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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Snooker: Is Cao Yupeng a cheat or is Mark Allen a racist?

There was a bit of drama in the snooker on Monday. Mark Allen of Northern Ireland was facing Cao Yupeng of China in a first round match of the 2012 World Snooker Championship. Although Allen was seeded 10th and holds a world ranking of 11th, he was thoroughly defeated 10-6 by the unseeded Cao Yupeng whose world ranking has never been higher than 81.

During the match, with Cao leading 5-4, there was an incident that Mark Allen called as a foul, but only after the match was over. Allen alleged that Cao has "pushed" the ball. When playing a stroke, one is required to strike the white ball cleanly such that it immediately loses contact with the cue and no further contact is made. Allen is alleging that Cao didn't strike cleanly (due to the awkward angle) and either that there was prolonged contact between the white ball and the cue tip or that the cue touched the white more than once.

Having watched the replay many times, I don't agree. You can see it above. The white ends up in a group of red balls requiring a difficult hand position and the white definitely bounces about a bit, although whether it makes a second contact or there's some kind of push, I simply can't tell. I can see nothing wrong with the shot, but I'm no expert so I can't categorically say that there is nothing to see.

The commentators at the time were Terry Griffiths and John Virgo - both ex-players.

Griffiths: "I thought he fouled that then. I thought he hit the white twice; did he, John?"
Virgo: "Mmm. Referee Paul Collier was having a good close look.... mmm."

Although Griffiths was quite clear that he thought something had happened, Virgo was non-committal.

At a press conference after the match, Mark Allen was quite clear:

"I thought the big turning point of the match was at 5-4. He was in among the balls and Paul Collier [the referee] missed a blatant push (shot). It was quite obvious to me… anyone at home could probably see that.

"It was a big stage of the match considering I had put him under pressure last night to get back to 5-4. If the referee rightfully calls a foul there, I have a good chance of going 5-5. He [Cao] went on from there to pull away to 7-4."

Now if he'd left it at that, then it would just be a small disagreement over a possible foul. Rather than mention it at a press conference and have it sound like sour grapes, he'd have been best to whine about it to his mates in the bar.

When a player commits a foul that the referee doesn't spot, it's expected that the player will be honest enough to say so. Their opponent is also free to raise the matter with the referee. At the time, neither player said anything.

This kind of thing's all over the Chinese internet... probably
But Mark Allen went on to say:

"It seems to be a bit of trait for the Chinese players. There’s been a few instances in the past…fouls…and blatant cheating going on. It needs to be corrected because he [Cao] is a good enough player. He doesn’t have to do that.

"He did look at the referee as soon as he done it as if to say: you’re not calling a foul here? I looked at Paul and Michaela (Tabb) who was marking the match and Griffiths who was commentating on it. Anything that Terry says, I trust.

"He [Griffiths] pretty much confirmed it at the interval. It is a pretty sad state of snooker if it has to come down to that. Its not the first time. Marco Fu and Liang Wenbo have been known for it in the past. Maybe it is just a Chinese thing."

Ouch. Did he really have to say that not only did Cao cheat, but that Chinese players are known for it and suggested that Marco Fu and Liang Wenbo are cheats too? Oh he certainly did not. There's been some suggestion that his remarks are racist. I'm not sure about that. If one replaces the word "Chinese" with "black", then yeah, it all sounds pretty racist.

Luckily, pretty much every Chinese person I've ever met is much more racist than that so they're hardly likely to call foul. However he's managed to suggest dishonour on the part of all Chinese which is likely to arouse the astonishing levels of nationalism in many Chinese youths. You should read the Chinese internet any time Japan fails to mention the Nanjing Massacre in a history textbook. Boy, do they ever get pissed off and say so.

Last time he had to apologise, Mark Allen thought that sticking tape across his mouth would help his case
Worse still, Mark Allen's got a bit of a history of mouthing off and has even made disparaging remarks about China before. When in Hainan for the China Open earlier this year, Mark Allen sent out a tweet saying the following:

"Dead cat found this morning. Any wonder why this place stinks? Must be dead cats all round the town. This place is horrendous. It just baffles me how world snooker continuously go out of their way to put tournaments on in the middle of nowhere. Journey a nightmare. People are ignorant. Place stinks. Arena’s rubbish, tables poor, food is horrendous. Other than that I love China."

Now, to be fair, most of that is just a statement of fact. Other than a possibly unwise bit about people being ignorant, I can't actually see anything there that's unjust. Outside of cities like Beijing, China can be a bit... well filthy. Heck, even in Beijing it's not a great idea to sit on a public bench without wiping it down thanks to the pollution. But Mark Allen got into trouble for this and ended up being fined as well as having to issue an apology. That seemed a bit harsh, but China influence in snooker is now great enough that snooker's governing body wanted to make sure that it sent the right signals.

