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Mark Selby and Luca Brecel are among the five players facing sanctions (Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images/Alamy Stock)

Five WST players are facing disciplinary action after shunning the Northern Ireland Open in favour of an exhibition event in Macau.

Reigning World Champion Luca Brecel, former World Champions Mark Selby and John Higgins, and former ranking event winners Ali Carter and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh are set to feature in a lucrative exhibition in Macau from October 27-29.

The independently promoted event, which is not sanctioned by WST, clashes with the Northern Ireland Open – which takes place in Belfast from October 22-29.

WST have released a lengthy statement which confirms those players will be referred to the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee for ‘breach of their player contract’ if they take part in the event in Macau.

The statement read:

‘The WST is disappointed to hear that a number of players under contract with the WST have elected not to play in a WST event, preferring instead to play in a non-sanctioned event in Macau thereby being in breach of the terms of their player contract.

‘Following recent speculation and the publication of an article containing many inaccuracies, the WST would like to make its position clear regarding non-sanctioned exhibition events.

‘It is important to stress that WST players do not have to enter all WST events, they have the freedom to choose, which has always been the case. This level of freedom is unlike any other sport where players have voluntarily opted to enter contracts with their club/organisation. However, with this level of freedom we do make clear in our player contracts that a player must not do anything that is detrimental to the WST or a WST event. It is without doubt that playing in a non-sanctioned event instead of playing in a WST event is detrimental to that WST event.

‘Given the exhibition event in Macau directly clashes with the final stages of the Northern Ireland Open, a player’s participation in it would constitute a breach of their player contract given that to compete in Macau, the player would not be available to compete in the Northern Ireland Open thereby devaluing the Northern Ireland Open.

‘Unfortunately, despite engaging in email correspondence and phone calls intended to best explain our position and enable the players to make informed decisions, five players (four of whom are ranked within the top 16) have decided not to compete in the Northern Ireland Open and have withdrawn their entry in order to play in Macau. These players are Mark Selby, John Higgins, Luca Brecel, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Ali Carter, none of whom will therefore appear in Belfast.

‘As a result, if these players decide to participate in the exhibition in Macau, the WST will have no alternative but to refer them to the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee for breach of their player contract, and this has been clearly communicated to the players.

‘Taking necessary action in these circumstances protects WST events on behalf of the fans who attend and follow our events through television and social media, our sponsors/commercial partners, broadcasters/streaming partners and most importantly, the other 125 members of the WST.

‘WST has always been and will continue to be supportive of a player’s earning opportunities outside of the WST provided that these do not distract, devalue, or conflict with the WST or a WST event. Players and promoters have ample opportunity to play in and host non-sanctioned events during gaps in the WST calendar.

‘The WST does not therefore support any clash with a WST event and would consider a player’s decision to prioritise a non-sanctioned event clashing with a WST event to be a breach of their player contract, as this would undoubtedly result in sizeable financial implications to the WST including loss of broadcast income, and sponsorship and ticket sales revenue let alone losses due to any reputational damage.

‘We reiterate that we are running the sport for all 130 players on the WST, and this will always be our guiding principle.’

The appearance fees involved in the Macau exhibition are likely to rival the prize money on offer for reaching the latter stages of the Northern Ireland Open, with Asia flexing its financial muscle after an enforced four-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Another lucrative exhibition event featuring Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Williams, Jack Lisowski and Ding Junhui is also due to take place in Shanghai this month.

The Shanghai exhibition takes place during the Northern Ireland Open qualifiers, and despite top 16 ranked players having their qualifying round matches held over to the venue in Belfast, WST are also said to be unhappy over the participation of some of the sport’s star names but are not likely to take disciplinarily action.

O’Sullivan, who withdrew from the British Open due to illness, flew to Macau for an exhibition alongside Jimmy White before returning on the day of his First Round match at the English Open last week.

The world number one has been outspoken in his criticism of the current tour structure, “car boot sale” UK venues and the treatment of the players outside of Asia.

O’Sullivan is also set to feature in the Macau Masters at the Wynn Palace hotel from December 25-29, alongside Trump, Ding, Mark Williams, Kyren Wilson, Jack Lisowski, Marco Fu and Si Jiahui.

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