The importance of the World Championship …

Desmond Kane, writing for Eurosport reflects on the importance of the Snooker World Championship 

WorldChampsGallery

Desmond Kane explains why the World Championship is snooker’s only major – and why its status as the toughest event to win ensures its iconic standing above any other tournament in the sport.

“We have to remember that there is only one World Championship a year. It is not like winning majors in golf. Majors are always around the corner in tennis and golf, but in snooker you have to wait another year, and another year. I know from personal experience, it is difficult when you go a few years without one.”

It is important to recognise the cultural and historical significance of the World Championship, first staged at Camkin’s Hall in Birmingham in 1927 and held in its modern televised form at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield since 1977.

The Triple Crown of World Championship, Masters and UK Championship is a relatively new phenomenon in snooker. It certainly did not exist in the mainstream lexicon of the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s when the glorious Ted Lowe’s hushed tones in the commentary box helped to enhance the sport beyond a sense of kitchen-sink drama, shining a light on what working-class men did in time away from the wife.

It was only encouraged as part of a ‘major’ set by the BBC in the past decade when they stopped showing the old Grand Prix, an event which could in theory have provided us with four snooker ‘majors’ on terrestrial television. It is a sharp marketing idea, but you cannot suddenly change history or meaning in sport.

You cannot suddenly claim Indian Wells is on the same level as Wimbledon in tennis. Or the Players Championship has parity with the Masters in golf.

It should also be noted that winning the Triple Crown is only truly soothing on the senses if you already have the World Championship stored in your locker. Which men like perennial runner-up Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White do not.

“I’d give everything I’ve won this season to win that trophy,” said world champion Judd Trump prior to last year’s final. “In the past I’d probably say differently, but now I’m of the age where to win that trophy for me and my family would mean everything.”

1946 World Championship

In what feels like another world away, Stuart Bingham carried off the Masters in January to add to his World Championship victory in 2015. If he does not win the UK title, it matters not. All his lifetime achievements crystallised at the Crucible five years ago. He could retire a content figure tomorrow knowing he achieved his dreams in the sport.

Would he prefer another world title or a UK? It is a bit like wondering if a player would prefer 15 blacks with his reds in every frame.

The Masters and the UK have historical significance beyond the Crucible, but they are great tournaments in their own right rather than a true rival to the colour-draining demands of Sheffield in springtime. Less time, strain and demands are placed on winning them. Less meaning is therefore attached to triumph.

To suggest the World Championship is on the same level as the Masters or the UK is a bit like arguing K2 presents the same challenge as Ben Nevis. Look at the blokes who never made it to the top. The Hillary Step at the Crucible can be mentally excoriating beyond anything else that snooker throws up.

“This is what we all play for, we grew up watching this tournament above the rest. It’s the pinnacle,” the 1997 world champion Ken Doherty told me.

“In golf, you get four goes at it in the Majors, but that’s what makes this harder to win because it only passes this way once a year. For these guys, it would be a cherry on the cake.”

When you reach the semi-finals of the World Championship, a top-16 seed would have won 36 frames. He needs another 35 over five more days to win the tournament. If you are a qualifier these days, you are looking at winning 66 frames to reach the last four. It goes on and on, session after session, day after day. Not so much a celebration of snooker, more a demand to stay upright.

WorldChampsGallery

Little wonder it has been described as a bow-tied torture chamber. It might not be to everybody’s liking, but that is part of the challenge. For the viewer, it is wonderfully engrossing as players are sometimes forced to confront their own soul between shots, sitting contemplating who knows what, stuck alone with their thoughts and a pint of water.

As a way to earn money, snooker is a darkening experience. White seen less light than Blade as he came up agonisingly short in his bid to enter paradise. There is more than one route out of potting perdition. It is made for grinders and speed merchants, dreamers and realists. It is the ultimate test of technique and concentration.

Unlike other tournaments, nobody forgets who won the World Championship. And nor should they. Its stature as snooker’s ultimate event is assured. It has been and always will be snooker’s only major despite attempts to alter the narrative for marketing purposes.

It is all there in black and white and in full colour over a golden 93 years. Even if staged behind closed doors this year due to the coronavirus health crisis, it will still let the world in. It is survival of the fittest, mentally and emotionally the most demanding event of them all, but the riches on offer are forever.

