Snooker champ Ronnie O'Sullivan sorry for match fixer Stephen Lee
RONNIE O’Sullivan has admitted he feels some sympathy for banned snooker cheat Stephen Lee – but has backed World Snooker’s tough stance with the player.
The world champion, nicknamed The Rocket, touched upon the match fixing scandal which has rocked snooker whilst speaking to fans at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
It comes after Lee, 38, who trains at Pockets in Cheltenham, was banned from the sport for 12 years for fixing matches in return for payments of more than £40,000. He has since lodged an appeal against the decision.
O’Sullivan said match fixing was nothing new to snooker, revealing he had once been offered money in return for deliberately throwing frames.
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The 37-year-old described Lee’s plight as “a sad story”.
“To see someone lose their livelihood is a shame,” said the five-time world champion.
“You feel empathy for the bloke. He’s got four kids so you hate to see him not able to earn a living.
“It’s a sad story. I feel sorry for the family.
“But World snooker has had to make a statement of intent to stamp out match fixing.”
O’Sullivan said he struggled to understand why talented potter Lee would risk throwing away his career.
“It’s something I can’t get my head around,” he added. “But he’s got 12 years. There is no coming back from that.”
He revealed he had been asked to deliberately lose frames by a well-known gangster from near his home in Essex.
“I was approached at one point,” he said. “I got a phone call from a local guy and we ended up going out into this forest. He said he didn’t want to talk where there were any microphones.
“He asked me ‘would you be willing to throw a match - to lose certain frames?’ He said he'd give me a big bag of money.
“But I told him there was no way I could do it. I would have felt dirty.”
At the talk on Thursday night, O’Sullivan spoke candidly about his demons away from the table, including problems with booze, depression and an obsessive nature.
However, he attributed a more positive outlook – and his sensational return to snooker this year following a self-imposed exile - to working with sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, who was on hand to speak about his methods alongside the snooker ace.
O’Sullivan stayed behind afterwards to sign copies of his autobiography Running while Dr Peters signed copies of his self-help book The Chimp Paradox.