Today's outburst is just awful. I don't expect snooker players to necessarily be intellectual giants, but Mark Allen does come off as being a bit of a thicky.

I watched that match. I didn't see either player look to the referees or suggest anything untoward at the time. All I heard was one commentator express his opinion that a foul may have occurred. That Terry Griffiths is Mark Allen's coach is somewhat suspicious. Allen does say that he talked to Griffiths during the interval and "he pretty much confirmed it". And that to me suggests that he was pissed off he was losing, had some doubt about that foul, but had stewed about it after talking to his coach and then said something unfortunate when he talked too much at a press conference.

But there was more to come. Barry Hearne, head of world snooker appeared on TV to condemn and play down Allen's remarks and Allen was sent a letter informing him that disciplinary action would be coming. Chances are he'll get a fine and told to apologise again. There is the potential to ban him for a while, but doing so would probably just exacerbate the problem and encourage people to take sides over what is really quite a minor issue. But China must be satisfied.

If Chinese companies were to withdraw their sponsorship, there would only really be around half the snooker contests there are now. Whilst the governing body has tried really hard to improve the popularity of the game in other countries, they haven't had much success. Even in mainland Europe, snooker is a pretty nice interest. So no one can afford to piss off the Chinese. Over matters of honour and face such as this, Chinese companies are a lot more ready to vote with their feet than their Western equivalents.

There are four Chinese players in the world championship this year. Ten years ago there were none. After Ding appeared, there were a couple of other players and now there are several. And they'll all have heard what Mark Allen said.

He's a delight, isn't he? Obviously I'm picking pictures showing him in a negative light,
but he really makes it easy.
So Allen has now issued an apology before he's forced to:

"Following my recent comments in the press conference after my first-round defeat to Cao Yupeng, I would like to formally apologise to anyone who may have been offended.

"Having taken some time to reflect on my comments I can appreciate that I overstepped the line at a time when I was heavily influenced by the emotions of a disappointing defeat.

"I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Cao Yupeng if he felt that my comments were insinuating he were a cheat."

It's a shitty apology, but par for the course these days. One of the first articles I wrote for this blog was about non-apologies. That's a link right there. Don't go saying that you would like to apologise and then not actually apologise. Saying you would like to isn't the same as saying you're sorry. Saying " if he felt that my comments were insinuating he were a cheat" isn't the same as saying you're sorry you called someone a cheat - you're saying that you're sorry that they feel that way; it's almost as though you're saying that you're upset because of them.

Again, to be fair, I'm pretty sure Mark Allen didn't write that apology. He didn't even say it. That was a statement released by his management company. Looking through his tweets, I don't think Mark Allen's really capable of writing something like that without help. Hopefully it'll be enough.

But maybe Mark Allen isn't quite so stupid. This is his last post on his Twitter account.


  1. And yet, Liang did the same thing against Higgins at the weekend, and he called the foul before the referee did.

    For what it's worth, I kind of agree with Allen on this. It's always been one of snooker's best points in that the players are scrupulously honest almost to a fault. Wouldn't like to see that change to become like football. Can you imagine Wayne Rooney owning up to fouling someone in the box?

    1. I quite agree that calling your own fouls is indeed one of the better points of the game, but was there even a foul in this case? I've watched the replays over and over and, partly because of the white jumping, I can't tell if there was a foul or not. There sure as heck wasn't a "blatant push" that "anyone at home could probably see".

      If players are expected to be honourable and call their own fouls that's fine, but where's the honour in waiting until after the match to accuse your opponent of cheating? Mark Allen had ample opportunity to raise the issue of the foul during the game and he didn't. Surely waiting until afterwards is much worse? I could maybe understand if the game had been close, but it wasn't.

      Allen said several times that he was outplayed by Cao, but then he also said there was something wrong with the ranking system because Cao's ranked 81st and yet beat him. Oh dear.

    2. Chinese snooker is the best!

  2. Mark Allen has publicly slagged off Barry Hearn in the past, so I don't suppose he'll get a lot of sympathy. He seems to be a bear of very little brain who can't cross a bridge without setting fire to it on the way.

  3. MarkAllen is bad man! How can uyo say thsoe things about China? MarkAllen fuck SB. Brother Cao hero of China!!! 顶着锅盖

  4. Mar Allen 伤不起. 你娘的! GG 曹宇鹏 = Hard模式 = hold住