Ken Doherty can’t understand why Stephen Lee got involved in match-fixing
Former world champion also criticises comment made by Ronnie O’Sullivan
Ken Doherty: Played Stephen Lee in Malta in 2008 where Lee conspired to lose to him.
The thing about Stephen Lee, says Ken Doherty is that “he was liked on the circuit.” In the worst case of match-fixing in the history of snooker, Ireland’s 1997 world champion was unwittingly drawn into the recent scandal because he played in a match against the one-time world number eight Lee that was investigated by the British police.
Completely innocent of any involvement in the affair, Doherty was interviewed several years ago by the police, when he was taking part in a tournament in the UK. He had previously faced Lee in a 2008 competition in Malta, where the English player conspired to lose to him and Marco Fu.
“The police spoke to a few of the players who were involved in the matches. But it was five years previously and to be honest I’d played so many matches I couldn’t remember how things would have stood and whether he was trying to throw the match,” says Doherty. “But I heard some of the evidence, the paper trail and I can’t understand why he would have done it. I’ve known him since I was 10 or 11-years-old . . . he was ranked, what, eighth in the world. Never mind that it’s wrong, it was absolutely stupid. Now his career has been taken away and I think justly so.”
One group associated with Lee earned around €70,000 on internet gambling alone, although figures were probably higher due to bets placed in high street bookmakers.
According to the WPSBA payments of almost €50,000 were also placed in Lee’s wife’s bank account between January 2008 and April 2009, while other deposits of €670, €1,200 and€2,400 are known of.
“It was a terrible, terrible mistake and why would you want to do that,” says Doherty. “Someone like Lee could make €250,000 a year. Why would you throw that away. He had another five or six years of making that money. It’s just ridiculous he did it. He’s a very, very silly boy.”
When former world champion John Higgins was caught on video in a newspaper sting agreeing to throw matches, it was thought that such a large scalp would deter would be fixers. Higgins was banned for six months and fined. Lee has disproven that theory and more recently current world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan said that “loads of players have been corrupted.”
Not for the first time O’Sullivan has drawn criticism from various quarters. “He has cast aspersions over the game and over the people who play it. It’s not fair. It’s not right. Too many people love the game and wouldn’t do anything to hurt it,” says Doherty. “What Ronnie has said has damaged the dignity and the integrity of snooker and I don’t think that is right. You can’t say that sort of thing on Twitter when you have two or 300,000 followers.
“Imagine if David Beckham said that in football players are getting yellow cards and throwing matches because they are corrupt. He wouldn’t be allowed. Barry Hearn and World Snooker have to come out strongly against that sort of claptrap. He’s cast a shadow over everyone and that, in essence, is wrong.”
But where there is blight, there is also some good says the Dubliner and the fact that Lee was caught indicates that monitoring is ongoing and diligent.
While the British police investigated the case initially, it was snooker that prosecuted Lee.
“The police were investigating for 18 months but dropped it and handed it over to World Snooker,” says Doherty. “He (Lee) is lucky he is not going to prison and if anything good has come out of this, it’s that it shows snooker has provisions to try an eradicate this sort of thing.”