An interview with Barry Hearn

Sports journalist Phil Haig has interviewed Barry Hearn

Barry Hearn
Barry Hearn is going strong despite recent scares (Picture: Getty Images )

Barry Hearn suffered his second heart attack earlier this month, but the 72-year-old is already back at work, motivated and searching out his next hit of adrenaline.

The veteran promoter suffered his first heart attack in 2002 and the second came on 5 April, but far from being concerned by the health scare, Hearn was more worried about being a burden on the NHS during the coronavirus crisis.

Having a history of heart issues in the family, Hearn knew exactly what had hit him earlier this month, but it took some persuasion from those around him to not just keep calm and carry on.

‘I’m doing alright,’ Hearn told ‘During times like this you feel silly complaining and I won’t be, because there are people going through much worse things than just a little heart problem. It was just throwing a couple of stents in.

‘When I went into hospital I was embarrassed to be there, really, but everyone told me “no, you’ve got to go” and it was good advice. I might not have woken up. That would have been a terrible way to finish the book, wouldn’t it? But you still feel embarrassed because they’re front line troops in there

‘I knew what it was because I’d had it before, but this was a minor one, so I was reluctant to go and see anyone. I’ve got a cardiologist so I spoke to him, told him the symptoms and he said “get down there!” I had a night in the intensive care unit, which was horrendous, but they looked after me really well. ‘Maybe it’s told me that I have to grow up a bit, I can’t do everything myself, I need to maybe delegate a bit, but I just don’t like to. I didn’t like handing the boxing over to Eddie, but what a good idea that was, he’s doing a better job than I ever did.

’ Barry’s father, Eddie’s grandfather, Maurice died at just 44-years-old due to heart problems, and with the same health issue running deeper through the roots of the Hearn family tree, it has motivated Barry to live life to the full. ‘You grow up in that sort of environment, waiting for your turn because his father was 45, his father was 43, so I bucked a trend there,’ Hearn explained.

‘I think it’s just made me appreciate my whole life, I’ve appreciated every day I’ve been given and I’ve not wasted it, I’ve tried not to miss a moment because I know how precious time is.’

Hearn is back at work and busy as he tries to find ways to get his darts and snooker players back to work as soon as possible with the coronavirus putting global sport on hiatus.

He has already found a way to keep darts players busy with the PDC Home Tour which is seeing the world’s best play over webcam from their houses, while the World Snooker Championship has now been rearranged for the end of July.

The chairman of both the PDC and WST, Hearn still leads the way on the decisions made by both organisations, and he does it all for the rush he could never get from competing himself.

‘The sadness of me and sport is I’m arguably the best sports promoter in the world, not arguable in my book, but I’m a failure at every sport,’ Barry said.

‘Running marathons, triathlons, I’ve always reached a reasonable standard in every sport but never one I’d want to promote myself. I’ve failed the Hearn entrance exam, but I enjoy it.

‘I love competing with myself in everything and I run my business the same way. It’s a successful business but I run it like a sportsman’s world – to win.

‘I love it. It’s a buzz in my life, a rush of adrenaline.

‘When Anthony Joshua first signed for me [at Matchroom Boxing] he looked at me, sort of old fashioned, quizzical, like “what do you really want out of me?”

‘And I went, “I just want 1% of your adrenaline” and that sums up everything. Whether it’s Steve Davis winning, whether it’s Phil Taylor winning, whether it’s Anthony Joshua, Chris Eubank, all the people over my life. If I can get 1% of their adrenaline going through my veins then I’m a lucky man and I’ve been lucky so far.’

As someone who claims to be the best sports promoter on the planet, Hearn does not deny that ego is involved as well as the thrill of the action. In darts and snooker he has very little competition, but is motivated by bettering his own achievements.

‘We’ve all got an ego, we all want to be seen to be doing the best job ever,’ he continued. ‘I want to do the best events, the ones that get the biggest ratings, that pay the biggest prize money, that make the most money, it’s all a chase after adrenaline in different ways.

‘I take a lot of satisfaction in where sports have got to over the last 20 or 30 years. Darts, snooker, boxing, Eddie would look back on this period of his life with pride because he’s taken it to another level. That’s what people like us do, what turns us on and what gets us out of bed in the morning.’

As the leading figure in snooker and darts, and with son Eddie certainly one of the most influential people in boxing, the Hearns wield substantial power in the sporting world.

