The Numptiesgate

Over the last couple of days Ronnie has been very active on twitter and has sparked a lot of reactions after he branded 70% of his fellow snooker professionals “numpties”. He suggested that 70% of the tour is made of no-hopers, which I can only understand as “players who will never win anything of worth”. He admitted that he finds it difficult to play them, and play in qualifiers, so much so that he rather avoids qualifiers and stay home unless there is a financial incentive.

I won’t copy/paste the whole stuff, you can read it here . To be fair there are a lot of other things, including very positive ones, that Ronnie tells us in this impromptu self-induced interview. But of course it’s the “numpties” comments that caught attention. And he got some stick for it of course, but also support from some who feel it’s time to drop political correctness, including fellow pro Mark Williams.

Now here are the facts and my take on the “issue”

Let me first state this: branding fellow pros as numpties was both provocative and  not very nice. The vast majority of the tour players work hard and try their best.

That said, Ronnie also used the word “no-hopers”, and in a previous interviews,  “amateurs”, which is probably closer to what he really means.

Now, frankly, how many of the current pros have a realistic chance to win as much as ONE ranking title in their career? There are currently 32 of them on the tour (source cuetracker) out of 128 – the invitational tour card holders not included, but including guys like Nigel Bond and Anthony Hamilton who are unlikely to win another one (Anthony suffers from recurrent neck injuries).

That’s 75% of the tour who hasn’t won a ranking title. How many of those 75% do you reckon are likely to win one at some point and who? You’d need 7 more to get to 70% of non winners, likely never to win. Me, right now, I can only see a couple of young Chinese (Zhou and Yan), Gilbert, maybe Sam Craigie and Hossein Vafaei … who else?

Even more worrying: if you look at who is challenging for titles, it’s still mainly the class of 92 and guys nearing 35. Last season Selby beat Ronnie for the UK, Higgins for the World, and Ronnie took the Masters, beating Perry, another 40+. This season Robertson beat Ronnie in Hong Kong, Williams won in Thailand, Higgins in India. The only really young player proving himself is Luca Brecel.

So in a way, you could say that Ronnie is right, over 70% of the players have next to no hope to ever achieve much in the game and the ones he faces in qualifiers are nowhere near the standard he used to face for most of his career, when top 16 players were seeded in last 32 in every tournament. Mismatches are not great for anybody: not for the top player who gets no challenge, not for the underdog who gets a bashing, not for the audience who gets no real thrill because there isn’t a real match. Mismatches have also lead to some top pros being demotivated to the point they don’t try as they should or lose focus. Ding’s record in qualifiers was so bad that it became a problem with the Chinese sponsors and led to holding his matches over to the main venue in China.

Another worrying aspect for me is that I don’t see many young ones coming through. Look at last season first time winners: King, Hamilton, Liang Wenbo, and this season, Day. Without condoning what Ronnie said, or at least the way he said it, I believe that Hearn should have the honesty to look at those stats and facts. The flat draw as it is doesn’t really deliver. It has advantages indeed: lower ranked players need to win less matches to reach the television stage, they have the opportunity to play the big boys more often, to get used to the television set-up. But the system is extremely brutal, the rookies meet top 64 players in their first match each and every time, they get beat more often than not and earn very little. Is that really the best way to help them develop? The current state of affairs suggest to me that the answer is no.  I’m not sure that someone like Neil Robertson would have made it in the current system, coming raw and penniless from Oz. The tiered system had its drawbacks, but it also allowed for a more progressive development. Why not have a mix of both systems? Would promoters object? I doubt it. Would it protect top players too much? I don’t think so, not if they get no “points” at all if losing their first match. Quite the opposite, it’s a lot of pressure on them then, coming cold against someone who has already secured some points/money with everything to lose.

Where Ronnie is wrong is that this is no different from what happens in any other sport. What % of pro tennis players do actually win anything significant in their career? Surely not even 25% of them. How many pro football clubs do actually win major cups? Only a few considering how popular football is and how many pro clubs exist around the world. The thing is you can’t build a sport solely around the elite. However, you won’t see Federer, Nadal, Djovovic or Murray asked to play qualifiers on court n° 254 in an obscure club, or Chelsea having to qualify for international major competitions playing FC Zottegem on a communal playground. The structure of the tennis and football tours are , de facto, tiered.

The other day Robertson urged Hearn on twitter to make the tickets for qualifiers free because it felt like playing in a morgue, and Williams insisted that there should be no qualifiers at all. I must say, I agree with them both. And yes, there is more money at the top nowadays, but older players have told me they were having a very decent living as middle ranked players in the 90th early 2000th. No more so.

As often the case with Ronnie’s outbursts, beyond the colourful and sometimes rude wording, there is a real issue here and, actually, Hearn knows it, as his reaction shows.

Here is Hector Nunns reporting on Barry Hearn’s reaction:

Snooker ace Ronnie O’Sullivan under fire for ‘numpties’ comment about fellow pros

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN has been branded disrespectful by snooker supremo Barry Hearn for calling his fellow pros ‘numpties’.

