Snooker News – March, 21, 2020 – Taking stock of last week

On this first day of the spring in 2020, very few of us will be thinking about budding flowers, ducklings in the ponds and lambs in the fields. We are going through difficult times, most of us are in lockdown and worrying about relatives and friends, hoping to find them all well and healthy on the other side of this outbreak. Those who are still at work, are either risking their own  health and possibly life to save others, or making sure that the essentials are still available to us all: food, medications, and emergency services. We should be grateful to all of them, and make sure not to make things even worse . Please respect the strict social distancing advices and be considerate to others, especially the most vulnerable.

It was still an eventful week on the baize, maybe the last in many months…

The Main Tour

At the start of the week, we were still promised that the 2020 Tour Championship would go ahead “as planned” in Landudno. It was first announced that it would be played behind closed doors and only hours  later we were told that is postponed with new provisional dates of July 21st to 26th this year at the same venue.

It didn’t stop Barry Hearn to say that the World Championship would still go ahead as planned, not did it stop the Crucible Theatre to send tickets and messages to fans along the same line before, as was to be expected,  WST had to announce that the 2020 World Championship is postponed and that the intention is to play it end July or early August.

This schedule is unrealistic in my opinion as currently UK scientists expect the current situation to last for most of this year.

Barry Hearn is now talking about holding some tournaments behind closed doors in order to help lower ranked players; they are self-employed and badly need some opportunities to earn a living. Most have a family to support, and many, are now already looking for another job, offering their services on social media. How that’s gonna work, and when, and how players will be selected/invited has not been disclosed. I’m not sure that this is anything but a project for now.

I’m not impressed by how WST has been handling the situation.

In contrast, WPBSA has to be commanded for taking concrete measures to support their players. All credits to them!

The Challenge Tour

As was to be expected, the Challenge Tour Play-offs have been postponed

WST and the WPBSA have today taken the decision to postpone this season’s Challenge Tour Play-offs until further notice following recent government advice regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

Scheduled to take place on 29 March at Pot Black in Clacton-on-Sea with eight players bidding to claim a coveted two-year professional tour card, the event will now be rescheduled in due course as the situation develops.

The Seniors Tour

Most of the Seniors Tour events were scheduled to be played over le late spring and the summer, the time of the year when the Main Tour slows down. They are badly hit by this crisis, with nearly all events either postponed or cancelled.

You will find the details here

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The Amateur Game

One set of events that DID go ahead are the 2020 European Championships played over the last couple of weeks in Portugal. There were a lot of withdrawals reducing the field of the last, and main, event, the Mixed Championship, but there were still about 60 players in it.

Aaron Hill from Ireland won both the Under-18 and the Under-21 Championsips. The Under-21 title earned him a Tour card. Worth noting that Aaron beat Ben Mertens from Belgium, and only 15 years old, in the semi finals in both competitions.

Iulian Boiko, from Ukraine, won the 6-reds World Championship. Iulian is only 14.

Finally, former professional Andrew Pagett, from Wales won the main event. That earned him a tour card. He beat Heikki Niva from Finland in the final. Andrew Pagett was supposed to play in the Challenge Tour Play-offs. Hopefully, when that event is finally played, Jake Nicholson will  now be offered the spot.

You will find all results and some footages here

It’s good news for snooker that some really good young players are emerging from Ireland and mainland Europe.

WPBSA takes action to help their players

WPBSA just publised this 

WPBSA Support Packages Announced for Main Tour Players

  • 20th March 2020

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) has today stepped in to provide player support for its members affected by the ongoing COVIV-19 outbreak and the subsequent effect that this has had on the World Snooker Tour.

To include both immediate financial, travel and practical help, all current main tour players have today been emailed with full information as to what this entails and how they can access this support. Further measures will be taken over the coming weeks.

If any tour player has not seen this email, please contact us as soon as possible through this website, or by emailing Player Relations Manager Neil Tomkins directly.