However, Barry feels sport as a whole is done a disservice by those in political power who do not give sporting endeavours the support needed to reach new heights.

Hearn feels he takes care of the professional level of his sports, but there must be improvements to how amateur activities are run.

‘We do need a better infrastructure in the UK for amateur sport because so many of the governing bodies are run by blazers – that’s not a compliment – who are passionate about their sport but have no idea about commercial ramifications,’ said Hearn. ‘

That has to change because amateur sport is essential to the country and essential to me. Things like diversification, across women, ethnic communities, age, disability, there’s a whole range and it’s such a big job, I get frustrated as I get older because I think it should be government-led.

‘I don’t think successive governments have paid sport the respect it deserves and made investment in sport that unifies the nation, keeps us entertained and makes us lead a better lifestyle.

‘I always think, whatever we pay for defence, we should put the same into sport and we don’t. We rely on amateur enthusiasts to do it and it’s not their fault that they’re not good enough.

’ A master salesman and spin doctor, Hearn could have been a politician in another life, and fancies himself as one, but although he knows it is too late for him to pursue that career path, he doesn’t mind telling the government how he would do things.

‘If I was 20 years younger…obviously I’d make a great Prime Minister, but the minister for sport, it’s an outrage that that isn’t a full cabinet position,’ Barry said.

‘I was talking to him yesterday, I said “the problem with you guys; you’re great, you’re passionate, but you have absolutely no power. I might as well talk to a tree!”

‘They’re lovely people, intelligent, good ideas, but zero power. That’s the first thing I’d want to change, the minister for sport is a cabinet position. It’s as important as defence, certainly as important as the charities we support overseas with our development fund. God knows what we could do with that money.

‘Times like this you do get a little bit isolationist, you do what’s right for us. Why haven’t we got this PPE? Imagine me running that! I’d have every bastard in the world making that stuff. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would be effective and efficient.

‘That’s the same with sport, yes we need to do more, across a whole range of sport. Who’s going to do it? You can’t lump everything on Bazza!’

There is no doubt that the fire still burns in Hearn and his love of sport is unquestionable as he turned his political anger towards a lack of funding for grassroots cricket.

‘What pisses me off, we win the Cricket World Cup, within 24 hours, the entire team is on the lawn at 10 Downing Street with Theresa May having their picture taken.

‘Over the last 12 years, 50% of local village teams have gone out of business. 50%! I wouldn’t go. I appreciate a wonderful victory, great for the nation, but do something for my sport and I’ll come and have my picture taken. Is that a good swap?

‘In the realities of what we spend on everything else it’s a pittance but sport doesn’t get the respect. People criticise, there’s not enough amateur snooker competitions. I know there’s not! What do you want me to do?

‘I’ve done my bit. I’m trying to get the dream out there, but I need a bit of help, boys.

‘Until someone puts point-whatever per cent of our GDP into sport and it won’t be sidetracked into other things to save money, then like any business you have a budget and you can allocate a budget, it’s simple business and it frustrates me.’

So what’s next for Hearn? Getting his sports back on track through and after the coronavirus crisis is the immediate concern, but he, as ever, is looking further ahead.

Neither a second heart attack nor a global pandemic can keep Barry down, and he will plough on in search of more success.

‘The world’s a changing place,’ he said. ‘The numbers have been amazing, the company’s grown from me underneath a billiard hall into one of the biggest sports companies in the world. It’s very satisfying.

‘But then along comes this virus and we’re an events company without any events.

‘We have to be creative like we have been with the darts at home and next week we’ll trial some snooker stuff and get ready as this lockdown eases, hopefully some behind closed doors events before we can go on to entertaining live audiences.

‘This is something I’ve never experienced in my life, I think it’s our toughest challenge and we have no idea really how long it’s going to go on for and how much damage and pain it’s going to cause,

‘Looking ahead, I don’t think we’ve gone as far as we can go anywhere, even in the UK and Europe. I’m pleased to say the numbers are going up everywhere, in all our broadcasters.

‘Realistically, obviously I’ve done an outstanding job, but compare snooker to golf in China we’re still miles behind even though we get bigger figures, so there’s an image perception issue still

‘Tennis and golf are probably the two that I compare us to to say “why on Earth aren’t we four times bigger when we are actually 10 times bigger for exposure and audience? The World Snooker Championships get 500 million viewers, a hell of a lot of them are from China. It dwarves virtually everything else in China. I feel we’ve still got huge potential there.’

