Reflecting on the decade: the year 2013

2013 will be remembered as the year when Ronnie O’Sullivan won the world Championship – actually defended the title  – after taking the whole season off. 

At the end of 2012, Ronnie, the reigning world Champion, was in retirement and there was no certainty that he would come back to play professionally again. However, in January 2013, he popped up at the Masters, admitting that he was missing the people around the tournaments, although he wasn’t missing snooker itself.

Shortly before the Masters, in an interview with the written press, he had admitted that he was getting bored staying at home and that he was going voluntary work in a farm…

Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed he has been spending his time labouring on a farm for free as he continues his sabbatical break from snooker.’Rocket’ Ronnie won his fourth world title last year before announcing he would be taking a break from the sport to spend time with his children and to help him cope with the depression problems he has suffered from throughout his 20-year career.

And as the world’s greatest prepare for next week’s Betfair Masters tournament at Alexandra Palace, the 37-year-old has told of how he has found a new lease of life helping out at a smallholding farm in Epping Forest three days a week.’I have been doing voluntary work on a farm,’ the 37-year-old told The Times.’I have been doing about three days a week and really enjoying it. It has been kind of the complete opposite to what I was going through the last couple of years in snooker.’The farm has got sheep, pigs, cows, goats, chickens, horses… and I have been getting the old green wellies on. I have been cleaning out stables and pigsties, taking down fences, putting rubbish into barrels and lorries and clearing mud.

‘I was getting so bored I had to do something, and needed a goal to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t want stress, as that was what made me pull out of snooker, so I decided to go out and do something unpaid to help people out. I meet a lot of people there and I am very happy to do it.’It all happened when I ran past it; I got talking to the farmers and we fixed up that I would do some helping out.

‘O’Sullivan added: ‘I get there about 8am, do my three or four-mile run first because it is right in the forest, then come back and do about six hours work.’It has been kind of the opposite to what I was going through in snooker and I am really enjoying it.’O’Sullivan has been offered the chance to defend his world title in April by World Snooker chief Barry Hearn despite his ranking being too low to qualify for the tournament.The Chigwell-based potter revealed that he has still been playing snooker in his spare time, but he has not yet made a decision whether to appear at the Crucible.

He was in a better shape then, than when I had seen him at an exhibition with Stephen Hendry in Bruges (Belgium) towards the end of 2012. He was very low that time, and told me that he hadn’t been able to see his kids properly for weeks as the battle in court continued with his ex.

So, it wasn’t that much of a surprise when, end February, he announced that he would come back at the Crucible to defend his title

‘I didn’t realise how much a part of my life it was’
World champion has been practising with a takeaway driver

 

If Ronnie O’Sullivan pulls off an achievement he says would rank alongside his greatest in snooker, in returning to the sport after a year away to retain his world championship title, then his Chinese takeaway delivery driver will be entitled to an extra tip.

Claiming to have played “probably 10 days in nine months”, he did admit that the man who delivers his dinner had been roped in for some practice sessions, during which he realised he was hitting breaks of 80 or 90 and thought: “Wow, I’m playing OK”.

He said: “It was only practice and I wasn’t playing anyone any good, just my mate who is a Chinese takeaway delivery driver. He delivers, that’s all he does, he’s not a snooker player. He comes round and plays me in the day, and then delivers Chinese food in the evening. His name is Alex and he’s a good lad.” His food, incidentally, is also “very good”.

The 37-year-old has played only one competitive match since lifting the world championship in May – a lacklustre defeat to the lowly-ranked Simon Bedford in September. In November he announced plans for a year-long sabbatical, sparking renewed speculation the most gifted player of his generation would retire altogether. But his decision to defend his title, ensuring he retains his ranking points and does not have to return to the massed ranks of the qualifiers for major tournaments, marks another eye-catching U-turn from a career littered with them.

Ever the contrarian, O’Sullivan said that he realised he could not live without the game and that there was more to life than snooker. More than anything, he says, he was “bored” of rising in mid-morning and spending his days out to lunch.

“Boredom was a big factor. I missed travelling. I didn’t realise how much a part of my life it was. I missed the playing.”

O’Sullivan, whose rollercoaster career has included bouts of depression, illness and fits of pique alongside dizzying brilliance and a charisma that left the game yearning for his return, also said that his time away from snooker had left him with a better perspective on the part it played in his life.

“I had a nice year out. I had a lot of fun and I needed the rest. I just thought it was time to get back to doing what I’ve done for a lot of my life. I have a different perspective on it now,” said the four-time world champion.

“I moaned about the pressures and not playing well but I thought two or three months ago: ‘I’d take that back like a shot now’. Hopefully I won’t be as hard on myself, hopefully I will enjoy it more and enjoy playing rather than putting myself under pressure in tournaments to succeed.”

Which is not to say that he did not enjoy his time off. Asked what he had been up to, he smiled and drew a discreet veil: “You don’t want to know mate. Trust me. It has been good, though. Very good.”

“Personal issues” that played a part in his sabbatical remain unresolved and undiscussed publicly. He deflected all questions about his private life, pointing instead to his new book that will come out in the autumn and would, he said, allow him to explain the saga “in context”.

“I’m all right. I am here to talk about snooker, not my private life. I need to grow some shoulders, roll my sleeves up and have a go. I will give it my best and see what the outcome is,” he said.

As he spoke, O’Sullivan was surrounded by paraphernalia from his new sponsors – a company whose portfolio appears to range from vodka to water purification systems and will soon launch an energy drink called “Roket Fuel”. He was flanked by his friend Jimmy White, who is a “global ambassador” for the company.

Afterwards White, who reckoned O’Sullivan may have been hustling a little in playing down the extent to which he had been practicing, said he would be training with him in the six weeks they had left before they got to Sheffield. The defending champion will return to the Crucible on 20 April as the No1 seed and as such should be able to play his way into the tournament.

For all that he flits between showmanship and shyness, White said O’Sullivan’s abundant talent should not obscure his capacity for hard work, predicting that he would go on to beat Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles.

