The sporting world is awash with nefarious participants and activities, Cricket has been the victim of the most recent major scandal of Sandpaper gate, with sledging also an ugly but long accepted part of the game. But Australia is not alone, with India previously tarnished, as well as, most famously South Africa, with Hansie Cronje and the dark path he walked in match fixing that some say saw his eventual death in a plane crash. Nor is the ignominy confined to just Cricket, many other sports suffer in similar and other ways with drugs and steroids a major part of the Swimming, Cycling, Athletics and Weightlifting worlds. Soccer is rife with what is now described as ‘simulation’. This involves players feigning major injury after the lightest of tackles from an opponent or diving without any contact at all in many cases, with the express motive of either receiving a free kick, with the ‘sinner’ possibly receiving a red card from the referee and reducing the opposition team by one player as a bonus, or in winning a penalty if the tackle can be induced in the opposition’s penalty area. Rugby, while trying to maintain its holier than thou image, still has individuals who regard the attempt to remove an eye from an opponent as a legitimate form of sporting intimidation. Australian Rules players continue to mete out and accept deliberate blows to the face and elbows to the ribs as part and parcel of the game. Tennis too in every generation has had its bad boys, throwing temper tantrums that a five-year-old would be ashamed of without any semblance of embarrassment, players being coached from the sidelines against the rules then denying anything of the sort took place, again without any of the self-loathing that would accompany such behaviour from most decent people. Underhand and devious activities are now part and parcel of the sporting world driven in the main by the huge financial gains to be had with the major ones.
Are there any, or even one, that escape this sad state of affairs? Perhaps Golf as one of those sports with a high financial profile is the one that most would point to and maybe with some justification, as it seems to have escaped the adverse publicity of the other sports in that field in the most part. Perhaps it could also be said of Snooker, which I will grant does not have the high financial or multi fan based worldwide profile of the sports previously identified here. It is still however a highly participated sport in Asia and in the U.K. and its sister sport of Billiards is perhaps only second, along with Field Hockey, to Cricket on the subcontinent.
Snooker too is not without its bad boys and match fixing and betting anomalies have also plagued the administrators of the green baize games, but it must be said that these embarrassments are very few and very far between, with those administrators coming down very hard on the perpetrators. Heavy fines and very lengthy bans, career ending in some cases, are the order of the day for those willing to take the risks and who are uncovered.
The question is then begged as to why Snooker in particular, which also offers huge financial gains to its most skilful proponents, is relatively free from the activities that so plague the other sports.
My own opinion is that it lies in the adherence to tradition and the genteel officer class lifestyle that were evident at its birth and although it did for a time descend into beery and smoke filled dens, especially in England, it has emerged relatively unscathed and is now once again considered a healthy and meritorious pastime and even a career path for many young people around the Snooker playing countries of the world.
It is no coincidence that the adherence to those traditions includes a strict dress code enforced without exception by the associations of those countries. I am often asked why such a formal and strict code is in place for a game that can be just as well and skilfully played in T-shirt and shorts (or even a cardigan and thermals in the U.K.) and would the game suffer greatly if it was?
My answer always comes back to the importance of the traditions of the games which can be found, not only in the way players and referees dress and even the restrictions placed upon spectators, with the banning of football shirts in the Crucible just one example, but is also in the rules and the priority of fairness that can be found within them, including the one which gives referees carte blanch in the interests of fair play where a situation is not otherwise covered, which have basically changed so very little since Neville Chamberlain first suggested a few extra balls with some different colours to his fellow Billiards playing colleagues in the officer’s mess in India and where the appearance of any officer without a tie would have been grounds for a court martial.
Yes, its referees have to be vigilant but not maybe as vigilant as officials in other sports, for while the players in many of those other sports will use what subterfuges they can and get away with as much as can be contrived, there is no professional Snooker player nor any of the vast majority of amateur players who would take advantage of a mistake causing a foul that is missed by a less than vigilant or blindsided referee and the sight and sound of players stepping away from the table and informing the referee that they had fouled is not an uncommon one on the circuits around the globe. Every stroke of exceptional quality receives a nod or a tap of the table in appreciation from an opponent, even if it leaves them disadvantaged. Every chance of a maximum break or even just a very high one is cheered on by an adversary once the frame is safe. Every advantageous fluke, whether an uncontrived snooker or unintentional pot or even just an uncontrolled positional stroke, being met, not with a raised middle finger or mirth, but with a hand raised, palm out in apology and accepted. Every single match of either Billiards or Snooker, without exception, starts and ends with the players shaking hands with each other and the referee, regardless of anything that might be amiss from past meetings or earlier frames or games.
It is these traditions which drive and give the game its integrity and cheating, except for some very few and high profile examples, is neither practiced nor tolerated in deference to those principles.