From Joe Davis to Steve Davis, from Hurricane Higgins to Rocket Ronnie, it has made immortal men in waistcoats, armed only with a lump of chalk, a snooker cue and their childhood dreams of entering green baize utopia.

Desmond Kane

Watch every ball, every frame and every break of the 2020 World Championship LIVE on Eurosport starting on Saturday 31 July until Sunday 16 August.

Snooker’s Multiple World Champions

  • Joe Davis (England)
  • 15 – 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1946
  • Fred Davis (England)
  • 8 – 1948, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956
  • John Pulman (England)
  • 8 – 1957, 1964, 1964, 1965, 1965, 1965, 1966, 1968
  • Stephen Hendry (Scotland)
  • 7 – 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999
  • Steve Davis (England)
  • 6 – 1981, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989
  • Ray Reardon (Wales)
  • 6 – 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978
  • Ronnie O’Sullivan (England)
  • 5 – 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013
  • John Higgins (Scotland)
  • 4 – 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011
  • Mark Williams (Wales)
  • 3 – 2000, 2003, 2018
  • Mark Selby (England)
  • 3 – 2014, 2016, 2017
  • John Spencer (England)
  • 3 – 1969, 1971, 1977
  • Walter Donaldson (Scotland)
  • 2 – 1947, 1950
  • Alex Higgins (Northern Ireland)
  • 2 – 1972, 1982

It is obvious, reading this article, that the (re-)build-up to World Championship has started in the media, although there are still uncertainties. A lot, I guess, will depend on how smoothly the Championship League, starting next week, will go. Jason Ferguson is putting in every effort to make sure that all the players will be able to play in it unless it’s their choice not to enter. It’s a massive challenge, as will be organising the qualifiers, involving 128 players.

The most likely scenario, if the tournament does go ahead, is that it will be played behind closed doors. It will be weird, and it will be challenging for everyone. The broadcaster and media will almost certainly need to change their approach to the coverage. The logistics alone represent another massive challenge, from health and security to medical support, accommodations,  practice, transport … everything will need careful planning and a lot of work.

Some players will probably struggle in an empty arena, whilst it might actually help others.

If it does go ahead – and I’m starting to believe that it actually might – Barry Hearn, Jason Ferguson, and everyone at WST and WPBSA will deserve the highest praise!

 

Jason Ferguson is confident that every player will be able to play in the World Championship if they so wish

Jason Ferguson gave this very encouraging interview, speaking to Phil Haig

World Snooker Championship is full steam ahead and we’re confident every player will be there, says Jason Ferguson

Phil Haigh – Saturday 23 May 2020

Jason Ferguson
Jason Ferguson is working tirelessly to get his players back on the baize (Picture: Getty Images)

The World Snooker Championship is going on full steam ahead and WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson is confident no player will be left out as he takes on a mission to get everyone back to Sheffield for the big one.

The biggest event in the sport is due to start at the Crucible on the rescheduled date of 31 July, but there has been an ongoing concern over players getting to the tournament, and doing so safely.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, players have returned to their home countries and getting them back into the UK to play snooker is no easy task with travel restricted and the 14-day quarantine coming into place in the UK in June.

Holding the sport’s crown jewel event without a string of top players being able to get there would be far from ideal, and Ferguson is sure that it can be avoided.

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association chief says there is tireless work going on behind the scenes, and has been since lockdown began, to at least give players the option to play, if they want to.

‘We have a number of Chinese players out in China and we’re talking to government about how this is going to work,’ Ferguson told Metro.co.uk.

‘If we do the World Championship end of July, which we believe is full steam ahead at this moment in time, then we’ve got to consider the travel of those international players. How quarantine will work, where they will go, how they’ll get there, so we’re preparing processes for that.

‘I have to say that I’m very confident that we’ll have the opportunity to get everybody back. We have to consider that some people will not want to travel at this moment in time, and that has to be the player’s choice. But I think we will get to a point where every player can get back to the UK for the World Championships.

‘The list of complications is endless: visas, travel, quarantine, but it does look achievable and we’ve got a great team of people working on that at the WPBSA.

‘The first day of lockdown we did a location plan of every single player. Where are they? Are they okay? Tracked every player. Every player got home or chose to stay in the UK and there’s about 40 players out of the country, a mix between Europe and Asia, mainly. But we do think they will be able to return. If we do lose some it will probably be through players’ choice.’