“They’re different animals. Hendry had the killer instinct and the dedication, but Ronnie has been away partying and doing what he wanted to do in life. But now it’s time to prove what he’s got. He’s had every head guru there is, but at the end of the day he knows it’s just down to himself.”

World Snooker impresario, Barry Hearn, was also predictably delighted about the return of his No1 box office draw. Bookmakers immediately installed him as 10-1 fifth favourite – but also offered 2-1 that he would walk away from the professional table again by the end of the year.

O’Sullivan predicted his return would form the basis for a fresh phase of his career that could last “two or three” or even “seven or eight” years. On the other hand, he conceded, it could all end tomorrow.

“I just need to get back to potting some balls and getting back to winning. Snooker is a means to an end. You only get one life, I want to make the most of it.”

It wasn’t all that simple though. With the decision, the pressure returned and, a couple of weeks before the Crucible, his manager told me that Ronnie was very edgy and anxious at the prospect of playing on the biggest stage of all after such a long break.

To be fair, nobody knew what to expect at the start of the championship. Being the defending champion, Ronnie was due to play in the first and last session on the first day. He faced Marcus Campbell and beat him convincingly. He then beat Ali Carter and Stuart Bingham comfortably, to set up a clash with Judd Trump, a player who, already then, had a good record against him. Ronnie beat him 17-11. The final against Barry Hawkins was a match of the highest quality. Barry stayed with Ronnie for the best of three sessions, but Ronnie found an extra gear and finished in style: a 18-12 win. Between them they had 24 breaks over 50, including 8 centuries, 6 from Ronnie and 2 from Barry.

Once again, Ronnie celebrated with his family, and Jason Francis who had been helping him since the start of the year and had secured a sponsor for him.

The whole World Championship 2013 photo gallery is here

Ronnie was the World Champion again, but, as he had not played for  full year (except a low profile match that he had lost) his ranking had suffered, and he started the 2013/14 ranked as low as 27. He was guaranteed to be seed n°1 at the 2014 World Championship but needed to play to avoid big problems the next season. He also had committed to his sponsor demand that he would play in a number of events over the next season.

That’s why he was back playing as soon as early June 2013, in Riga, where he reached the semi finals. He played in no less than six EPTC events that year, winning the 2013 Paul Hunter Classic and being runner-up to Mark Selby at the 2013 Antwerp Open.

In Antwerp, I got to see, close-up, that all the fuss made by fans around the alleged grudge and needle between Ronnie and Marc was well exagerated, certainly off the table. Ronnie was extremely tired after the final. His then manager – the disastrous Sony Naas – insisted that they should drive home that night. Ronnie wasn’t up for it, saying it would be dangerous for him to drive in that state of tiredness. But Sony was adamant that they should go back that night. Mark Selby stepped in, volunteering to drive Ronnie’s car with Sony, whilst his wife, Vicky would drive their own car. He was going well out of his way doing this, because Ronnie and Sonny were due to take the Eurotunnel, whilst the Selby family was going to catch a ferry and the schedules were different. Ronnie thanked Mark warmly but refused. He told Sony, very firmly, that they would find a hotel in Antwerp and travel the next day.

Ronnie also won the first instalment of the revived “Champion of Champions”, beating Stuart Bingham by 10-8 in the final.

The whole Champion of Champions 2013 photo gallery is here

The year ended on a minor disappointment, as the Stuart Bingham took revenge by beating him by 6-4 in the QF of the 2013 UK Championship.

Ronnie still had won nearly 85% of the matches he’d played over the year and, in Sheffield, done something that was deemed impossible. He was still snubbed by the BBC when SPOTY time came at the end of the year.

2020 German Masters and WSF events – Draws

Those have been published yesterday:

Draw and Format for the 2020 German Masters

The draw and format for the final stages of the BetVictor German Masters at the Tempodrom in Berlin is now available.

The event will be played from January 29th to February 2nd.

Click here for the draw

Click here for the provisional format

Draws for the WSF events in Malta

WSF Junior Open / WSF Open 2020 – Draws Released

28th December 2019

The group stage draws have today been released for the WSF Junior Open and WSF Open tournaments to be played in Malta from 4-17 January 2020.

Organised by the World Snooker Federation (WSF), together with the Malta Billiards and Snooker Federation (MBSA), the prestigious tournaments have attracted over 200 entries from players of 40 nationalities.

To be staged across two venues, the db San Antonio Hotel and the Malta Snooker Academy, each open competition has a diverse field including former professionals, future stars, players with disabilities and female players.

As well as the honour of becoming champion for 2020, the winner of each competition will also earn a coveted two-year card to the professional World Snooker Tour from the start of the 2020/21 season.

Jason Ferguson, WSF President said: “I am delighted by the level of entries that we have received from players across the globe for our upcoming tournaments in Malta.

“In the junior competition we see young players who are the future of our sport and it is crucial that we are able to provide opportunities such as this to allow them to qualify for the professional circuit and achieve their dream. Several of these players have already begun to make a name for themselves in important tournaments and I am excited to see who will emerge victorious.

“The Open tournament also as an equally intriguing field which includes a mix of familiar and new faces. Whether it is a former professional hoping to earn another chance at the main tour, or a new winner such as our previous champion Luo Honghao, who has since gone on to make an impact at the highest level, this year’s winner in Malta will have fully earned their opportunity.

“I would like to wish all of the players competing the best of luck in Malta and also to thank our wonderful hosts at the MBSA for all of their hard work and support so far.”

Further information, including the full match schedule will be sent to players over the next few days.

That’s 55 entries for the junior event, that’s not bad at all. Some are as young as only 12. Amongst then Bulcsú Révész who I have seen play in an exhibition in Budapest when he was 10. He was already a good potter but of course, at that age, the tactical side of the game was quite rudimentary. There are also 4 Belgians in the draw; Ben Mertens and Julien Leclerc could do some damage.

There are a few interesting names in the “Main” event as well, that has 158 entries if I counted correctly. It’s a good line-up. Those who follow the seniors tour (WSS) and disability tour (WDBS) will recognise several names. I’m particularly please to see disability players there, eager to compete with ablebodied players.

