Phil Haigh ✍️
WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson says snooker bosses are ‘quite disgusted’ and ‘very angry’ over Liang Wenbo’s actions, as the player returns from a ban after being convicted for a domestic-related assault.
The 35-year-old was given a 12-month community order in April after pleading guilty to assaulting a woman in Sheffield in July 2021.
Liang was caught on CCTV repeatedly punching and kicking the woman and was seen dragging her to the floor, continuing the assault when another man trip to intervene.
The sentence given by the criminal court was the 12-month community order and to pay £1,380.
The verdict was made public, with the snooker authorities unaware of the case until the sentence was announced. They responded by suspending Liang pending disciplinary proceedings, which meant he missed the World Championship.
In June it was announced that the result of the independent disciplinary process was that Liang would be banned from World Snooker Tour events until 1 August, ruling him out of the Championship League and European Masters.
The world number 40 returns to the table on Thursday in the British Open qualifiers and many fans are shocked to see him back so quickly after the hideous crime he was found guilty of.
Ferguson has explained that there was only so much the World Professional Snooker and Billiards Association could do after the case was dealt with in the criminal courts, but does admit that he feels Liang’s punishment feels lenient.
‘I can understand how on the face of it, it appears lenient to someone who is clearly guilty of domestic violence – not something we condone at all,’ Ferguson told the Talking Snooker podcast.
‘From our side of things, Liang Wenbo was charged with a criminal offence, faced a criminal court and was convicted. We were not involved in that process at all.
‘I have to say, most sports would not touch a disciplinary matter that has already been dealt with by a criminal court. Usually the competitor would face whatever sentence has been levied upon them and that would be the matter, because the sport can only really charge them against the rules of the sport.
‘I felt so strongly about this that I took the decision to suspend Liang Wenbo, pending disciplinary. At that stage there was a risk that disciplinary proceedings could fail, simply because he had gone through a criminal process, so there was some risk for the WPBSA to issue a suspension.
‘Realistically, can I have a snooker player wandering around Sheffield who has just been convicted of domestic violence, a criminal offence? The answer is no, we have to take a stand.
‘I took the decision to suspend Wenbo immediately and remove him from the World Championship, his largest earning opportunity and an opportunity he needs to probably stay on the tour. So not a decision taken lightly, but a decision taken for the right reasons and the right decision in my view.
‘At that point the disciplinary process has to kick in. There’s a risk that an independent disciplinary process could overturn the suspension I’ve given the player, purely based on the fact that he’s already been convicted in a criminal court.
‘The hearing went ahead and in my view I thought the outcome was lenient. We have the right to appeal, we thought long and hard about it, but we have to consider there’s some risks of those proceedings failing.
‘The decision was taken, we’ve accepted it, we’ve moved on. We’re not happy about the situation as a sport, we’re not happy about what Liang Wenbo has done, we do not condone it, in fact we’re quite disgusted by it.
‘But at the end of the day, we can only charge Liang Wenbo against the rules of the sport. We can’t charge him for the assault that took place. That’s not what we can do, we do not have the jurisdiction to do that.
‘That’s why we’ve ended up where we are. It’s been a bit of an uncomfortable ride for us.’
The story in April, just before the start of the World Championship, came as a shock to the sport and Ferguson admits that they were unprepared for the news.
‘We knew nothing about it,’ he said. ‘It hit me like a steamroller. Landed late on a Friday evening, had no idea the assault had taken place, that the police had been involved and that the criminal hearing was taking place.
‘It was a shock to us and I was staggered that it could be kept from us. We found ourselves in a very difficult position.’
The chairman is aware that there is still anger among fans that Liang is already back in action, and he shares some of that anger, but has made it clear that the sporting ban cannot fully reflect the seriousness of the crime dealt with in court.
Asked for a message to unhappy fans, he said: ‘I sympathise with how they feel. We too are very angry about it. We’re not comfortable with the situation, but we do respect the independence of the system that we’ve got.
‘My message to those fans is, please don’t think we’re charging Liang Wenbo for assault and only giving him that sentence, that is not the case. We are only charging against the rules of the sport, it is the criminal court that charged him for the case, not us.’
Liang plays Dean Young in the British Open qualifiers in Wigan at 10am on Thursday 11 August.
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