Given his relentless drive, many onlookers assume it is all about the money for the snooker supremo, but Hearn says that has long since subsided as a motivating factor.

‘People will always say it’s about the money, but that’s usually people with no money say that.

‘When you get to a certain stage with money you are doing it for love and passion. Like I found out a couple of weeks ago, I miss it, its not about how much you make, that’s just a measuring stick.’

Barry Hearn does not exactly come across as humble there … but we knew that already.

There is no doubt about his passion for sport, but, although I love many sports, in my opinion, sport should not be a top priority in any government. Not until poverty is eradicated, not until quality food, health care, and education are REALLY available to all. We are very far from that. And when I write education, I’m not speaking about academic grades, I’m speaking about much more fundamental things: knowing how society functions and how to function in it, understanding the basics of the economical, and political systems we live in, understanding our place and impact on the global ecosystem, developing the ability to reason, analyse and be creative, to grow a critical mind as not to fall for dogma, myths, and indoctrination, be it political, racial or religious. And more down to earth, being educated to the basics of health care (physical and mental health), nutrition, and cooking. Sport has its role in this, but it’s far from being the highest priority. Art, for instance, is just as important. Sciences and engineering are MORE important.

In this crisis, when I see people not understanding why they should stay home for now, when I read that people have died after following Donald Trump “suggestions”,  when statistics show that in some “civilized” countries – yes the UK as well – as much as one child in three lives in poverty and needs to rely on food banks and government-funded free meals, my feeling is that we are very far from what a true “civilized” society should be. In that context, sport can be a tool to achieve the goal, but it’s not the main tool.

Also when I see someone like Donald Trump being elected as the president of the biggest military power on the planet, I can only despair. This is the failure of democracy because so many people aren’t ready for democracy: they are too gullible, too irresponsible and too selfish. It’s the result of education failure, and again it’s not about grades, there is no such thing as a “Ph.D. in true humanity”. Then, of course, dictatorship is worse… so much worse.

When I read that “it unifies the nation”, I cringe. There is so much tribalism in sport. So much of “us against them” spirit when it comes to supporters. Think hooliganism, think about how much aggression you witness in pubs every time England plays Wales or Scotland at rugby for instance. Sport SHOULD be a unifying factor – that was part of Pierre de Coubertin Olympic dream – but let’s be honest, only too often sport is just the opposite.


5 thoughts on “An interview with Barry Hearn

  1. When Barry Hearn had his heartatack this year people was asking who will take over from him now the name Eddie Hearn and even Steve Davis was mentioned.

    I Said nobody he will be back ASAP Barry is a control freak he wont hand over anything at all.

    At the moment the World is crying out for Sport as a escapism there is only so much virtuality you can cope with i got bored with that after first week of Lockdown and the cancilation of Sport.

    Sport is very maralle booster and boy do we need a marale booster at the moment BUT there are more important things that needs adressing world wide for example the money given to sports could be used to fund medical reserch and pay the hopefully increased wages of the Health Workers all over the World now

  2. As he once said to an upcoming young pro who was winging about this and that ” you can be mediocre if you want, but I tell what mediocre is BORING “. lol. Your Never beat the Baz.

    • And, what’s your point? You can be mediocre at sport and brilliant in other things. Barry Hearn himself admits to being mediocre at sport. To me being a great person will always be more important than being a great sportsperson… or a great businesperson for that matters.

  3. No, no. the clue is in the interview – he’s described as a ‘master salesman and spin doctor’. He absolutely does not want any kind of government inteference. He would welcome any subsidy of course, but at the moment he needs the government to authorise his plans. That part of the interview is purely aimed at trying to put pressure on the government to allow him to stage events.

    I have already explained how I think he could expand and improve the standard of snooker (with a unified ranking system), but there are rival organisations and cooperation is not happening. It’s going to be difficult with the existing structure to keep everyone together if there are travel limitations for 12 months, even after lockdowns have eased off.

    I do agree that sport ‘unifies the nation’ to an extent. Yes, there is ‘tribalism’ but only a few people take that very seriously. But if there is a snooker tournament on BBC in August, millions of people will watch it and be engaged by it.

    • He doesn’t want government interference in HIS business, but he wants the government to sponsor the amateur game, and sport getting more importance at political level. My view is that there are far more important things to promote.

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