Can the World Championship really be held behind closed doors?

A number of reactions to yesterday’s post  indicate that a lot of fans don’t understand the implications of holding the World Championship behind closed doors. This is understandable as most of them have never been there backstage. So here goes…

The first thing to be stated is that the option of running the World Championship behind closed doors is considered, it’s because social distancing measures would still be in place, maybe not as strict as they are today, but still deemed necessary. With this in mind, let’s consider a number of logistic aspects.

The main event

1. Players have to get there, and stay somewhere

Barry hearn himself has raised the point that travel restrictions might prevent players to travel to Sheffield, and should that be the case, the tournament may need to be canceled. This was also reported by Eurosport yesterday. (excerpts)

Hearn: World Championship plans could be scrapped due to lack of players

Barry Hearn has revealed his plans to stage the World Championship in July could be scrapped due to the travel chaos caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The World Championship was due to start on April 18 and finish on May 4, but has been postponed because of the health crisis engulfing the world.

That would see the 44th staging of the Crucible Theatre tournament in Sheffield start on Saturday July 25 and end on Monday August 10, but Hearn admits he is in the dark if those plans will ever see the light of day.


“The biggest problem for all sports, especially global sports like darts and snooker, is the travel restrictions don’t make it a level playing field for everybody. If someone can’t get out of their country then how the hell can they compete in a ranking system that is played, the majority of it, in Europe? “

Supposing that players are able to travel to Sheffield, they will need to find accommodations. This, in turn, means that at least some hotels must be allowed to open and offer basic services in a safe way. Even if they were to open only for WST staff, officials and the players, they still would need their own staff for housekeeping, security and basic catering. Regarding the latter, offering breakfast would probably be a minimum.

2. BBC and Eurosport.

BBC is the main broadcaster. This means that they have a big crew on-site for an event like this one: the technical crew taking care of the lighting and technical maintenance, the cameramen – each table has three cameramen (women) on the floor and there is one above as well up the scaffolding that towers over the arena – and all the crew needed for the production and post-production. That’s a lot of people.

BBC uses to have their studio in the Winter Garden, next to the cue zone, for as long as there are two tables. If social distancing is still in place, that’s not an option, unless they can have the Winter Garden closed and to themselves. The cue zone obviously would be scrapped.

Once we are at the one table set up, in recent years, they move the studio inside the arena, in a kind of big transparent “bubble”. Believe me, this space isn’t big, and they need at least one, usually two cameramen in there too. How’s that gonna work with social distancing, I’m not sure. Of course, the studio could possibly stay in the closed Winter Garden for the duration as was the case in the past.

In recent years, Eurosport also had people on site. Maybe they can still do the coverage from their studio in London.

Also, usually, a big screen is installed on Tudor square. I doubt that this would be allowed if social distancing measures are still in place: the big screen there means a crowd gathering on the square whenever the weather permits.

3. The written press and photographers

They use to share the green room with the WST press office. It’s pretty crowded in there usually. I would expect that only a handful of members of the media would get a pass this time, if any, for obvious reasons. The photographers have to operate from two little “boxes” that are located right behind the markers. They are tiny. I doubt that more than one person would be allowed in there at any time. Policing this would be a nightmare, so, the obvious solution would be to have only Tai Chengzhe – provided that he can be there – to take the pictures. Similarly the space were the post-match interviews are conducted is quite small. The WST press officer is there of course, as are the members of the media sent by the BBC (radio and written coverage). Again expect only a couple of  additional journalists to be allowed to attend, if any.

All this means that the coverage and exposure of the event are likely to be significantly reduced as compared to previous years, which in turn will impact the sponsoring, particularly for the players. 

4. The venue

Even with no crowd, the venue will need some staff on attendance: cleaners, paramedics and security are indispensable. They will need fewer people than usual, but they will need to make sure that health and security are covered.

Usually meals are provided to the WST staff, the BBC crew and the media. If the venue can’t offer the service, then external catering needs to be provided. These are long and non-stop days, especially during the first two rounds.

The stage door is where the players, their entourage, the WST staff and the media enter the venue. There is usually a good gathering of fans waiting for the players in front of it. Policing may be needed. Also, usually, just pushing a button gives anyone access to the lobby where the venue security, and a WST representative, check on people’s credential to access the venue. Again this is a very small room, usually cramped and another “entry” procedure will be needed.

