World Snooker’s Challenge Tour will feature ten events during the 2019/20 season, with a new ‘play-off’ system to determine which two players are promoted to the professional circuit.
The Challenge Tour ran for the first time in 2018/19 as a secondary circuit below the World Snooker Tour. There were ten events, with six in the UK and others in Latvia, Germany, Belgium and Hungary. Brandon Sargeant and David Grace earned the two tour cards.
Next season’s Challenge Tour will include six events in the UK and four in Europe. Snooker clubs and federations will be given the chance to bid to host events. Clubs do not need to use Star tables but those in the UK must be affiliated to the WPBSA’s 147 Club scheme. The prize money for each event will be £10,000.
The field for events will be made up as follows:
• The top 56 players from the 2019 Q School ranking list
• Eight Wildcards, to be selected with the intention to promote the development of grassroots talent
• If necessary, the last-64 round will then be topped up with players on the Q School ranking list
• The top 56 players from the 2019 Q School ranking list. All 56 will be directly entered into the last 64.
• Eight Wildcards, to be selected with the intention to promote the development of grassroots talent.
• An unlimited number of further entrants will compete in pre-qualifying stages, playing down to the available places in the last 64.
At the end of the ten events, 16 players will go into a final play-off tournament. These will be the winners of the ten events, plus a minimum of six players from the Challenge Tour rankings. The two players winning the semi-finals of the play-off tournament will be awarded two-year cards to the World Snooker Tour, for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.
Further details including the dates and locations of the events will be confirmed when available.
I’ll be honest, I was expecting a rather positive reaction from the players to this announcement, but that’s not what happened, at least not from UK-based players anyway.
Why was I expecting a positive reaction? Well, mainly because, with the system used this season – the top two on the money list receiving a tour card – a lot of players were basically out of contention pretty early in the season. As a result, events had rarely a full line-up and entries were very poor in some of them. Why would players pay entry fees, hotel accommodations and travel, take days off work if they have no more hope to “succeed”? Some might do it, to get good competition practice, but only if they can afford it. A play-off system will keep more players in with a real chance for longer and that – I thought – should boost the Tour.
But not so. What do the unhappy players object to?
The most “controversial” aspect seems to the fact that the ten winners would automatically go into the play-offs. The point players objecting to this are making is that a player could win the first event, not further support the tour for the rest of the season, then pitch, play, and win at the play-offs, whilst a player who did well all season could have a bad day, and get nothing for his sustained efforts. They would rather have consistency and dedication better rewarded. It’s a valid point … to an extend. I write “to an extend” because, being Belgian, I feel that the whole tour is already too biased towards UK players: the Q-school is held in the UK, and the majority of Challenge Tour events are too. So it makes it more difficult, and more costly for non UK-based players to achieve on any of the “main tour qualifying routes” and Brexit could make it even worse. It’s not a matter of dedication alone, it’s a matter of realistic opportunities. Having a good opportunity to qualify for the play-offs by winning a “home” event could prove a real boost for non-UK players who can’t afford – or even would not be allowed – to play in everything.
My proposal would be to keep the two spots for the two players topping the ranking list at the end of the season and add two more for the winner and runner-up of the play-offs. As it stands right now, “nominations” don’t get us to a 128 players tour anyway, and some of those nominations have – until now – never been succesful, quite simply because either the nominated players can’t afford the cost of the Main Tour and can’t play enough (think Igor Figueiredo) or are simply not good/prepared enough because they only competed against a much weaker field until they get on the tour (think African champion for instance).
Also, why have 56 out of 64 spots in every events restricted to Q-school entrants? The answer I have got to that is: “they want to be sure that the players competing are seriously aiming at become professionals”. That makes sense BUT there are other routes to the main tour, other events carrying tour cards. Why not include the players participating in those as well?
What’s your views?