A number of juniors have entered both events. Amongst them Iulian Boiko, Ben Mertens and Julien Leclerc.

As you would expect, you also have a good number of former pros, notably Jamie Jones whose ban has now come to an end. Also in the draw is Tony Drago, who wasn’t able to compete in the inaugural event because of ill health.

Good luck to all.

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2012

2012 was the year when the Rocket, came back from the darkness, shone bright in the sky of Sheffield and disappeared again. It was also the year when Stephen Hendry retired.

Ronnie started the year 2012 ranked n°16 and in very serious danger to have to qualify for the World Championship. He had started to work with Steve Peters just before the 2011 World Championship after a a couple of desastrous seasons, and he was in a slightly better place mentally, but his health wasn’t great. He was suffering from a serious bout of glandular fever and felt drained. Just before the 2011 UK Championship he had collapsed in his hotel room after a match, and had come to York in poor health. He had narrowly lost to Judd Trump in the second round. And 2012 didn’t start well either: he was beaten by Judd Trump again, in round two again, at the 2012 Masters.

The next event for Ronnie was the 2012 German Masters and it was basically a “must win” if he wanted to avoid to have to qualify for the Crucible. Damian Hirst had come with him to Berlin … in his private jet. Ronnie’s first opponent was Andrew Higginson, a very capable player, ranked 19th at the time. Andrew lead 4-0 … in a best of 9. Ronnie had scored only 7 points in the first three frames, then lost the fourth on the final pink. It was looking very grim for Ronnie. After the MSI though, Ronnie turned the match on its head… you can watch the last five frames here:

After that, Ronnie went on to win the tournament, beating Joe Perry, Matthew Stevens, Stephen Lee, and Stephen Maguire on hiw way to the title. It was his first ranking title since the 2009 Shanghai Masters, nearly two and a half years earler.

You can enjoy the pictures (Ronnie’s matches) I took then by following this link

Yet, Ronnie hadn’t done enough to be safe ranking wise. Despite being clearly exhausted, he pushed further in the 2012 Welsh Open, reaching the semi finals, where he lost to Mark Selby. That secured his Crucible spot, but at a huge prize: right after the semi final, his glandular fever got so bad that he had to be taken to hospital for treatment. He subsequently withdrew from the 2012 World Open and 2012 PTC Grand Final.

When Ronnie arrived at the Crucible, seeded 14, nobody was giving him much of a chance to lift the trophy, and he was to face Peter Ebdon in the first round… but against all odds, he beat Peter Ebdon comprehensively, then Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Matthew Stevens and Ali Carter to win the World Championship for the fourth time.

Ronnie had his young son watching him, and became very emotional towards the end. To date, he rates this title as his best moment in his snooker career.

All the pictures I took a the 2012 Championship (Ronnie’s matches) are here

After that win Ronnie announced that he was going to take a long break from snooker.

As it happened, he only played one other match that year, a match he lost to Simon Betford at the South West Snooker Academy. During that summer, Ronnie broke his foot, whilst running in the woods, and met his partner Laila Rouass. He also refused to sign the new players contract, that he thought was overly demanding on the players. Actually, he wasn’t entirely wrong, and other players at the time told me they were feeling the same but couldn’t afford not to play for financial reasons.  I won’t name names for obvious reasons, but their main issues where about their image rights, and, as self-employed persons, restrictions on events other than main tour they would be able to play in.

Eventually though, Ronnie was persuaded to sign the contract, and entered the PTC event 3, and the International Championship 2012 … from which he withdrew, feeling unable to make the trip. I remember a conversation with Jason Ferguson shortly after Ronnie’s withdrawal, and Jason expressed concerns about Ronnie’s mental health at the time.

Following this withdrawal, Ronnie announced that he was retiring from snooker for the rest of the season

World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has abandoned plans to return to the snooker tour and will miss the rest of the season.

The 36-year-old has “personal issues which he needs to resolve”, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn announced today, and that means he will not return until next season at the earliest.

O’Sullivan announced after winning his fourth world title in May that he intended to take six months out from the sport, and although he returned to play in a low-profile Players Tour Championship event in September, he withdrew from last week’s International Championship citing illness.

In a statement, World Snooker announced: “World Snooker has been informed that Ronnie O’Sullivan does not intend to compete on the World Snooker Tour for the remainder of the 2012/13 season.”

Hearn said: “I have spoken to Ronnie and he has decided to withdraw from any events he has entered, and he will not be playing for the rest of this season. He has some personal issues which he needs to resolve and we wish him all the best for the future.” …

The personal issues were related to his “divorce” from his former partner, and the juridic battle over his rights to see his children.

He also had been filming a documentary about his “Life Story” that came out on ITV4 around the same time. You can watch it here:

That documentary hinted at permanent retirement. Part of it had been filmed at the SWSA durint the 2012 PTC event 3.

Stephen Hendry had started the 2011/12 season as ranked n°16, but had quicly dopped out of the elite bracket and after the 2012 Weslh Open was ranked 21th and had to qualify for events. This is a situation he had never found himself into since 1987/88. Needless to say he hated it.

Stephen came to the Crucible as a qualifier, having beaten Yu Delu in the last 48. He beat Stuart Bingham in the last 32, and made a 147 during that match, his 11th and last competitive one.

He then beat john Higgins very comprehensively in the last 16, (13-4)  before being outplayed in the QF by Stephen Maguire who won with a session to spare (13-2).

I will never forget what happened next. Stephen came to the media room for his post match, sat down, and calmly, quietly announced “I have played my last professional match”. Everyone in the room was stunned. Nobody had really seen it coming. Stephen then explained that he had been planning this the whole season. That he had given himself a bit of time to see if he could return to the elite, and having failed to do so, had decided to retire. He didn’t want to continue if he wasn’t able to win.

Here are some quotes by Hendry after the match

‘I’m delighted I made a maximum here, that’s why I was more animated than normal when making it. I was delighted to do it on my last appearance here.’

