So … the Tour Championship 2020 has been postponed until end July (21th-26th). And now what can we expect?
The first question that came to my mind, reading the statement by WST was “Is this realistic?”. Well I’m really not sure.
The reaction by the UK government has been a late one. During seven weeks, they have done nothing to prevent or slow down the spreading of the corona virus in the name of the flawed “herd immunity” theory. Those seven weeks won’t come back. You can expect to have a lot of people going on with their life during that time, not suspecting that they have been exposed and contaminated. A steep increase of cases is likely to happen in the coming couple of weeks. And it is to be expected that there will be more casualties, and the “crisis” will be lasting longer than if the appropriate distancing measures had been taken right away.
The UK government has now recommended to avoid gatherings, to close pubs, bars and cultural venues, and to keep vunerable persons – the elderly mainly – in isolation. But, again, their course of action is “half baked”. They haven’t closed the schools. Kids and young people are at a very low risk to develop a severe form of the illness, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be contaminated and spread it. There is no doubt that they will. Also the UK government hasn’t actually enforced the recommended closings by law. This is a wicked and depraved move. Indeed, as long as it is only a recommandation, and venues have still, in theory, the choice to stay open, they can’t claim compensations from their insurance system. This in turn means that a significant number of them, especially the smaller ones, will choose to stay open. I write “choose” but I know that for many it isn’t a choice really. Closing for a long time, without compensation, nor revenue, will result in them going bankrupt very quickly. Most will never recover from this. But staying open means that, despite their very best efforts and precautions, they will contribute to continued spreading of the virus. It’s not in their hands only (sorry, no pun intended), it also depends on their customers awareness and willingness to take the required precautions and follow the given guidelines.
Also I do expect that, when the number of cases will explode, and it will, some kind of enforcement will be put in place eventually. Putting the final nail in the coffin of the most vulnerable businesses.
All this to say that I very much doubt that the situation will be safe enough and under control enough by end of July. I’m not the only one: for instance, Roland Garros has just been postponed until end September – early October 2020 …
All of this is dramatic for many of those involved in the sport, the lower ranked players in the first place. Today, on Facebook, Elliott Slessor said that he was considering looking for another job; he has become a father very recently and he needs to cater for his family. I have no doubts that most lower ranked players are in a similar situation: they have bills to pay, relatives depending on them …
So, if Barry Hearn really cares about the players, his priority should be to put events on that are open to the lower ranked players, not just to a small elite group, in other words, events open to the 128.
Supposing that he indeed wants to do this, what are the options?
Postponing the World Championship?
Postponing the World Championship isn’t straightforward. It means of course postponing the qualifiers – an event involving 128 players and an army of fitters, referees and officials. As it stands it takes over a week, in a venue that can take 12/14 tables and has space for a players room, a tournament office, a place for the referees … and of course, it also involves staff at the venue, cleaners, and basic catering being a minimum. And that’s if no audience is allowed. Is that realistic before, say, September or October 2020? I don’t think so. Unless maybe it is split. This season the World Championship qualifiers have a tiered system. Maybe playing one tier at a time, in smaller venues, with less people, would be easier and safer, but the whole process would definitely take more than 8 days then. No matter how you look at it, the World Championship itself isn’t likely to happen before October or even November 2020. That’s more than six months from now… and then comes the small matter of the Q-school. Another month, plus at least two weeks to allow the rookies to get ready with visas, relocation etc… Let’s face it: in this scenario the 2020/21 season will start in January 2021 at best. Roughly three months before the 2021 World Championship qualifiers start again. And until January 2021, most players will have very little earning opportunities if any. It will also put those who have a lot of points to defend from 2018/19 in an extremely difficult position, by no fault of them, because there is only so many events that can be squeezed in those three months.
A mitigating option would be to simply scrap the Q-school, keep all current players on tour, no relegations, take on board those who have already earned a tour card – Aaron Hill, Ashley Hugill, Luckas Kleckers and a couple of young Chinese players – and go ahead like that. Why not? After all it’s rare that all 128 players enter an event. Neil Robertson today on twitter expressed the opinion that, given the circumstances, no relegation should be considered, wether or not the Q-school is played.
But if that mitigating option is considered, then why not …
Cancel the World Championship and resume the season as soon as possible?
Canceling the World Championship (and of course its qualifiers), and the Q-school would probably allow to restart the season a lot earlier, probably around early October. That would greatly help the vast majority of players who badly need the earnings opportunities. I write “restart” the season because this should be seen as resuming the current season. We would have a one-off 2019/21 season, slightly longer than the normal one with the opportunity to maybe play some new events, to stage the China Open earlier than March 2021, possibly to reschedule the cancelled Indian Open, and why not properly revive the Paul Hunter Classic? Yes we could possibly have two UK Championships, two Masters and a few other duplicates but is that really an issue? And also, because the corona virus outbreak started earlier in Asia, and seems to abate there now, the season could maybe even start there a bit earlier. I wouldn’t mind a proper ranking event in Hong Kong or Thailand, with all 128 at the venue, because qualifiers in the UK might still not be on.
Actually, having all 128 at the venue in Asian countries would only be right. It’s been a travesty for too long that Asian players have to come to the UK to qualify for their own events. Just imagine Judd Trump or Ronnie having to travel to Beijing to qualify for the UK Championship. Would that feel right? I bet it doesn’t. Yet it’s what happens with Asian events and it created all sorts of issues like held-over matches and wild cards…
Of course the issue is that it would be more expensive for the UK and European players … Well, the solution is easy: give the first round losers something, not much, but covering the basic expenses. Don’t make it count towards ranking. That way it offers no “protection”. But it would massively help and it would only be right too: it takes two to play a match of snooker, there is always one winner and one loser, even when both play well … or when both play badly. By playing they contribute to the tournament, they create value for the audience, the broadcasters, the sponsors (yeah even the bookies). They SHOULD get something for it.
Would that cost more? Not necessarily. Just make it slighly less top heavy when it comes to prize money. As an example, giving £200 to the first round losers at the UK Championship would cost a grand total of £12800. It would probably cover accomodations (only one night) and travel inside UK. Would it make a huge difference to the winner to get £190000 instead of £200000, and to the runner-up to get £77200 instead of £80000? I dont think so.
However, if this becomes the plan, WST should make the decision quickly and and make it known now. The earlier the players know where things stand, the earlier they can work on their own contigency plan. They are self-employed, most have familiers relying on them. They need to know in order to be able to get through these difficult times in the best possible way. They need to be able to plan and manage, and therefore they need to KNOW as much as possible what are WST plans, whith realistic calendar so that they can commit fully to whaterver they need to do to get through the “snooker shutdown”.
Yes … I have too much time on my hands right now … months without snooker! Just as well that the summer is coming and it’s the good season to go out and travel and … oh wait 🥴