Ronnie O'Sullivan has been stripped of his Benson and Hedges Irish Masters title after testing positive for cannabis following his victory over Ken Doherty last March. The 22-year-old Essex professional will also forfeit the £61,000 prize-money awarded for the 9-3 win over stablemate Doherty at Goffs, Co Kildare.
"In consequence and in accordance with the association's rules, the runner-up, Ken Doherty, now becomes the winner of the tournament," a World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) spokesman said yesterday.
O'Sullivan made a personal appearance at the game's headquarters in Bristol yesterday, accompanied by manager Ian Doyle and solicitor Henri Brandman. The three-man disciplinary committee of the WPBSA met for two hours before reaching their verdict.
Doherty now takes the Irish Masters title for the first time, but awaits formal notification from the WPBSA in the coming week. "I just heard the news after a game of golf this evening," he said yesterday. "I'll have to wait to get the full details before commenting on the matter." It still has to be confirmed if Doherty will receive the full amount of the original prizemoney. But if he does it will take his earnings to just under £1.5 million since he turned professional as a 20-year-old in 1990. It was believed that O'Sullivan would also be banned from the sport as his offence took place while serving a two-year suspended sentence for a previous indiscretion. However, WPBSA directors Jim Meadowcroft, Bob Close and David Taylor declined to implement the suspension "on the basis it was not warranted due to the different natures of the rules in question."
O'Sullivan will retain the UK and Scottish Open championship titles he won earlier this year.
Another let-off for O'Sullivan is that he will not lose any of his world ranking points since the Irish Masters tournament is an invitational event. There have been concerns, however, that he may still have to pay income tax on the prize money for the period it was in his possession.
O'Sullivan responded to the WPBSA's decision through his solicitor who said that "he had taken marijuana five days before the event," but added that it had not been used as "a means to enhance his performance".
Cannabis is not known to be a performance-enhancing drug, although it has been added to the banned list by the snooker authorities since it is widely known to have a relaxing effect on the player which, in turn, can improve his or her game.
This brush with the authorities is the latest chapter in O'Sullivan's rocky career. In April 1996 he attacked former WPBSA assistant press officer Mike Ganley during the world championship at Sheffield.