Jason Ferguson - Ronnie O'Sullivan
Ferguson is well-supported in his role by the players (Picture: Getty Images)

World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn previously told Metro.co.uk that he may be forced into playing ranking events with a minimum of 75% of players in attendance, if the rest simply could not attend.

Ferguson does not want to see that situation happen, and is sure it won’t, but acknowledges that when a tournament is set in stone, it will go ahead with or without some people.

‘We certainly don’t want to go ahead without any player, which is why we’re doing this extensive work behind the scenes,’ the chairman continued.

‘But we’re full steam ahead, once you engage venues, broadcasters, contracts, it becomes a fact that the event is going to go ahead.

‘With a 14-day quarantine, players will have to be back earlier. We’ve contacted all those players and we do think the players can get back.

‘If that quarantine is a problem then we will try and work with the government to try and produce a safe plan for everybody. We don’t know how that would work, maybe one building that’s quarantined for our people. I don’t know.

‘We’re not sure how it’ll work. I think it’s 22 Chinese players in China. It might be the case that they all come back together on the same flight and have to be quarantined together.

‘If that’s a hotel and they have to have practice facilities then we’ll look at that as well. But then there’s getting tables in, table fitters, transport, the problems are endless.

‘The good thing is that we’re using independent advice and safety is paramount importance. We’ve got loads of energy for the sport and a lot of passion for it. We will investigate, find the pros and cons and get the answers. We’re working full on to get everybody back and we’ll give the players as much support as possible to do so.’

Hear, Ferguson, Allen, Bingham
Ferguson and Hearn, as chairmen of the WPBSA and WST have had a huge impact on the game (Picture: Getty Images)

Snooker returns from the coronavirus hiatus on 1 June with the 64-man Championship League, behind closed doors, at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes and it will work as something of a test event for the World Championship.

There are extremely thorough health and safety practices laid out for the tournament, with all players being tested for COVID-19 and social distancing measures remaining in play.

The interest in the event has been widespread, with many big names getting involved, and Ferguson is hoping similar events can be put on for the players still abroad.

‘We will learn a lot over the next few weeks, we’re embarking on our first snooker event on 1 June, which will be a way of getting these processes 100% right and a lot of work is going into that,’ Jason said.

‘We appreciate we can’t get players back for this first ever but we are making the same offer overseas for groups of players to see if we can pull together some smaller events to keep them busy in the meantime. We’re considering everyone around the world, we care about everybody, we have to look at it globally.

‘The uptake in the Championship League has been extremely positive. Initially 77 players registered immediately. Outside of that, there are many more players that want to play.

‘We understand the problems of players overseas, 128 players on the tour and 40 of them are overseas, so that brings that number down and means the turnout is actually huge, a very high percentage for this event.

‘What has helped is the detail we’ve provided about the processes at the venue, it’s extreme caution and will be very carefully managed. I think that’s given the players confidence to go there.’

Away from the professional side of the game, the WPBSA has also been working hard to get snooker clubs across the country back on their feet as they have been closed throughout lockdown.

It is another huge slab of work going on behind the scenes which Ferguson feels is vital, not only for the continuation of the sport, but for the mental health of people who rely on going to play a few frames with their friends as a huge part of their social life.

‘We’ve been in contact with government to see how we can get players access to practice,’ he said. ‘Believe it or not most players’ have their practice tables in snooker clubs because they want to be in an environment around people, not locked in a room at home or in their garden. Less than 10 of our players, play at home, amazing.

‘That’s a process that’s been done. The second part of that is the soft opening of facilities so that people can use that as part of a safe get-out. There’s a lot of people stuck in their houses right now and it’s very concerning, the mental health side of things going on, and snooker is a major player in mental health support and a major player in getting an ageing population out and doing something together.

‘We’ve submitted the proposals and they have been looked at, we haven’t received anything back yet but we will be following up with government next week.

‘What I didn’t want was for snooker to fall under pub and club closures. People say “oh, it’s a bar isn’t it?” It’s not.

‘I didn’t want to see snooker left out when tennis courts, football pitches, basketball courts were reopening. What we have to do is create a safe environment: one-way systems, secure entry, people on the door managing numbers, every other table. It won’t be perfect, it might be difficult and it might be hard without the social side, but they are snooker clubs with a social element.’

