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A closer look at snooker's problems ahead of the World Championship

Snooker’s World Championship gets underway amid an unprecedented match-fixing scandal next weekend with Ronnie O’Sullivan looking to eclipse the record he currently shares with Stephen Hendry.

Here Planet Sport answers some pertinent questions about the main contenders for the sport's most prestigious title - and the parallel investigation that threatens to overshadow it and drag it into the gutter.

Will Ronnie win it again?

It's an impossible question, and the simplest answer is: if he wants to. O'Sullivan's frequent criticisms of the sport have rubbed officials and fellow players up the wrong way, and the 47-year-old could just as easily react by sweeping all before him for a third title in four years, or packing his bags after round one and skulking off into the night. Either way, Ronnie's ride is guaranteed to prove entertaining while it lasts.

If not Ronnie, who else?

With snooker still struggling to unearth next-generation talent, and the unique long-form nature of the Crucible upsetting all but the most consistent of competitors, it is a case of the usual suspects, with Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy - former winners and persistent challengers - arriving at the Crucible on the back of promising campaigns. Mark Allen, another stand-out performer, has a dreadful record at the event so questions are bound to be asked about his ability to go beyond the last eight for the first time.

Who are the best outside bets?

There is a familiar ring about most of the Crucible qualifiers this year, but there are plenty of lower-ranked seeds against whom the bigger names will not fancy pitting their wits. Former semi-finalist Gary Wilson is a proven performer over the long-form game, while Crucible veteran Robert Milkins is in the form of his life after winning this year's Welsh Open crown. And what price a resurgent Ding Junhui, the former finalist who enters the tournament as the 16th seed?

What is happening with the match-fixing investigation?

Ten Chinese players, including former 'triple crown' winners Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong, are absent from the tournament having been charged with a range of offences relating to match-fixing, for which, if found guilty, they could face potentially career-ending bans. The start of the independent investigation will coincide with the second Monday of the tournament - traditionally the day when the quarter-finals are rubber-stamped - although the results will not be known until after the conclusion of the tournament.

Where does snooker go from here?

Whoever lifts the world title on May 1 will lead the sport into an uncertain short-term future. Irrespective of the results of the match-fixing investigation, the sport is flailing having failed to re-establish its lucrative Chinese tournaments in the wake of the Covid pandemic, and the continued paucity of fresh young talent to threaten the established names is also a cause for concern. If Ronnie continues at his most explosive, snooker could be facing an unedifying form of civil war.

READ MORE: Unfortunate controversies mean snooker World Championship to start under dark cloud

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