By Hector Nunns /

Ronnie O'SullivanGETTYRonnie O’Sullivan has come under fire for his comments

And World Snooker chairman Hearn suspects the insult will fire up opponents at the Rocket’s increasingly rare tournament appearances.But he admits that five-time world champion O’Sullivan, 41, is unlikely to be disciplined for his latest outburst.

O’Sullivan justified his absence from this week’s European Masters by saying he: “Couldn’t cope with playing a numpty at Barnsley to qualify. See how many numpties you can spot in Belgium.”

Ironically the Rocket has just confirmed he will play in this month’s English Open in Barnsley, where he will face a lower-ranked opponent.

But Hearn said: “It’s disrespectful to fellow professionals and I wouldn’t want to encourage it, but I’m not sure it’s actionable.

“If he doesn’t rate his fellow professionals’ ability then he has to deal with that when he goes out to play them.

“I can ask players to be respectful, but that’s just common sense. And it is part of the bigger conversation about reducing the size of the tour.“Will it motivate these players Ronnie has called numpties even more? They should all want to beat top players anyway.

“But the great news for them is that it doesn’t matter what Ronnie or anyone else thinks, it’s about what they do on the table.

“In football that would be a comment that the manager would put straight on the dressing room wall, and the players would be lightning and thunder coming out on to the pitch.

“Snooker is not quite that type of game, you have to be in control of your emotions a bit more, but it might motivate a few.

“There is though a bigger picture about where is snooker going, and our plans for it. To be fair to Ronnie, it isn’t just him who thinks the tour should be smaller.

Barry HearnGETTYSnooker supremo Barry Hearn

“There are a few other big names who think that it should be cut from 128 to 64.“I have always thought that was a backwards step. I don’t think the bottom half are a waste of time, because it’s an avenue to changing your life and living the dream.

“If you are a ‘numpty’, as Ronnie so eloquently puts it, you will get beaten. And after a year or two maybe you’ll look in the mirror and get another job. But you had the chance.

“In Ronnie’s ideal world, and this is a slight exaggeration, a tournament would be him and one other person for all the money.”

11 thoughts on “The Numptiesgate

  1. Glad you touched on other sports Monique. In any sport, 70% or more of its participants will never win anything of note, so he’s just spouted a known trend, albeit in his obnoxious way.

    The flat draw is a good idea and was needed in snooker but Hearn took it too far by trying to structure every event like a tennis grand slam. What snooker needs is to keep its elite players for the main venue, whether that’s 16,20,32 or whatever amount, and let everyone else qualify…in a flat draw scenario.

  2. I’ve said this before, but the ranking system is a huge blocker to any change on this issue. It’s an embarrassment. You can win the Master’s, Champion of Champions, Hong Kong and still drop out of the top-16, whilst a few good pots in the Shoot-out gives you a boost. Apparently us snooker players and fans are too stupid to understand a rating-based system (such as Elo) which could give every player in the world, from club juniors to world champions, a ranking. Most top-level tournaments could be invitational, and there would be a growth in Pro-am. Everyone would have the chance to improve and then gain entry to higher-tier tournaments. Players could qualify for titles like ‘Cuemaster’ or ‘Grandmaster’ (as in chess), and we wouldn’t need a fixed number of ‘professionals’. I know several current professionals who have other jobs in any case because of the financial issues..

  3. Won’t be long and most qualifiers will be Asian , seems like a new teenager normally Chinese has a great run in one tournament after the next , last year there was three standouts could be another few more by season end

    • Yes, Martin and that’s because in China they have invested in structures and coaching to support their young players. They also have a strong national circuit. That was the case in the UK during the 80th/90th boom, but no more. That’s the difference.

    • The Chinese players have all stepped up a level so far this season. The four Grove players have recently relocated to Sheffield and Li Hang and Cao Yupeng are playing the best snooker of their careers. Even Chen Zhe has won a couple of matches recently (a great character). Now that we are regularly seeing 3 or 4 Chinese players in the last-16 of ranking tournaments, they seem to feel a lot less like ‘outsiders’ than perhaps they have in the past.

      But I’m also watching out for Ursenbacher, Kleckers, Vafaei, Akani. There don’t seem many British players on the horizon, but there are a couple of Welsh and Scottish teenagers who could be ones to watch.

      • Totally right Lewis. Nurturing talent is key. The hard way may pay with a few but will destroy many who could have progressed. The Vic snooker academy provides the right environment for the Chinese young players it seems.

  4. I’m a big Ronnie fan but I think the comments are a bit under the belt to be honest… He may think they are numpties because he just happens to be the most gifted player that we’ve seen on a snooker table and they are not as gifted with as much natural talent but to me its TOTALLY disrespectful and something Ronnie should know to keep to himself at his age…. Just being honest and its only my opinion

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