‘It was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. I thought about it last year but two or three months ago I just decided enough was enough.’

Reflecting on his favourite Crucible memories, Hendry said: ‘I’ve had so many it’s hard to pinpoint special ones.

‘My first win here, obviously the seventh world title, making maximums, I could write a book on the memories I’ve had here.’

He insisted it was not time to shed a tear.

‘No, not really. I’ve never been the most emotional person even when I win.

‘It’s sad that I won’t play here again. I love playing here, but no, it’s a relief as much as anything.’

The next day, the snooker world and the fans payed tribute to the seven times World Champion in the Crucible. He got a standing ovation.

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2011

2011 will remain in the memories as the year Judd Trump came to age and showed his full potential as a player.

Judd had been an exceptional junior: he had won the English Under-13 and Under-15 championship, and, at 14  had reached the World Under-21 Championship semi-finals. He also made a competitive 147 at just 14, becoming the youngest player to do that.

He had turned professional in 2005/06 and had some very good results in his first year as a pro. The next season, he qualified for the final stages of the world championship at the Crucible.

But, after that he didn’t really build on the form of his debut. At the start of 2011, aged 21, he was ranked n°26.

The breakthrough came at the China Open 2011: coming to the main stages as a qualifier he beat Marco Fu, Mark Davis, Peter Ebdon and Shaun Murphy to reach the final, where he beat Mark Selby by 10-8 to win his first ranking event.

It was commonly accepted back then that those who went deep in the China Open, stood no chance in the World Championship. Nobody must have told Judd … He first had to qualify, which he did by beating David Gilbert by 10-4. He was drawn against the defending champion, Neil Robertson, and defeated him by 10-8 on the first day of the Championship. He then beat Martin Gould, Graeme Dott and Ding Junhui to reach the final. During the whole event he played extremely attacking snooker, “naughty snooker” as he branded it. He was a breath of fresh air, both at and off the table. The swag and the fashion statements were not everone’s cup of tea, but he definitely took the Crucible by storm that year.

I have never experienced anything like the atmosphere in the Crucible at the start of the final session that year. I was standing on the floor and still feel goosebumps just remembering it. Judd eventually lost by 18-15 to John Higgins but he had been the star of the tournament.

Judd started the next season ranked 9, a top 16 player for the first time. He finished the year in the best possible way by winning the 2011 UK Championship, his first “Triple Crown” event. He beat Mark Allen by 10-8 in a thrilling final, having defeated Dominic Dale, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson en route.

With a hindsight, it is a bit surprising that it took him another 7+ years before winning another Triple Crown event.

Of course, 2011 was also an important year for John Higgins. John came back from his ban determined to redeem himself at the table and did just that: he won the 2011 World Championship. It had been a terrible year for John Higgins. At the 2011 German Masters, after winning his first round match, he was contacted by family because his father was extremely ill. John immediately left Berlin, but wasn’t able to make it to Scotland in time. When he arrived home, his father had passed away. John’s father had been his n°1 fan and was a familiar figure around tournaments. When John won his fourth – and to date last – World Championship he dedicated it to his late father.

 

Reflecting on the decade – the money and sponsors

Since Barry Hearn has taken control of snooker, the players earning opportunities have grown very significantly. Not only has the number of tournaments gone from 11 in total in 2009/10, including the Masters qualifying event and the Championship League Snooker, to 26  in 2018/19, but the prize money available for individual events has also increased very significantly. Below you’ll find a few examples.

UK Championship:

2009 total  £625000 – Winner £100000 – L16 £12050

2019 total £1009000 – Winner £200000 – L16 £17000

China Open

2009 total £292000 – Winner £52000 – L16 £5000

2019 total £1000000 – Winner £225000 – L16 £18000

World Championship

2009 total £1111000 Winner £250000 L16 £16000

2019 total £2231000 Winner £500000 L16 £30000

Of course it is necessary to take the evolution of the prices/costs for housing, food, clothes etc into account. From what I have been able to find on the Internet, those costs have increased by about 2.5 % per years over the last decade in the UK. If so, you would need nearly £1250 today to buy the same goods you could have for £1000 ten years ago.

Another factor is that the tour nowadays requires a lot more traveling than ten years ago and that comes at a cost. On the other hand, the entry fees have been scrapped for the professional players.

And finally, the numbers above are earnings before substacting taxes and the WS levy. Taxes can be extremely high. For instance, at the 2011 Australian Open, local taxes amounted to 46% of the prize money. Mark Williams, who was runner-up that year, said that what he was left with after taxes, and taking the costs of the travel into account, wasn’t worth the effort. Those 46%, I suppose, were pretty extreme and taxes aren’t THAT high usually, but they aren’t negligible either.

The numbers above though aren’t telling the whole story. With the tiered system, in most  tournaments there was no prize money until the last 64. Losing seeds from last 64 on were still earning something. This means that (at mos)t 32 players – out of 96 at the time earned nothing.

Nowadays, in most tournaments, the draw is flat, and losers in first round get nothing, wich means that 64 players, out of 128, earn nothing. Which makes it worse is that the players ranked 128 to 65 face a top 64  opponent in most tournaments, and in the UK championship it’s a strict seeding, meaning that the lowest ranked players, face the very top ones … and more often than not get battered! I have touched the subject already in my post about the rankings. But it’s not just that the system doesn’t offer a development path, it’s also that lowest ranked players don’t earn much at all.

Looking at the one year list on snooker.org we have 10 professional players who have earned absolutely NOTHING since the start of the season, a good six months ago. Granted Mifsud hasn’t played, but the others have. We have 33 more professional players who have earned £12000 or less. You will tell me that £2000 a month is not so bad, but bear in mind that they are self-employed and this is before taxes. Also, they have to travel to tournaments and qualifiers – it comes at a cost. Plus, most of them will have costs associated with having access to a table to practice. So, really £2000 isn’t much at all, and 43 out of 128, one in three are there or below. A player has to be ranked 72 or better to get to £3000 a month, which is probably a bare minimum to earn a living.

