Former Masters finalist Joe Perry fears this year’s event could be overshadowed by an ongoing investigation into alleged match-fixing which has seen 10 Chinese players suspended from the world snooker tour.
Yan Bingtao, the 2021 winner, and Zhao Xintong relinquished their respective places in the original 16-strong draw with the latter opting not to launch an appeal against the decision this week.
David Gilbert and Hossein Vafaei have replaced the Chinese duo at the tournament, which begins on Sunday at Alexandra Palace when defending champion Neil Robertson faces Shaun Murphy.
Perry, who reached the Masters final in 2017 where he was beaten by Ronnie O’Sullivan, said: “There is a pretty big elephant in the room at the moment and I think it will still be there until after at least the first couple of games.
“Hopefully the snooker is so good that it it gets put on the back burner and we don’t need to talk about it all week, but there is no doubt that it is a very serious issue that the game needs to address.”
Perry has backed calls from the likes of Murphy for life bans to be handed out for those found guilty of match-fixing offences, but cautioned that leniency should also be shown if those concerned are proven to have been exposed to outside influence.
“If it turns out they have done something out of pure greed and taken advantage of the system, then I’m all for a life ban, but I don’t think it is going to be that straightforward,” added Perry.
“If it shows that they have been under extreme pressure, there needs to be some kind of leniency. I don’t think you can just blanket-ban people who have been found guilty of match-fixing, because there may be circumstances surrounding it.”
Record seven-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who starts his campaign against Luca Brecel on Monday, is favourite to pick up another crown but could be pushed by Robertson and a resurgent Mark Selby, fresh from winning the English Open in Brentwood last month.
“You always have to put Ronnie at the top of the pile,” said Londoner Perry, who got his first taste of live snooker when his dad took him to watch Jimmy White’s quarter-final win over Ray Reardon at Wembley Conference Centre in 1984.
“Ronnie has made it his tournament, it is close to home for him and he’s just made for the one-table set-up. But Neil has come close in recent tournaments and will be out to retain his title. I would be surprised if it wasn’t Ronnie or Neil at the end of the week.”