Jason Ferguson, WPBSA Chairman said: “All of us at the WPBSA care about our players and will do everything in our power to help everybody through at this difficult time. If any player has any questions or we can provide any assistance I would encourage them to contact a member of our team at any time.”

This is an excellent move by WPBSA and one that is really appreciated by the players. Several of them have already expressed their gratitude on social media. 

This is all the more welcome – and necessary – because the doubts myself and many others have about the actual feasibility of Barry Hearn plans to have the World Championship played in July/August and resume the season from there have been confirmed by the UK Scientists advising the UK Prime Minister (even if he doesn’t seem too keen to listen).

Here what they say:

UK scientists say social distancing needs to last ‘most of a year’

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) who provides scientific and technical advice to the British government have said social distancing must be in place for “at least most of a year.”

SAGE who are advising the government on what the UK’s response must be have on Friday published their worrying report.

On Thursday Boris Johnson gave advice to Britons in a live televised briefing that the UK could “turn the tide” against coronavirus and “we must stop the disease spreading.”

He added, “This is a disease that is so dangerous and so infectious that without drastic measures to check its progress it would overwhelm any health system in the world.”

Almost the whole of the world is now in lockdown and have applied drastic measures to protect people’s lives and health, but London remains open as does most of the UK.

The SAGE report written on Monday and published on Friday, suggests that for every one death across London there could be thousands of infected Londoners.

This latest scientific report has evidence that allegedly dismisses the governments advice.

SAGE provides scientific and technical advice to the British government, ministers, England’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance and to other medical chiefs.

But, evidence from SAGE is most different to what the British Prime Minister has said.

The SAGE scientists said in the report, “It was agreed that a policy of alternating between periods of more and less strict social distancing measures could plausibly be effective at keeping the number of critical care cases within capacity.

“These would need to be in place for at least most of a year.

“Under such a policy, at least half of the year would be spent under the stricter social distancing measures.”

A report by the scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling says, “It was agreed that the addition of both general social distancing and school closures to case isolation, household isolation and social distancing of vulnerable groups would be likely to control the epidemic when kept in place for a long period.

“It was agreed that a policy of alternating between periods of more and less strict social distancing measures could plausibly be effective at keeping the number of critical care cases within capacity.

“These would need to be in place for at least most of a year.

“Under such as policy, at least half of the year would be spent under the stricter social distancing measures.”

Sadiq Khan the Mayor of London has warned all Londoners to stop using “public transport now” to halt the rapid spread of coronavirus across the capital.

A well-known Italian doctor and politician has warned why London will be hardest hit area in the UK.

In an interview with Express.co.uk, Maurizio Brucchi, a renowned Italian doctor who also served as Mayor of Teramo, gave a stark warning to Londoners, the worst is yet to come.

Brucchi said, “In a press conference yesterday, the doctors who have arrived from Wuhan [China] to help us out have told us that our measures are not enough – that we need to be more restrictive.

“The numbers are growing, but what is concerning is that there have been more than 475 deaths in a day.

Adding, “Boris Johnson has to stop with these half-measures. They simply do not work. The Chinese have told us.”

Top Dr warns UK is “weeks behind Italy” which has over “41,000 cases in a month”

Italy has now reported more than 41,000 cases of coronavirus as of Friday, the first patient was recorded on 21 February in the country.

The death toll in Italy currently stands at 3,405 or 8% and has now exceeded that of China which stands at 3,253 despite having just under half the number of confirmed cases.

Italy has 41,035 compared to China’s 81,250 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

 

The 2020 World Championship postponed

Hector Nunns was first  that the World Championship will be postponed. 

Next month’s Betfred World Championship at the Crucible has been postponed.

The expected decision has been confirmed with an official announcement from World Snooker Tour due on Friday morning.

The 17-day tournament in Sheffield becomes the latest major sporting event to be cancelled, suspended or postponed.

And a tournament due to start on April 18 and preceded by a 128-player qualifying event from April 8 looked doomed as the coronavirus pandemic grew in the UK.

This week’s scheduled Tour Championship was first moved behind closed doors and then postponed until July after discussions with broadcasters ITV.