So, for all Barry Hearn’s boasting about how much money there is to be earned in snooker, a lot players only just earn a pittance. In the past, with a “light” calendar, most of those players had another job. Many worked in clubs, worked on construction sites or as taxi drivers, jobs that allowed them some flexibility so that they could manage their schedule around the snooker calendar. Now this isn’t possible anymore.

My view is that players should get something – if only to cover minimal basic expenses related to being there and making themselves available to play –  win or lose. By playing their match, they bring value to the tournament, to the venue and to the sponsors, it would be only fair. Barry hearn says that he doesn’t want to support mediocrity and that if you are good enough you should make it. Ok, but if they only get such a minimum, they won’t make a living ou of it, and if, should they lose, it does not count towards their ranking, they won’t be able to stay on the tour anyway. So where is the problem?

Now – and this is genuine question – would Neil Robertson have “made it” under the current system? I actually doubt it. Neil is currently one of the very top players, h’e a former world Champion, a winner of 16 ranking events, and one of the only 11 players who have won the “Triple Crown”. Yet, when he first came on the tour, at 16, he wasn’t ready. In Australia, he didn’t have the kind of opposition he found when coming to the UK, his game was very raw. He dropped off the tour twice. Neil has often praised Joe Perry for the support he offered him at the start of his career. He has told the media how hard it was, how he felt alone away from his family, how he worked in the club, doing any dirty job, cleaning the toilets… He deserves every credit for pursuing his dream through hardship. But whatever job you do, your employer has to know that you are available for the job at least most of the time, not always on the road somewhere! With the number of tournaments nowadays, would that still be possible? I’m not sure. I’m of course not saying that we should go back to the time where there were only six or seven ranking events, but having a slightly less brutal system, and giving the players a minimal wage to cover the costs directly related to their professional traveling, should be seen as an “investment in the future”, not as “supporting mediocrity”. After all the players are the sport most valuable asset.

Finally, about the sponsoring… yes, there is much more money in snooker that there was ten years ago. However, outside China / Asia, the money comes from one source of sponsoring: the betting industry. I have said this already, but I’ll say it again: it’s a very unhrealthy situation and not just in snooker.

Here is a recent article about the situation in other sports

Gambling needs tobacco-like regulation in sports advertising and sponsorship

Not that long ago UK sports fans could indulge their passions by watching the rugby league Silk Cut Challenge Cup, one day cricket’s Benson and Hedges Cup, or the Embassy World Snooker Championship. Not to mention the excitement and glamour of cars branded to look like Marlboro packets on wheels being driven on Formula 1 racetracks around the world.

McLaren F1 car branded to look like a Marlboro cigarette packet. Dan74/Shutterstock

Cigarette branding was once integral to sport and a crucial marketing strategy for the industry. But research into the powerful impact of advertising these products – particularly on young people’s awareness, attitudes and intentions to use them – led to legislative changes that ended the relationship between tobacco and sport.

The gap in the market left by the cigarette industry has now been filled by the gambling industry. The Challenge Cup is now the Coral Challenge Cup, and football fans can watch teams take part in competitions such as the Sky Bet Championship. Football, in particular, has seen a rise in commercial arrangements with gambling companies, not just competition sponsorship but stadium and shirt sponsorship, too. In fact, in the 2019-20 Premier League, half the clubs have betting companies as shirt sponsors.

Warrington fans celebrate winning the Coral Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, August 2019. Paul Harding/PA Wire/PA Images

In the UK, gambling-related TV and radio advertising was banned until the 2005 Gambling Act came into force, which relaxed the rules. Since then, spending on gambling-related advertising has increased significantly, with UK betting firms spending £328m on direct advertising, such as adverts in commercial breaks in sports programmes, in 2018 alone. This figure is almost certainly an underestimate of the total amount spent on marketing as it doesn’t include online advertising or indirect advertising, such as sponsorship logos on shirts and stadium hoardings.

New evidence is beginning to reveal the negative effect of gambling adverts. Research from Australia suggests that advertising exposure through “push marketing”, such as promotional text messages, uses techniques to reduce the perception of risk – for instance, by showing gamblers winning – and can result in them betting for longer and losing more money, while believing that these bets are less risky.

Gambling and young people

Perhaps more worrying is the potential impact of this advertising on people (under-18s) not old enough to gamble legally. Evidence suggests that gambling adverts on TV and social media capture their attention.

An Australian study found that not only could young people recall the names of sports betting brands, they were also able to describe distinctive features of brands (such as colour) and accurately match brands with promotions. Similar results have been found in the UK, with children and teenagers, age eight to 16, identified as “super-fans” – who watch a lot of football on TV – being more likely to be able to match sponsor brands to club logos.

The potential effect of this on subsequent behaviour is worrying. A fifth of the young people (age 11-16) in the Australian study indicated that they wanted to try gambling. In Britain, it was reported that 14% of children aged 11-16 had gambled in the past week, with 1.7% of those aged 11 -16 classified as “problem” gamblers and 2.2% as “at risk” of problem gambling.

Our latest research shows that for young adults the strongest motive to gamble is increased excitement. In televised sporting events, gambling adverts ramp up the feeling of excitement and give the perception that gambling is a fundamental part of watching sports.

Concerns about the exposure of young people to gambling adverts have already and led to voluntary industry commitments, such as the new “whistle-to-whistle” ban on gambling advertising during televised sports (except horse racing) before 9pm. But embedded promotions, such as stadium sponsorship, league sponsorship, promotional logos on team uniforms and pitch signage, are not covered by this measure and so remain visible to viewers.

Critics of embedded promotion are most concerned with its subtle and deceptive assimilation into live screen time. From this perspective, the promotional intent is concealed, as the gambling-endorsing advertisements are carefully integrated into the spectator’s emotional experience.

This was perhaps no more aptly demonstrated than by high-profile former England captain Wayne Rooney signing for Derby County – an English second-tier club sponsored by the betting brand “32Red” – and being assigned the number 32 shirt. A move the sports minister, Nigel Adams, called “very crafty”.

