BY GUY HODGSON
Peter Francisco was handed the biggest suspension in the history of the game yesterday when he was banned for five years for "not conducting himself in a manner consistent with his status as a professional sportsman''. At the same time he was not found guilty of match rigging.
The punishment, five times greater than the previous record (on Alex Higgins) was imposed after a nine-hour hearing by a World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association committee of inquiry in a Manchester hotel yesterday. It examined Francisco's first-round match against Jimmy White in the Embassy World Championship last month. White won the match 10-2, precisely the score predicted by the vast bulk of bets on the outcome.
The matter is far from closed, however, as Francisco's legal representatives said they are considering an appeal to the courts of law. Balbir Singh, representing the South African, said: "Peter Francisco has been stunned by both the finding and the punishment and at this moment is too devastated to talk.
"The committee," he continued "has absolved him from being involved in any sort of betting coup or match rigging. In addition they have resolved to pay him the prize-money for the match in question and for it to be released to him in full forthwith.
"In these circumstances we will consider an appeal against the finding because it appears to us that the WPBSA are able to suspend players simply for playing badly which is something he has already admitted."
Yesterday's hearing, which involved a detailed examination of a video recording of the match, followed six hours of questioning in Sheffield on 19 April when White was absolved of any blame.
The WPBSA were first alerted that there might be a problem six hours before the match began on 15 April when bookmakers suspended business following abnormal betting patterns. Large amounts of money were going on the 10-2 result while virtually nothing was being placed on 10-3 or 10-1. The odds plummeted from an original 9-1 to 7-4 and by the time a halt was called some £50,000 was liable to be paid out.
John Spencer, the WPBSA chairman, was assigned to watch every shot in the match and it was his evidence that took up the bulk of the inquiry on 19 April. White was allowed to continue in the tournament and eventually reached the semi-finals.
Snooker has lived under the threat of match-rigging since the mid-1980s when bookmakers first voiced concerns. Bets have been halted on a number of occasions, including Francisco's match with his uncle, Silvino Francisco, in the 1987 Mercantile Credit Classic. The players were exonerated on that occasion.