The dressing rooms … are tiny! Really they are. Players’ entourage, if any is allowed, would probably be restricted to just one person.

5. Players will need and want to practice

Usually there are two or three tables at the crucible itself. It’s totally insufficient and it’s mainly there to allow the players who are actually playing in the “current” session to have a bit of practice ahead of their match or during the MSI. This means that players will need to have access to clubs or academies, with all precautions and social distancing measures in place. The said clubs and academies may need special permission to be able to open even to a “restricted” number of well-identified “customers”.

The qualifiers

All the “points” developed above apply to qualifiers as well, with even more people involved, although points 2 and 3 are definitely less of an issue at the qualifiers. Of course the venue is different. As it stands it’s EIS, that is outside the city center, which means that the players will need some means of transport to get there. It’s a real possibility that busses would have a reduced schedule and go missing completely in the late evening. Packed busses, taxis or shuttles (should WST offer the service)  should be avoided… In that respect Ponds Forge could be a better choice, as it is close to the city center and at a walking distance of many hotels. But I guess that changing the qualifiers venue would cause contractual issues…

Conclusion …

There is A LOT to consider when it comes to logistics alone… In his interview, Barry hearn was talking about setting up an event in three or for days. In normal circumstances maybe, but not this one under the current circumstances!





5 thoughts on “Can the World Championship really be held behind closed doors?

  1. Desperation is no way to run a sport things has to be right and playing a tournament out of desperation is pathetic to say the least the WC and the Crucible deserves so much more than that.

    im totally against running a downgraded event just for the hell of it that’s ridiculous

  2. I agree that’s it’s a major challenge, and we do not know what the regulations will be in July. So yes it is a very bold gamble. But I repeat: total cancellation could bankrupt the game of snooker. They have to try something.

    Where I disagree is in points 2 & 3. There won’t be any media: no cameramen, photographers, journalists, presenters, pundits. Only maybe one technician to support the fixed cameras. Commentators for the matches would be remote, viewing television screens.

    The venue staff could be just a handful of people. Then there would be two players and two officials. No ‘entourage’. It is feasible to do it with around 10 people in the building. Even now, I watch TV News (BBC or C4) who have two presenters in a studio and reporters on the street. It’s not so different.

    Logistically, the biggest challenges are actually the preparation of the event (stage managers and table fitters), and the travel/hotel issue (point 1). They have 2 months to prepare, and very likely in July there will be some limited movement allowable, and the relatively small numbers involved could allow for antigen testing.

    I know of one foreign player who has stayed in UK (his girlfriend is UK-based), and started practicing again in an academy facility with 8 tables, on his own of course.

    The qualifiers (point 5) probably have to be abandoned, and if an event takes place, I would expect they have to limit it to one table only. This would mean a top-16 tournament. This will be a real issue for players outside the top 16, and it could be a showstopper (Barry’s most recent comments suggest to me that he’s encountering serious resistance). However, the alternative is no WC at all, so they have nothing to gain by objecting. Actually, this was my main reason for suggesting a September WC, before Barry came in with the July proposal.

    Amongst die-hard traditionalists like us, we can complain: “it won’t be the same!”. OF COURSE IT WON’T BE THE SAME! I’m prepared to sacrifice all of my principles to get through this. In times like this we need IMAGINATION, and make use of any available technology.

    • They need BBC approval, so much is clear. Do you think they would go for such a “downgraded” event? I suppose the answer depends on how bad the situation will be then. If they are desperate for live sport, I guess they probably would. If snooker gets in competition with other postponed sports events where Britain has major contenders (tennis, cycling f.i.) no chance.

      • WE WILL ALL BE DESPERATE for live sport in July – 3 months from now. This includes the BBC (and Eurosport), but they will have to reconcile themselves to minimal coverage with mechanical cameras and no presenters/pundits at the venue. But they can make up for that virtually.

        Again, it is only ‘downgraded’ in the eyes of snooker nerds like us. Not to the millions of viewers. So long as the top players are there it will look like a World Championship.

        In normal times I am not a supporter of the Crucible for the reasons you mentioned: the facilities are rubbish and the table conditions are unacceptable. But here I give way: it gives the event credibility.

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