We are currently researching the social impact of gambling and looking at developing screening measures to identify people at risk of gambling harm. Existing screening measures, used by addiction and recovery services, are ineffective and open to misinterpretation. A consequence of this is the possibility of the under-representation of gambling harm in the population and the perception that “problem gamblers” are a tiny minority. Gambling has become increasingly advanced and accessible and this potentially puts many more people at risk than previously indicated.

As global research has established the problems that gambling can cause, the UK government now need to impose strict tobacco-like restrictions on gambling adverts, and break the perception that gambling and sport are integral to each other.

The situation is exactly the same in snooker. When the tobacco ban came, it hit snooker very hard because not enough had been done to find alternative sources of sponsoring. Snooker now relies very heavily on the betting industry and there is no visible sign of the issue being adressed. Over the last two or three years the signs are there – clear for all to see – that regulation of this market is coming, a ban – total or partial – is a matter of when not if. What then? Snooker moving to China? Or another big slump? Does Barry Hearn, who is 71, care?

Or is the Saudi Arabia event next season the first step to alternatives?

And is this the right way to go? Why would a country like Saudi Arabia do this? They have no big tradition in snooker. The answer clearly must be elsewhere.

Maybe, if you have a moral compass, it’s worth reading those two articles:

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/12/06/saudi-arabias-strategy-sportswash-abuses

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/sep/02/sportswashing-saudi-arabia-sports-mohammed-bin-salman

 

 

A 25 December message

25 December

Today is December 25 … most Christians celebrate Christmas, and Jews are in the middle of Hanukkah celebrations as well. To all my friends, and readers who celebrate today …

Happy Celebrations!

Laila Rouass, Ronnie’s partner, who is a Muslim, with some Jewish ancestry, living with an agnostic, with Catholic upbringing shared this on social media:

 

Many, from different beliefs, or without religious beliefs, still take the opportunity to gather with friends and family, to wish they the best, to share a meal and or a drink, to tell them they love them …

Enjoy the day with your loved ones!

And, unfortunately, many  also will be lonely, will be struggling, with themselves or with circumstances. One such person is Paul Collier whose mother suffered a severe stroke yesterday, and is very ill. Paul spent his “Christmas night sat in hospital, at her side, holding her hand. News this morning are a bit better, she’s improving. Of course we wish Paul’s mother, and the whole family the very best.

If you know such a person, take a moment for them today.

I takes only small things. Invite the elderly neighbour for a cuppa, phone a lonely friend, buy the young beggar a sandwich … anything, just one gesture and a smile, it doesn’t cost much.

If you are such a person, don’t go into your shell

It’s ok to struggle, everyone does at times. Try to get out and treat yourself to something nice. Listen to music, watch a good film, take a long walk …. and talk. Call a friend, someone you trust, or chat with them, you won’t be a burden. If you are offered help, don’t run away from it. And if someone unkwowingly hurts your feelings with untimely, unwanted wishes, remember that they weren’t meaning ill.

Reflecting on the decade: the year 2010

This is the first of the “years” series. For each year of the decade, I will look back at a small selection of very significant moments/events in that year. Of course making such a selection is always a matter of personal choice and interest. I’m due to overlook things that are important to others, and probably to bore a few with subjects they don’t find interesting…

Of course 2010 was the year Barry Hearn took control of Worldsnooker. On June 2, 2010, Barry Hearn Hearn was backed by 35 of the top 64 players at a WPBSA extraordinary general meeting in Sheffield; 29 voted against him. Hendry, Ding and Ebdon had been his most vocal opponents. This was the start of a radical transformation of the sport with a huge increase of the number of tournament as well as the money on offer. I already touched some key features of the Hearn decade in other posts.

For me though, 2010 was the year of my first World Championship, and I was privileged to spend it in the media room and in the snapper boxes, and it was a quite extraordinary championship too.

2010WCPoster

The hights

Neil Robertson becomes World Champion

Neil Robertson came to the Crucible unsure that he would be able to compete to the end of it, should he go deep: indeed  his partner Mille was expecting their first child, and the baby was due on the week-end of the Final! Compete he did, and he won the whole thing. Baby Alexander was considerate enough to wait for another ten days before making his entrance … It wasn’t all plain sailing though. In the last 16, Neil was trailing Martin Gould by 11-5 at the end of the second session. The first two sessions were played on the same day (April 23) and Martin Gould played absolutely blistering snooker … as he can. It was a mesmerising performance from Martin. Then he had to sleep over it, and it was his undoing. The next day, Martin was a shadow of the player he had been in the first two sessions, and a determined Neil Robertson came back at him and eventually won the match 13-12. There was no stopping him after that. His mum flew over from Australia during the Final and stood proudly at his side on the floor when he lifted the trophy after he beat Graeme Dott by 18-13 in the final. It was a very emotional moment for both of them. Neil is a very proud Aussie and being the first Australian to win the World Championship at the Crucible was huge for him. It should have made all the headlines in the next day papers … but it didn’t.

Steve Davis qualifies for the World Championship for a record 30th time and goes on to send the defending champion home in the last 16

At the age of 52, Steve Davis beat Mark King by 10-9 in the last 32, then the defending champion, John Higgins, by 13-11 in the last 16, to reach the QF of the Championship. I will always remember the last frame of this match. I watched it from one of the commentary boxes. It was incredibbly tense. The great Steve Davis was barely able to breath as he potted the last balls. They had the whole Crucible for themselves, the match/session at the other table had finished early and the whole Crucible was living the moment with Steve. When he eventually won, Steve got a standing ovation.

Here is a footage of the last balls. The quality is poor unfortunately.

and Steve’s press conference

Steve was beaten heavily by Neil Robertson in the QF round. It was his last competitive match at the Crucible.

The low and ugly

And it was a very low and terrible moment for our sport  … the News of the World scandal.

