Although he still loves to compete and still wants to win, as he told the BBC in this interview, Ronnie isn’t happy with the state of snooker, or the world we live in.
In an interview he did just after coming back from Goffs, he explains why he wouldn’t support his son into a snooker career, and why he might even consider going into politics. The interview has been reported in various media, but this article by Adam Crafton is the one I selected because of its completeness.
Ronnie O’Sullivan: I’ll support my son if he wants to be a tennis player, motor racer, doctor or student but anything to do with snooker, he’s on his own!
- O’Sullivan does not want his son, Ronnie Jnr, to follow him into snooker
- The 41-year-old begins defence of his Masters title in London on Sunday
- Five-time world champ has had enough of the culture that surrounds sport
It is when conversation turns to his nine-year-old son, Ronnie Jnr, that Ronnie O’Sullivan’s most cutting views on snooker come to the fore.
‘I’ve told him he won’t get my support if he plays snooker,’ O’Sullivan says bluntly. ‘That’s the deal. If you want to be a motor racer, or a tennis player, a doctor or lawyer or go and study, you get my support. But anything with snooker, I’m going to have to tell you that you’re on your own.’
It comes as a jolt when snooker’s iconic figure dismisses his sport so bluntly. Frankly, though, O’Sullivan has had enough of the culture that surrounds it, the injustice that now defines the game.
‘I love competing, I love to win. But I’m not going to put myself 100 per cent into it when I don’t respect the way they treat players. I find it very difficult to see my fellow pros suffer and struggle. I see a lot of hopelessness there. It’s f****** difficult.’
There begins a passionate monologue as he condemns the sport’s inequity. While the big money may still be up for grabs for the world’s top 16, O’Sullivan — who begins the defence of his Masters title at London’s Alexandra Palace on Sunday — estimates that below the top 32 most struggle to get by.
‘I’m not going to support a system that doesn’t benefit the bottom-ranked players,’ he says. ‘It just keeps them on food stamps. It’s like the bankers. All the top players get everything and those at the bottom are in poverty. Some are on the tour but can’t afford to get there.
‘I don’t mind capitalism if everyone gets a fair living and can afford to put food in their fridge. At least give them basic rights so they can have a little house, be a snooker player.
‘Players can’t afford a pair of trainers for their kid, they can’t afford the train to a tournament. They can’t afford the hotel room. How is that right?
‘Then you see board members flying business class, drinking red wine, schmoozing, wearing nice suits, saying they are doing wonderful things for the game and it’s never been in a better place.
‘That’s what you’re telling the world but I see what these guys are going through. The system is not right. They don’t want to hear so I don’t want to be around or supporting or putting my own time and energy into that.’
O’Sullivan has always had an ambivalent relationship with snooker but over the past couple of years, he has broadened his horizons.
His younger years in snooker were punctuated by depression and drink. Now 41, he seems to be more at ease, helped by the renowned sports psychologist Steve Peters.
O’Sullivan now devotes only 20 per cent of his life to snooker, recently spending a few months in the USA to star in Ronnie O’Sullivan’s American Hustle and he is paid handsomely to be a pundit. O’Sullivan insists he won’t retire, saying he will use snooker ‘as long as it suits me’.
‘I’m less bothered about losing now,’ he says. ‘Sometimes, I think, “Sweet, I can do a bit of punditry”. There are so many tournaments it doesn’t matter if you lose.’ We can expect more television appearances. ‘Maybe there will be a Big Brother in me soon. I’ve spent so many years saying no to everything. I can see myself doing most things if the price is right and it’s a nice trip.’
So Strictly Come Dancing? ‘Nah, that’s 14 weeks. I don’t want to be locked in a room for six hours with some dancer telling me what I can and can’t do.’
Or the jungle? ‘I had bull’s c**k in China. Best thing on the plate. I’d be all right in the jungle psychologically. I’ve got Steve Peters. It’s a few weeks in the jungle, you’re having a laugh — some people in this country don’t know where their next meal’s coming from.’
O’Sullivan’s most stirring passion appears to be politics. Having witnessed China’s sporting development, he is angered by Britain’s failure. He does not rule out one day standing for election.
‘If I felt I could do a good enough job and give the time . . . you know, China do what we did 20 years ago. They are building schools for kids to practise snooker. The government invests in young people.
‘All we invest in is the f****** banking crisis and all this bull. It’s bringing the country to its knees and it’s sad. All the while, there’s some young kid out there with talent and we aren’t prepared to invest in him.
‘Then there’s an old lady out there who can’t pay her heating bill and told she has to do community service all because she can’t pay some bills. You think, ‘Hold on a minute, something’s not right here’.
‘There’s no jobs. Not here or America. Meanwhile, the boss of Walmart gets a £20million salary or whatever it is. People just want, want, want, take, take, take.
‘During the 2015 election, I went to a mining club with Ed Miliband for a snooker game. They are proper, working-class people and I relate to them. I can’t relate to a bunch of bankers sitting there, drinking wine and splashing money like it’s going out of fashion. It’s obscene, it makes me feel sick.
‘I see it all the time and in the snooker industry. I just think, ‘You talk a good game but really you’re just bull******** everybody’. I don’t want to be a part of it. I want to try and do good for people.
‘Our illnesses, struggles, suicides, drug addictions are brought on by hopelessness. Sometimes they think f*** this, I can’t deal with it any more. And I see it and hear it and know what they are going through because I have been through it a bit myself.
‘I know how they try to bring certain people down and then they give up. And I ain’t never gonna give up. They will never take my soul. They will never take my spirit. I just won’t have it.
‘My favourite film was Braveheart and as a character he signalled everything to me, which was freedom. We all should have freedom. That’s what I believe in and no one is going to take my freedom. No one. Ever.’
And there is also this one in The Telegraph with a slightly different perspective.
Ronnie always was/is a bundle of contradictions, and he’s genuine within his own contradictions. It’s part of who he is, and most certainly part of why he’s fascinating.
There is one thing though I 100% agree with him: the current system in snooker is unfair, low/mid ranked players can’t make a living. There aren’t any young prospects coming through except from Asia, where they are supported by the authorities. I have seen this with my own eyes. It’s true what Ronnie says. And ultimately, if not addressed it will kill the game, at least in UK and Europe, because nobody lives on thin air and dreams only. And no parent in their right mind would encourage their child to engage in a career that looks like a dead-end with no prospect to make a half-decent living.
Don’t get me wrong, I love snooker, passionately and so does Ronnie. He wouldn’t engage in such passionate rants if he didn’t care. He DOES care, big time, and that’s why he talks.
I also like this one in the Guardian.
And thanks to Hector for this one on inside-snooker
This is an excerpt:
Players, for example John Higgins in recent years, get rightly criticised when they do not fulfil their media duties either to the letter of the contract, or with the right level of enthusiasm and embracing the ambassadorial obligation that comes with being a top professional.
In fairness to O’Sullivan, he has done his bit over 25 years. Yes, he may have ducked the odd press conference, although you would be hard pushed to name more than one in recent years, but he has done more media over the years than most of the players put together. The fair ones know this, acknowledge it, and are often quite grateful that he is the lightning conductor.
The vast majority of players are superb ambassadors for snooker. They know that while it is their entire world, out there it is a minority sport fighting for attention with other, bigger sports, and they give of their time willingly and outside their contractual obligations for the good of the game.
To all those players we say thank you, and also O’Sullivan on this occasion – with a busy schedule, turning up admitting he “really didn’t want to be here”, looking dishevelled after a late night in Ireland at Goffs and an early flight, but answering the call to promote the Masters.