World Snooker chief Barry Hearn today vowed that the governing body will investigate allegations made against world champion John Higgins “in the fastest possible timetable”.
Higgins, the world number one, was yesterday suspended following allegations he agreed to throw frames for money.
Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney, who has resigned from the board of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, were filmed by the News of the World newspaper allegedly agreeing to accept £261,000 in return for fixing the outcome of four frames in matches to be played later this year.
“There will be nothing, I repeat absolutely nothing, that will stop this matter being dealt with in the fastest possible timetable so we can have this matter resolved and get down to concentrating on what we love to concentrate on, this wonderful game.
Higgins has denied any wrong-doing and insisted he will fight to clear his name.
Hearn confirmed he has spoken personally to Higgins since the allegations were made.
“Obviously the guy is in bits,” he said. “And I can sympathise, empathise, with him because it’s been his whole life. The guy is number one in the world.
“We had a very frank conversation because I was in a position to say ’look, I’m not judge and jury here, my job is to refer it to the appropriate authorities. But as a friend, which I would classify myself to John Higgins because I’ve known him for 20 years, it doesn’t look good, John’.
“We all watched the video, we’ve all seen it. Now, whatever reason there may be behind the scenes – and John has subsequently come out with a statement – I can only judge on the visual evidence that is in front of me.
“I just stressed to John that this is something that is not going away but it will be treated as a very, very serious offence, potentially, and if he is found guilty will carry the most severe of penalties. And obviously that’s very upsetting for him, which I can understand because it’s his life, his living.
“I believe he’s a proud man, I actually believe he’s an honest man but I can’t ignore the evidence in front of me and the damage potentially it could do to the game.”
Higgins vowed to clear his name in a statement yesterday
“Today is the start of the biggest match of my life,” it said. “It’s not the World Championship that’s at stake, it’s something even more important, my reputation.
“I will cooperate fully with the snooker authorities. I have built my reputation on honesty and integrity. Sadly others have now damaged that reputation and it is now left to me to clear my name.
“I have never been involved in any form of snooker match-fixing. In my 18 years playing professional snooker I have never deliberately missed a shot, never mind intentionally lost a frame or a match.”
Former Metropolitan Police detective chief superintendent David Douglas will head an investigation into the claims. Douglas was handed a position on the board of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association last month, and tasked with ensuring the sport operates above board.
Former world champion Dennis Taylor told Radio Five Live: “Anybody involved in that, they’ve got to be thrown out of the game, because the game’s integrity is at stake.
“It’s a big shock and there’s quite a dark cloud over the Crucible theatre today.”
Taylor added: “I’ve known John since he turned professional and in fact practised with him when he was a young lad.
“It was a real shock because he’s still the current world champion and world number one and I just couldn’t believe it. So it remains to be seen about these allegations.
“It’s just a total shock. I couldn’t believe that John Higgins could be involved in something like this, but it remains to be seen.”