I’m extremely happy to read how determined Jason is to make sure that no player who wants to play, is left out. Jason is a former player, he loved the game when playing it professionally and still loves it just as much now as the WPBSA chairman. That’s his main drive, not business nor money. He’s an extremely hard worker, and I’m certain that he puts every effort to get snooker back, but not at the cost of players’ health and safety, and not if the World Championship becomes a UK centric event.  He has worked very hard over the last years to promote snooker all over the world; very promising young talents are emerging both in Asia and in mainland Europe. The international side is important to him.

 

Interesting post coming from Luca Brecel team…

This has been posted on Faceook bu Luca’s team.

Hello everyone, it has been a while…
Some wonder when will the season start again 🤷🏼‍♀️?
Good news, 1st of June we’re back on the table. a new format of the Champions league is out!
Luca is planned on 2nd of June and faces Jack Lisowski, Robbie Williams and Oliver Lines in his group.
The only issue: how to get there 😰
Worldsnooker is arranging an exception to enter the UK for snooker players only 🤞🏼

The bold highlight has been zadded by me.

Here is a translation of the linked article (originally in Dutch)

With or without Luca Brecel? Snooker season resumes in early June

SNOOKER After a months-long interruption due to the corona pandemic, the snooker season will resume in early June. With or without Luca Brecel (25)? He does not know at this time whether he is allowed to enter England.

From Monday 1 to Thursday 11 June, the Championship League will take place in a new format and behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes. That location was chosen because there is the possibility to accommodate everyone. Players, staff and officials will not be allowed to leave the complex. All 128 professional players received an invitation on the bus, the 64 highest ranked players who accept the invitation are admitted. This is on condition that they take a negative coronavirus test. Top players such as world champion Judd Trump (WS-1), Neil Robertson (WS-2), Mark Allen (WS-5) and Kyren Wilson (WS-8) have already committed.

In the first phase, from June 1 to 8, sixteen groups of four will be played. The sixteen group winners will play in groups of four on June 9 and 10, of which the four group winners will compete in the final group on June 11. All games are about four frames. For each participant there is at least £ 1,000 (1,100 euros) in prize money, the tournament winner will raise £ 30,000 (33,500 euros).

Luca Brecel (WS-37) also received an invitation. He is itching to get back to it, but a number of practical problems arise. “We do not currently know whether we are allowed entering England,” said father Carlo Brecel. Are the borders open? Do we get there by car via Calais? Can we fly from the Netherlands? And what happens on arrival in the UK? Should we then be quarantined?”

More questions than answers at the moment for the Brecel family. “We are waiting for further instructions from World Snooker, hopefully there will be more clarity after the weekend.” Just last week, the British government put a plan on the table that would require everyone to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival in the UK. In addition, no exceptions would be made for professional athletes. Snooker is said to be the first major sport in England to return to live television since the outbreak of the corona crisis. .

 

Ronnie will play in the Championship League Snooker in June

Indeed WST has now published the draw, format and prize money per round for the event

Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and World Champion Judd Trump are among the leading snooker stars to have confirmed their entry to Championship League Snooker, which will mark the return of live snooker to TV screens when it begins on ITV on Monday, June 1st.

Mark Allen, Kyren Wilson and Stuart Bingham are among the other top-16 players who have entered and will compete at Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes.

Group Draw

Monday June 1st
Group 2
Judd Trump
Daniel Wells
Elliot Slessor
David Grace

Group 13
David Gilbert
Stuart Carrington
Jak Jones
Jackson Page

Tuesday June 2nd
Group 9
Jack Lisowski
Luca Brecel
Robbie Williams
Oliver Lines

Group 3
Michael Holt
Mark Davis
Mark Joyce
Louis Heathcote

Wednesday June 3rd
Group 12
Kyren Wilson
Ryan Day
Alfie Burden
Chen Feilong

Group 4
Joe Perry
Mark King
Sam Baird
Harvey Chandler

Thursday June 4th
Group 5
Mark Selby
Liang Wenbo
Joe O’Connor
Lee Walker

Group 14
Gary Wilson
Matthew Stevens
John Astley
Mitchell Mann

Friday June 5th
Group 10
Ronnie O’Sullivan
Chris Wakelin
Michael Georgiou
Kishan Hirani

