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Stephen Lee faces life ban in all but name

By John Skilbeck

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn does not see any way Stephen Lee can return after being banned from the sport for 12 years for match-fixing.

Leading figures in the game have agreed the sanction imposed on the former world number five – who was found guilty of fixing seven matches or frames in four tournaments, including the 2009 World Championship – amounts to a life ban in all but name.

Those feelings were summed up by Hearn: "The courts today don't seem to like to give out lifetime bans in any sport, this seems to be the policy generally," he said.

"But 12 years out of the professional circuit –- it's going to be a mountain to come back from that, I don't see any way back. I think 12 years effectively is a lifetime ban, to be perfectly frank."

World number three Judd Trump added: "I think it should have been a life ban but 12 years pretty much puts him out of his career, so he's going to have to look at something else to do.

"Anything over 10 years was right, I think."

Lee cannot resume his career until October 2024 and former player Willie Thorne, now a BBC commentator, said: "He'll be 50 when he gets his licence back, as it were, and at that age you've got no chance of earning a living from snooker.

"The Senior Tour could well be in full swing by then, but I don't think he'd be accepted to the Senior Tour either so, basically, 12 years is virtually a life ban."

While Hearn acknowledged the sport "can never be 100 per cent", he said: "We've created an integrity unit that I think is the envy of most sports.

"We have a fabulous relationship with betting authorities around the world, we monitor every single game because we understand that without integrity in sport, there is no sport.

"There's a confidential 24-hour, 365 days a year hotline, both email and phone, and you have a duty under your player's contract to report any approach.

"If you don't report an approach, as happened with John Higgins (following a 2010 newspaper sting) for example, you risk a penalty for that. The obligation is on the player. "

Trump, the 2011 UK champion and World Championship finalist, said he has yet to be targeted by match-fixers and added: "Obviously if I got approached I'd go to Barry and everyone straight away.

"Some people find it a little bit harder and give into temptation. For me, I've been brought up wanting to win every game, that's just my mindset but other people obviously think differently."

Since Hearn's return as chairman, the number of events and amount of prize money on offer in snooker has rocketed and Thorne said: "There's great living to be made in snooker but not a great living if you're a cheat."

The 1985 UK Championship finalist also revealed he refused an offer of £20,000 to throw a match at the Masters, the prestigious invitational tournament involving the top 16 players in the world.

"I was approached at the Masters many, many years ago," he said. "Somebody offered me 20 grand to lose a match against Joe Johnson. I refused it, and that was the only ever time.

Thorne expressed sadness at Lee's actions, saying: "It's such a shame because he was a very, very good player. It must be greed."

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