not as bad as people think.”
And the normally upbeat 24-year-old revealed that a recent slump in form had left him down in the dumps.
“The way I had been playing was getting me down.
“I was not playing as well as I could or as well as I should. For me it was a matter of taking a wee bit of time away from the game. So I took a little bit of a break and had a few chats with my coaches Joe Short and Terry Griffiths,” Allen explained.
“It has helped because I’m starting to feel a lot more relaxed.
“I’m back enjoying the game. It sounds funny saying it at 24, but I’d lost my enjoyment of playing because I was under-performing.
“I was getting down on myself when I thought about how good an amateur record I had and how many tournaments I had won, to then go through a long period in the professional game without winning a tournament can be very frustrating.
“Snooker is not the be all and end all. It’s what pays my bills but it won’t be there forever so I have to give it my best shot now and just enjoy it. I have started to get that love back. I’m enjoying playing again so this is a fresh start for me. So hopefully that starts to show on the table.
“All the top professionals are so good, there is very little between them. A lot of it comes down to preparation and the mental side.
“That’s something I have been working on for the last few months and I definitely feel it’s helping me now and hopefully that will start to show.
“At the minute I just want to play snooker — I would play Joe Bloggs off the street if I thought it was going to do me any good,” said Allen, who is following with interest new snooker chief Hearn’s plans for the game.
“Snooker has gone downhill in the last four or five years so with him coming in, he has to try new things,” he said.
One new thing Allen would like to try is winning a ranking tournament. Beating Ding would be a massive step in that direction.