Group 15
Tom Ford
Robert Milkins
Mike Dunn
Ian Burns

Saturday June 6th
Group 1
Stuart Bingham
Ricky Walden
Jordan Brown
Jamie Clarke

Group 8
Jimmy Robertson
Ben Woollaston
Liam Highfield
Alex Ursenbacher

Sunday June 7th
Group 16
Neil Robertson
Kurt Maflin
Ken Doherty
Ashley Carty

Group 7
Barry Hawkins
Anthony McGill
Craig Steadman
Hammad Miah

Monday June 8th
Group 11
Mark Allen
Martin O’Donnell
Michael White
Nigel Bond

Group 6
Ali Carter
Matt Selt
Sam Craigie
Dominic Dale

Group Winners’ Stage

Tuesday June 9th
Group C
Winner of Group 10
Winner of Group 6
Winner of Group 1
Winner of Group 4

Group D
Winner of Group 15
Winner of Group 11
Winner of Group 8
Winner of Group 5

Wednesday June 10th
Group B
Winner of Group 12
Winner of Group 2
Winner of Group 7
Winner of Group 13

Group A
Winner of Group 14
Winner of Group 3
Winner of Group 9
Winner of Group 16

Tournament finals

Thursday June 11th
Winner of Group C
Winner of Group D
Winner of Group B
Winner of Group A

The format of matches on each day will be announced next week.

Featuring 64-players in round-robin groups, the Championship League will take place behind closed doors with strict rules on social distancing, COVID testing and hygiene in place, in line with government guidelines. The Marshall Arena has been selected as the venue as it has on-site accommodation meaning no players, officials or staff will need to leave the venue once they have entered.

Play will begin at 3pm on Monday, June 1st with Judd Trump in Group Two action. O’Sullivan enters the fray in Group Ten on Friday, June 5th. All players who entered were seeded in order of their World Ranking after the Gibraltar Open, and split into four seeding pots of 16 players, with one player from each pot drawn at random into each group.

Championship League will be split into three phases, with all matches during all stages played as the best-of-four frames. Play will begin at 3pm each day, running continuously until both groups are complete, with the exception of Friday, June 5th when play will begin at 4pm.

  • GROUP MATCHES from June 1st to 8th will feature 16 groups of four players, with two groups played each day across two tables. The player who tops each group table will progress to Phase Two. Players will be awarded three points for a win and one point for a drawn match.
  • GROUP WINNERS from June 9th to 10th sees the 16 group winners split into four further groups of four, with two groups per day also played over two tables.
  • TOURNAMENT FINALS from June 11th will see the four Phase Two winners battle it out over one final group, played on one table, to determine the Championship League winner.The total prize fund will stand at over £200,000. Players will earn a guaranteed £1,000 with the winner taking home £30,000 and a place in November’s Champion of Champions. Championship League will not be a ranking event and will be promoted by Matchroom Multi Sport.

Prize money

First group round
Winner: £4,000
2nd: £2,000
3rd: £1,500
4th: £1,000

Winners’ groups
Winner: £6,000
2nd: £2,500
3rd: £2,000
4th: £1,500

Tournament final group
Winner: £20,000
2nd: £8,000
3rd: £4,000
4th: £2,000

Total: £218,000

Unless I missed something, none of the Scottish players entered the event, which is weird. On the other hand, Alex Ursenbacher (Swiss), Luca Brecel (Belgium), Liang Wenbo and Chen Feilong (China) have entered. Hopefully, they will be able to make the trip and avoid quarantine (unless of course they are in the UK already).

Ronnie has entered and will play his first matches (and hopefully not last) on Friday, June 5th. Whatever happens, it’s a good sign that he wants to play.

More infos about the new Championship League starting on June 1, 2020

This was published today by WST:

Snooker’s Championship League will return with an exciting new format from June 1st to 11th live on ITV, bringing world-class sport back to living rooms nationwide.

Announcement from Matchroom Multi Sport

Featuring 64-players in round-robin groups, the new-look Championship League will take place behind closed doors at Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes with strict rules on social distancing, COVID testing and hygiene in place, in line with government guidelines. Marshall Arena has been selected as the venue as it has an on-site accommodation meaning no players, officials or staff will need to leave the venue once they have entered.

All 128 World Snooker Tour card holders will be invited to participate, with the top 64 who enter receiving a place in the tournament. Top players including Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson have already confirmed they will enter the event.