In the media room at the Cucible …  the last session of the second semi final between Graeme Dott and Mark Selby was underway. All the signs were there that this was going to be a late finish. I was working on pictures whilst following the match on the screens at the same time. Suddendly I became aware that the atmosphere in the room had changed: it was too quiet, and almost grave. One of the journalists, behind me, was looking at his screen, a colleague at his side, both obviously in shock. One of them said  “This looks very bad” … They had stumbled upon an article, and a video, to be published in the next issue of the “News of the World”. The video showed John Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney, discussing with a group of people in Kiev about how they could make money by fixing matches in future events, get more players into the scheme and how to “laundry” that money. . They were smiling and toasting. The video had been filmed a couple of days before…

We were asked to keep quiet and embargo the news. Pat Mooney was a member of the WPBSA board of Directors, John Higgins was still technically the reigning World Champion. The sponsor was a betting company, Betfred. It was very bad indeed. There were fears that they could withdraw their support to snooker because they wouldn’t trust the integrity of the sport anymore. Barry Hearn immediately had a meeting with Fred Done, who reassured him that he would not do such thing. John Higgins was immediately suspended.

An immediate concern in the media room was the impact the news would have on Graeme Dott who was also managed by Mooney. Graeme won the semi final, and it was immediately obvious that he had no clue about what had been going on. He was in shock and immediately distanced himself from Mooney. Wether it impacted his performance in the final, we will never know for sure.

You probably know what happened next. Pat Mooney immediately resigned from his position as director of the board and was later permanently  banned from every interaction//business related to snooker. John Higgins got a hefty fine, and was banned for six months. The best part of the ban though was served over the summer and, actually, John Higgins didn’t miss that many events, and none of the big ones.

Here is a  press report on John Higgins fine and ban

John Higgins banned from snooker but cleared of match-fixing

John Higgins, the former snooker world champion, will be free to resume his career in November after he was cleared of match-fixing at a disciplinary inquiry into allegations, revealed by the News of the World, that he agreed to throw frames for money.

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association withdrew the match-fixing charges after accepting Higgins explanation of his encounter with an undercover reporter from the newspaper posing as a businessman.

He was fined £75,000 and given a six-month ban for the lesser offence of bringing the game into disrepute for failing to report the reporter’s approach. As he was suspended in May following publication of the allegations he can resume competition in November.

The independent tribunal was more harsh on Higgins’s manager Pat Mooney, a former director of the WPBSA. It ruled that Mooney had been fully aware that the subject of match-fixing might be raised in discussions with the reporter, and was pursuing financial gain by encouraging Higgins to take part.

The tribunal chairman Ian Mill QC said that Mooney had only escaped punishment on match-fixing charges through a technicality as the competition in which fixing was discussed is not strictly covered by WPBSA regulations.

“The Association maintained that Mr Mooney had intended to act fraudulently and corruptly as alleged,” Mill said in his judgment.

He ruled that Mooney should pay £25,000 costs and be banned from playing any official role in snooker for life. Mooney resigned from the WPBSA in May, and told the hearing his involvement in snooker is over.

Higgins and Mooney were filmed by the News of the World in Kiev in April, days after the Scot had been eliminated from the World Championship by Steve Davis.

In the film, and transcripts subsequently published by the newspaper, they were heard apparently discussing throwing frames in a proposed new competition. Higgins appeared to discuss how easy it would be to miss pots deliberately to throw a given frame, and how best to obscure his payment of 300,000 euros (£261,000) for co-operating with the proposed betting sting.

Higgins denied that he had any intention of co-operating with the plot, but said he had played along with the reporters because he feared for his safety and wanted to end the meeting as soon as possible.

That version of events was accepted by Mill. “He would never throw, and had no intention at that meeting of throwing any frame of snooker for reward,” he said.

Higgins said he was delighted to be exonerated: “I am guilty of anything it is naivety and trusting those who, I believed, were acting in the best interests of snooker and myself,” he said. “I make this promise [to my fans]: John Higgins will be back and he’ll be back winning”.

In a statement Mooney’s solicitor said: “Mr Mooney bitterly regrets being caught up in the News of the World’s entrapment and is unreservedly sorry for the impact the sting has had on snooker and Mr Higgins in particular.”

Here are the findings against Pat Mooney as reported by snooker scene on their official blog

JOHN HIGGINS: THE FINDINGS AGAINST PAT MOONEY

Ian Mill QC was unimpressed by Pat Mooney or his story and has recommended he is permanently excluded from playing any future role in snooker.

He said Mooney, “committed the most egregious betrayals of trust – both in relation to the Association, to which he owed fiduciary obligations as a Director and by reason of his great influence in the world of snooker, and to Mr Higgins whose entire career and professional future he inexplicably put at serious and wholly unjustifiable risk.”

His full findings were:

‘Mr Mooney’s conduct is, in my judgment, of a completely different order of seriousness. He was first made aware not later than 8 April 2010 by the undercover journalist posing as a businessman (“Mr D’Sousa”) of the fact that those behind him in the purported business venture were looking to make money through gambling in circumstances where frames in snooker matches were deliberately thrown. Yet, he made no disclosure at the time of this stated requirement to the Association, to Mr Higgins (whom he represented in snooker matters, who was one of his partners in the business (World Series Snooker) which Mr Mooney was representing in his discussions with Mr D’Sousa, and most significantly who was targeted by Mr D’Sousa as the player required to throw the frames) or to his other business partners in World Series Snooker, Debbie Mitchell and Adrian Stewart.

Furthermore, despite this requirement being stated, Mr Mooney not only continued his engagement with Mr D’Sousa thereafter but persuaded a materially ignorant Mr Higgins to accompany him to meet with those behind the venture in Kiev. He accepts that, in continuing that engagement and by the words spoken by him on 8 April 2010 he had led Mr D’Sousa to believe that the throwing of frames was something that could be achieved.

Once in Kiev, on 29 April 2010, it was made clear to Mr Mooney on several occasions (in Mr Higgins’ absence) that the subject of frame throwing had to be discussed with Mr Higgins.

Still, he said nothing to Mr Higgins until minutes before the meeting the following day.