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And world No1 Judd Trump, after a spectacular record-breaking season with six other titles, will not get to defend his debut success from last year.

It is understood that the decision was only between cancellation and postponement, with staging the blue-riband event behind closed doors considered unacceptable.

And it is hoped the tournament can now be staged in July or August – with uncertainty over other events such as the Olympics preventing a firm decision for now.

I very much doubt that it will be held as early as July or even August, given that the qualifiers must be held before it, with 128 players on 12 tables minimum, enough referees, fitters,  TD staff plus the venue staff, cleaners, security, paramedics, catering … Even without audience that’s a lot of people.

The initialy inadequate and late response from the UK government is likely to eventually result in a longer lockdown period than if they had taken a stronger stance from the start, and there will probably be more casualties as well…

And if the World Championship is pushed further in the year, and the Q-school needs to happen too, the season will be over before it actually starts.

Now the official WST Statement is out… 

Snooker’s 2020 Betfred World Championship has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The qualifying rounds of snooker’s biggest event were due to run from April 8 to 15 at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, followed by the final stages from April 18 to May 4 at the Crucible Theatre.

WST intends to host the final stages at the Crucible on rescheduled dates in July or August. This will be preceded by the qualifying rounds.

We are awaiting feedback from the BBC and our other principal broadcasters before dates are confirmed and we hope to make a further announcement in the coming days.

When new dates are confirmed, tickets for the final stages will be automatically transferred. All ticket holders will be contacted and the Crucible website and social media will be updated – we respectfully ask that ticket holders don’t contact the Crucible Box Office at this time.

Q School 2020, which was due to start on May 18, has also been postponed until after the completion of the Betfred World Championship.

WST Chairman Barry Hearn said: “These are tough times for everyone but we are determined to get through it. Fans around the world – as well as the 144 players involved – are anxious to know if and when the World Championship will go ahead. I can assure everyone that we are doing all we can alongside our broadcasters, the venues and other partners to confirm new dates as soon as possible.

“Snooker players are self-employed, they need opportunities to earn prize money so we have a responsibility to them. We are currently exploring the potential to stage tournaments behind closed doors to keep the circuit alive, with more details to follow next week.

“Live televised coverage of the biggest sporting events can be an inspiration to people around the world in these challenging times so it is important that we strive to find solutions for our tournaments.”

 

Hector Nunns interviews Ronnie over corona virus and how the Chinese players feel being stuck in the UK

Ronnie was interviewed by Hector Nunns. He explains that the Chinese players are longing to go back home and don’t trust the UK government over the way they handle the situation. He also explains why he started doing fist bumps.

Here is the interview:

Ronnie O’Sullivan warns Chinese players could snub UK over ‘crazy’ Boris Johnson

O’Sullivan says Chinese players ‘don’t feel safe’ in the UK amid coronavirus pandemic, telling him Prime Minister ‘doesn’t know what he’s doing’

Ronnie O’Sullivan fears snooker’s Chinese stars are set to black-ball the UK over the coronavirus.

The game’s superstar could have played his last match this season with the chances of next month’s World Championship taking place increasingly bleak.

Five-time world champion O’Sullivan, 44, is a hero to many of the UK-based contingent from the Far East – where the outbreak started in Wuhan.

While China’s drastic lockdown, quarantine and travel measures were highly controversial, the number of new cases there has started to fall.

O’Sullivan said: “A lot of the Chinese players have gone back to China or are itching to go back – they don’t feel safe here.

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Ronnie O’Sullivan said he knows UK-based Chinese players who are desperate to go back to the Far East (Image: Getty Images)

“I have been in contact with a lot of my Chinese friends out there to see how they are and they were on total lockdown.

“And I have had Chinese players say to me ‘Your prime minister doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s crazy’. I don’t know myself and can’t really comment, but this is what I am hearing.

“They have all got a bit scared and some have gone and others are desperate to, because that’s where they feel safe, and feel like their country is doing what it should be doing.

“And it’s hard to see how players like that will be playing in the World Championship.”