Championship League will be split into three phases, with all matches during all stages played as the best-of-four frames. Play will begin at 3pm each day, running continuously until both groups are complete, with the exception of Friday, June 5th when play will begin at 4pm.

• GROUP MATCHES from June 1st to 8th will feature 16 groups of four players, with two groups played each day across two tables. The player who tops each group table will progress to Phase Two. Players will be awarded three points for a win and one point for a drawn match.

• GROUP WINNERS from June 9th to 10th sees the 16 group winners split into four further groups of four, with two groups per day also played over two tables.

• TOURNAMENT FINALS from June 11th will see the four Phase Two winners battle it out over one final group, played on one table, to determine the Championship League winner.

The total prize fund will stand at over £200,000. Players will earn a guaranteed £1,000 with the winner taking home £30,000 and a place in November’s Champion of Champions. Championship League will not be a ranking event and will be promoted by Matchroom Multi Sport.

All players, staff and contractors will be virus-tested prior to entering the venue and will be in isolation until their results are known. Players will require a negative test result in order to enter the venue. They will play all group matches on one day, remaining on site throughout, and will then leave the venue.

Other safety measures in place will include:
• Social distancing measures in place throughout the venue.
• Players seated at least two metres apart during matches.
• Players using anti-bacterial hand sanitiser before matches and avoiding handshakes.
• Referees endeavouring to keep two metres away from players where possible.
• There will be no access for players’ guests.
• First aid personnel on site at all times

Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn said: “During the challenging times of the past few weeks we have examined the opportunities which still exist and worked relentlessly towards the goal of getting our tour going again. While most other sports remain sidelined, we are ready to return from June 1st. This sends out a message to the sporting world that snooker is at the forefront of innovation.

“Our first priority has to be safety and we have had detailed discussions with government in creating a set of approved guidelines for the event which will be rigorously followed. We are making this very clear to the players and everyone working on the event.

“We will be the first major sport to get back to live televised action. That’s not by chance, it’s because of the hard work and preparation we have done during the lockdown to make sure we are ready to get going again as soon as it is legal.

“Liaising with government advisors, we have prepared highly detailed health and safety documents which will be followed to the letter during the tournament. These measures surpass any others made in any other professional sport right now.

“In particular, procedures are being put in place for testing players, staff and contractors, which ensure that we are doing everything possible to keep the event safe. Players who have any doubts about their own welfare can rest assured that all precautions are being taken.

“I am confident that there is no other major sport which can meet health and safety criteria on isolation and social distancing as stringently as snooker can, so we are able to return more quickly than others.

“One of the reasons we have selected the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes is that the accommodation is on site, which means that once players arrive for testing the night before they play, they don’t need to leave until their matches have finished, and they can remain isolated within the venue. It is a superb venue with ideal facilities.

“Following testing, the players will remain in an isolated environment until they are eliminated from the event. It is a group format so the group winners will leave the venue, then come back for their next group when the process begins again. Keeping players isolated at all possible times is an integral part of the procedures we are putting in place.

“These are challenging times but as always we are looking at the opportunities rather than the limitations.

“Championship League will provide 11 days of televised sport with extensive live coverage, from 3pm until 10pm each day. For the fans out there who are starved of live sport it will be a fantastic boost and a very welcome diversion from these tough times we are all going through.

“We are thrilled to be working with ITV on Championship League for the first time, with an exciting new format. The field of players and more details will be announced in the coming days.”

Controller of ITV Sport Production, Mark Demuth, said: “We know fans have been missing live action since the lockdown has been in place, so we’re delighted to bring snooker back, marking the return of live sport to free-to-air TV. Behind the scenes, our team has been working with the event organisers to ensure strict adherence to guidelines to safeguard the well-being of all involved, which is our priority.”

Further information on format and players entered will be announced in due course.

So there are a few changes as compared to the initial announcement, and it’s clear that a lot of efforts and thoughts have been devoted to ensuring the safety and health of all involved. It’s also a welcome move that all players are guaranteed a £1000 and that the prize money for the winner has been upped to £30000.

Having accommodations on-site is also the only way to make sure that external contamination risks are kept minimal: no transports needed, no contacts with the “outside” world.

It will be interesting to see who enters, and how it goes.