When he did mention the subject to Mr Higgins, Mr Mooney misrepresented to him the position, stating that it was possible that the subject might not come up at all.

Furthermore, despite at the time owing fiduciary obligations to Mr Higgins as his snooker representative and to the Association itself (he was a Board Director of the Association at the time), Mr Mooney did not advise Mr Higgins to make it clear that frame throwing was out of the question, and he did not even discuss with Mr Higgins the possibility of leaving Kiev without attending the meeting. In so behaving, in my judgment, Mr Mooney was motivated by concerns as to his own position to the exclusion of all others. He had positively responded to the requirement of frame throwing in all his previous discussions and he had brought Mr Higgins to Kiev expressly to discuss this aspect of the matter. He was concerned as to the consequences for him if these assurances proved groundless.

At the meeting in Kiev on 30 April, Mr Mooney continued to represent himself as able and willing to participate in, and to procure, corrupt frame throwing. Thereafter, he neither reported the events which had occurred to the Association nor encouraged nor advised Mr Higgins to do so.

A number of points were made by and on behalf of Mr Mooney. On his behalf, Mr Phillips asserted both as a matter of law and of fact that I could not and should not find that Mr Mooney in fact intended what he represented as being his intention in his various discussions with Mr D’Sousa and in Kiev. His legal argument, which I rejected in a ruling which I delivered yesterday, was that it was not open to the Association to maintain such an argument, given its withdrawal of Charge 2. As a matter of fact, he invited me to accept Mr Mooney’s evidence that he was clear in his own mind that Mr Higgins would never deliberately throw a frame for reward and, therefore, to conclude that Mr Mooney could not in fact have intended to put the corrupt agreement asserted by the Association into effect. As to this, Mr Bourns on behalf of the Association pointed to passages in the transcripts of discussions which suggested that Mr Mooney might have had in mind to procure the throwing of frames though the activities of players other than Mr Higgins.

Mr Mooney gave evidence before me, during which he told me in terms that he did not intend to put any such corrupt agreement into effect. His explanation for his encouragement of Mr D’Sousa prior to Kiev was that he was playing along with him, humouring him, in order to get to meet those behind the venture in Kiev. He was so certain that what Mr D’Sousa was saying about the frame throwing requirement was nonsense that he had not found it necessary to inform any of the Association, Mr Higgins, Ms Mitchell or Mr Stewart of what had been said. Once in Kiev, when it rapidly became apparent to him that Mr D’Sousa had in fact been telling the truth, he was intimidated into acting as he did. He gave no explanation for the failure to report the matter to the Association thereafter.

I was unimpressed by Mr Mooney as a witness and I found much of his account highly implausible. I very strongly suspect that he intended to put the corrupt agreement alleged by the Association into effect without having decided precisely how he would do this (given that Mr Higgins would clearly not be cooperative). His motivation throughout was, I find, financial self interest, in particular having regard to the very valuable sponsorship undertakings being offered by Mr D’Sousa and his colleagues.

However, I have concluded that it is unnecessary for me to make such a factual finding, since it would have no impact on the sanctions which I have decided appropriate on the basis of factual findings that it is accepted on Mr Mooney’s behalf are open to me.

It seems to me that, on any view, in the light of the factual summary which I have set out above, even if Mr Mooney did not intend to carry out the agreement reached, he committed the most egregious betrayals of trust – both in relation to the Association, to which he owed fiduciary obligations as a Director and by reason of his great influence in the world of snooker, and to Mr Higgins whose entire career and professional future he inexplicably put at serious and wholly unjustifiable risk.

Mr Mooney resigned as a Director of the Association on 2 May 2010 and his membership of the Association (which derived from his position as a Director) was suspended (as were his privileges derived from his position as Mr Higgins’ appointed representative) on 6 May 2010.

In my judgment, both those suspensions must be made permanent. Mr Phillips on Mr Mooney’s behalf told me that his client’s involvement in the world of snooker is at an end. So it should be. That must remain the case.

I do not intend additionally to impose any financial sanction on Mr Mooney other than that he must make a contribution to the Association’s costs in the amount of £25,000. Mr Phillips has explained to me his client’s precarious financial circumstances in the light of the recent events which have unfolded. It does not seem to me in the light of that information that an Order to make payment of a fine would be proportionate.’

Those are the facts, and the findings about what was certainly one of the darkest days for the sport we love. It tarnished the final and took the headlights away from Neil Robertson big moment.

It’s been ten years and it’s probably time to move on. The truth though is that I still find it difficult because I stay with unanswered questions and the feeling that John Higgins got away very, very lightly – especially considering how some before and after him were punished – and I don’t understand why. John Higgins was a 34 years old man, a father, a professional sportsman, and a multiple World Champion. He wasn’t some inexperienced kid who would need guidance. If you read the part I put in blue above, it’s quite baffling to me that anyone would have needed to advice him about his conduct under the circumstances. When the subject was brought up first by Mooney, he could have refused to attend the meeting, and once the subject was brought up during the meeting, he could have left, he could have objected, or at least he could have stayed quiet and not offer a way to laundry the money in Spain where he had a property. And by any means, he could and should have reported the approach as soon as he was back in the UK. If he was innocent, why didn’t he? Was he really that scared and naïve? How did he intend to get out of this mess if he wasn’t going to go along with the match fixing? Because, yes, he was setup, but he didn’t know it, so the way he acted is the way he would have acted had the situation been a real approach.

And that is just some of the unanswered questions about this story. The NOTW suggested they were tipped or at least that’s what I heard. It’s very likely. That scam in Kiev was no cheap coup. They invested a significant deal of money in this, they must have been pretty confident about the outcome. For what purpose? Who or what was actually the real target of this setup? Was it Pat Mooney? Was is John Higgins (unlikely as it seems he only traveled because he had lost early)? Or was someone trying to undermine Barry Hearn’s endeavours by discrediting his board of Directors? After all Hearn had become Chairman of the WPBSA in December 2009 but the definite players vote was still to take place later in June 2010 and the outcome was by no means a certainty. Or what it something else altogether?

Someone must have the answers…