Suspended snooker champion John Higgins said he was fighting “the biggest match of my life” as he vowed to clear his name over match-fixing allegations which sent shockwaves through the sport.
The 34-year-old millionaire insisted his conscience was “100% clear” as bribery claims against him overshadowed the World Championship final – the biggest match in snooker’s calendar – which finishes on Monday night.
Footage of Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney allegedly agreeing to accept £261,000 in return for arranging the outcome of four frames in matches was published in the News of the World. But the three-times world champion insisted he had never deliberately missed a shot in his 18-year career, saying he had built his reputation “on honesty and integrity”.
Higgins, a father of three from Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, was captured on camera shaking hands on the deal to fix matches, according to the newspaper.
But speaking out just minutes as the final between Neil Robertson and Graeme Dott began, Higgins said he was “spooked” and “just wanted to get out of the hotel and on the plane home” when he met undercover reporters posing as businessmen in Kiev, Ukraine.
Higgins said: “In all honesty I became very worried at the way the conversation developed in Kiev. When it was suggested that I throw frames in return for large sums of money I was really spooked and just wanted out of the hotel and on the plane home.
“I didn’t know if this was the Russian mafia or who we were dealing with. At that stage I felt the best course of action was just to play along with these guys and get out of Ukraine.
“Those who know me are aware of my love for snooker and that I would never do anything to damage the integrity of the sport I love. My conscience is 100% clear. I am presently consulting with my lawyers.”
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said earlier he had never felt so “let down” by the revelations.
Confirming that Higgins had been suspended and Mr Mooney had resigned from the board of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), Mr Hearn said: “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so let down or kicked. We’re working so hard on revitalising the game and there are lots of people pulling in the right direction.”