O’Sullivan was mocked in many quarters for refusing to shake hands with opponents and referees at tournaments on health grounds last year before the coronavirus outbreak.

But recent events have shown his actions in a different light, with such behaviour now very much the new norm.

He added: “People were all saying I was mad and this and that, but maybe you look now and think ‘he’s not so mad or crazy after all’.

“I have always been a bit OCD with germs, I don’t open door handles either and use hand tissues as well as starting doing the fist-bumps instead of handshakes last year.

“It was another player Jack Lisowski who got me thinking about that. He beat cancer as a teenager, and had to be very careful with his immune system compromised, avoiding picking up germs.

“I was always getting colds and so I started doing some of the things he was doing and haven’t really had a cold or germs since, so maybe there is something in it.”

Hector today on twitter was insisting that WST should take a decision very quicly regarding the World Championship and announce it now, so that the Chinese players can make their decision knowingly.

For the reasons I developped yesterday, the only sensible decision at this stage would be to cancel it completely.

No snooker … and now what?

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 🥴

The 2020 Tour Championship Postponed

WST now posted this less than three hours before action was supposed to start, and after this statement issued only yesterday evening.

WST and ITV Sport have taken the decision to postpone this week’s Coral Tour Championship in Llandudno as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

The event was due to run from Tuesday to Sunday this week, televised by ITV4.

Following Monday’s announcement from the UK government that public are advised to avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues, we have liaised with ITV Sport and come to the decision to postpone the event, with new provisional dates of July 21st to 26th this year at the same venue.

We appreciate this is very short notice and a disappointment for the fans and the television audience, however the assessment could only be made at short notice after yesterday’s announcement from the government which came at 5pm.

The box office at Venue Cymru in Llandudno will contact ticket holders . Those tickets will be transferred automatically to the rescheduled dates. Fans who are unable to attend in July can contact the box office after April 1st for a refund.

Announcements on future events including the World Championship will be made in due course, with all scenarios to be considered depending on further government advice.

There you have it… It is extremely doubtful that the situation will be any better in three weeks, so be prepared for the World Championship to be either postponed or cancelled.

This event, with only eight players is relatively easy to postpone. The World Championship and it’s qualifiers are a completely different challenge altogether.

Barry Hearn decided to “wait for the UK government advice” instead of doing what so many other sports have, listen to the WHO, look at what nearly every other country was doing and act immediately. What happens now regarding covid-19 was entirely previsible and inevitable. Putting fans and players in this position was completely evitable. Refunding tickets won’t refund the fans their travel costs and hotels … hopefully WST does something for the players who are already there.

Yesterday Neil Robertson on twitter complained that he hadn’t been told by WST that the event was to go ahead without audience, even after the decision was made. He must be even happier right now! He surely is in Landudno already, he was due to play at 1 pm local time. As must be Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy who must have traveled from Northern Ireland and Ireland respectively.

Well done!

The 2020 Tour Championship behind closed doors

This was published by WST just minutes ago

Following today’s advice from the UK Government, there will be no access for fans at this week’s Coral Tour Championship.

At 5pm today the government advised the public to avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues. We have reacted to this advice with the decision to close the doors at Venue Cymru in Llandudno to all fans.

We realise this will be disappointing to fans but we must act according to the latest government advice.

So it will be closed doors again…

The venue is getting ready though…

This decision probably means that the World Championship will be either postponed or cancelled. Of course the television stages could be played behind closed doors. It would still be difficult. It’s still 32 players, plus officials, media, television crew, theatre staff , plus probably still fans gathering outside. The one this week is only 8 players.

But the qualifiers, that are only three weeks away, certainly can’t happen. With 128 players, 12/14 tables, most of them in use simultaneously,  an army of fitters, officials  and referees, surely this one can’t go ahead. as it stands and the recommandations are very unlikely change for the better by April 8.  Also the English Institute of Sports will surely be closed to the public, so having the snooker there would require that they provide at least some staff, cleaners, paremedics on duty and some catering because the place isn’t exactly central.. I can’t see it.