Earlier today, Jason Ferguson on Twitter, said that the target for starting the World Championship Qualifiers is the 18th of July. Replicating the above model with a much longer format and 128 players would represent a massive challenge. I can only suppose that all options will be explored, including moving the qualifiers in a different venue, if accommodations on site are still deemed necessary to protect the players’, referees’ and officials’ health and safety. The delicate issue of players possibly unable to travel, by no fault of themselves, and subsequently potentially being relegated, will need to be addressed. The easiest and, in my view, fairest solution, would be to relegate nobody and cancel the Q-school. That would allow starting the 2020/21 season earlier which is highly desirable. The Q-school would “cost” at least one month in the calendar, probably more, considering that the newcomers on the tour need some time to get ready, especially if they need to get a visa, a work permit, and maybe need to relocate to the UK as well.

There will be snooker at the Crucible in July …

This was shared today by the BBC 

BBC Crucible announcement

Once again, it’s all well and nice, but unless the World Championship becomes a top 16 event, the qualifiers need to happen first, and it’s an even bigger challenge. The tournament scheduled to start on June 1, may give an indication of whether it’s actually possible to play the qualifiers, and how. However, a “best of 19” event with 128 players is certainly much more difficult to run safely than a “best of 5” event with 64 players. Also, I expect WPBSA to insist that a fair solution is found for those who will not be able to attend because of travel restrictions, and, maybe in some cases, health conditions that would put them at a higher risk than the average person. It would be totally unfair if players were relegated without a chance to defend their professional status by no fault of themselves.

 

Michael Holt, Alan McManus and Stephen Hendry about the coming “Championship League”

In the press yesterday, Michael Holt was full of praise for Barry Hearn and looking forward to the Championship League starting on June 1.

Snooker’s imminent return is incredible, important and energising, believes Michael Holt

Phil Haigh – Tuesday 19 May 2020

Michael Holt

Snooker will make its return in less than two weeks after the coronavirus hiatus, and despite the inevitable dissenting voices, Michael Holt believes it is an important step forward as the sporting world adapts to the global pandemic.

The Championship League will begin on 1 June at the Morningside Arena in Leicester, with 64 players competing behind closed doors for a £20,000 top prize. All of which will be broadcast on ITV.

Strict health and safety rules will be in place, with all players, officials and staff tested for coronavirus, the venue and all equipment sanatised and social distancing measures enforced, even during matches.

With the majority of other sport yet to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis, World Snooker Tour (WST) is attempting to help lead the way.

Chairman Barry Hearn has pushed hard to get the sport up and running again, less than two months after the 71-year-old suffered his second heart attack, and world number 25 Holt believes he should be backed in his fight for the players, fans and, of course, viewing figures.

‘Snooker, like everyone, for the foreseeable we’ve got to change the way we are,’ Holt told Metro.co.uk. ‘Until they get a vaccine or whatever happens on that front.

‘I will be playing in Leicester. It’s nice to have something to practice for and as much as I’m loving life, it’s nice to get out the house. I’ve negotiated with the club, they’ve let me in to practice.

‘It’ll be strange, it’ll be a bit weird, I suppose, with the new things in place, social distancing and whatnot, but we’ve got to accept that going forward things are going to be a bit different.

‘All credit to Barry and his team for getting the event on. It would be easy for him to sit back, use it as an excuse to do nothing and not forget about the snooker players but, you know…he’s had a heart attack!

`‘Him and his team have got the event on knowing that the players have to earn money and it’s incredible he’s even attempting it, really. If it does go ahead, all credit to him, incredible.

‘He’s a promoter and he knows it’ll be good for snooker. The fact we’re being proactive, trying to move forward, if you just stand still, where’s that going to get you? He’s accepted we’ve got to do things differently so let’s have a go.

‘On the criticism, nobody ever made a statue of a critic. People just like to have a moan. If you don’t like it don’t watch it, and if you don’t like it don’t play in it, stay indoors.’

Michael Holt

Holt is well aware that competing creates more of a health risk than staying at home, but is putting his faith in WST’s safety measures and feels that small steps back to normality need to be taken.

‘We’re getting tested,’ the Hitman continued. ‘No [I’m not worried], you can look at it how you like.

‘People are dying, it’s a risk leaving the house, I suppose, but I have to look at the stats. I’m not in the high-risk demographic, none of my family are.

‘What can I say? It’s one of those, I’ve got to leave the house at some point. What do you do? You have to do something. You take the precautions you can and carry on.

‘They know what they’re doing, they want to take the best precautions for obvious reasons. Just make the decision and do your best to protect yourself.

’ The rearranged World Snooker Championship is due to begin on 31 July in Sheffield, and the Championship League will be a first step back towards the Crucible.

Holt’s superb Snooker Shoot Out win in February saw him climb to number 25 in the world, meaning he still has to go through qualifying for the Worlds, so is keen to get back into some rhythm ahead of that critical contest.

‘With the World Championship potentially going ahead, it’s a bit of a trial run for that,’ continued the 41-year-old. ‘I’m looking forward to playing and at the end of the day it’s an opportunity to earn money, which is one of the biggest reasons I play.

‘I’ll be playing and trying my best, 100%, give it everything. It’s a nice warm up as well, if you play well, have a run, put you in good stead for the Worlds qualifiers. For every reason it’s important.

Michael Holt

‘I’ve been playing a bit, had a few games the last week or so. For me personally, I’m having the best time of my career, really.

‘I’ve been playing well for a while, won the Shoot Out, I know it’s not a normal format, but I’ve had some good performances  and I feel great, I’m happy to play as much as I can because everything’s going okay at the minute.

’ The last WST event played was the Gibraltar Open, which came to an end with Judd Trump lifting the trophy on 15 March. With the majority of players having no access to a table at home there is likely to be some rustiness in Leicester, but the Hitman is unconcerned.

‘It might show in this tournament because it’s come quite quick, but players have had 8 or 10 weeks off, we used to have that in the summer all the time,’ Michael said.

‘You don’t forget how to play in 10 weeks. I’m quite lucky, I’ve always been able to pick my cue up and feel okay. I’ve been playing a little bit and I feel alright now. You lose a bit of match sharpness, playing proper frames with people. But in terms of playing shots, it doesn’t take long to get back to normal. Other players will be different though.

‘Some players benefit from having a bit of time off, the season’s basically wall-to-wall so some might be better coming back, a bit more eager.

‘It’ll make you miss it, I’ve missed it, missed playing. I’ve always loved playing anyway, had periods where I’ve not, but at the minute I love it more than ever, for a few years now. Players will come out of it changed.’

While no one has an issue with the Championship League being played behind closed doors, the potential of the upcoming World Championship going ahead with no fans is anathema for some snooker fans.

Undoubtedly an empty Crucible would be a below-par experience but Holt does not want to see the event cancelled and, in a situation where it is impossible to please everyone, has backed WST to make the right choices,

‘It’s not as good obviously,’ said the Hitman, ‘Hopefully I get through and qualify and walking out at the Crucible with no one there is going to be strange to put it mildly.

‘But these are strange times we’re living in, we have to make the best of what we’ve got and move forward. I don’t think it’ll be like this forever, but the other option is no event.

‘Snooker is a sport that is watched by 99.9% of people on the TV. It’s a massive TV sport and it’s growing all the time. It will be watched, and if there’s not many other events on, it might be watched by even more.

‘The criticism, for me, people just like to moan. People love it, they’ll never stop moaning. You just have to do the right thing, carry on and do your best.

All credit to Barry and his team for getting it on, I don’t think there’s many other people that would have achieved it.

‘It’s one of those situations where there’s no perfect answer, it’s damage limitation. There are going to be people on the wrong end of any decisions and there’s not a lot they can do. They’ve got to make a decision that hurts the fewest people.’

While the Shoot Out champ is excited to get back on the baize, lockdown has been timed pretty well for the Holt family as it has given them time together with new arrival Sadie, although her brother was not entirely impressed with her timing.

‘We’ve enjoyed being together 24/7 basically,’ said Michael. ‘We’re still married, which is great news. It’s been a nice time, we’ve made the best of it.

‘She was born on 10 March, which is Jude’s birthday, his second birthday, which ruined it a bit. They’re going to have some good parties in the future. She came along fine, everyone’s fine, Amy did amazing.

‘The doctors have done really well, they were coming out at the start and we’ve done some video consultations. It’s strange times we’re living in, they’ve changed the way they’re doing things as well to cope with it, like everyone.’

Michael Holt’s praise for Barry Hearn’s and his team’s efforts is totally justified and it’s nice to see him eager to play again, even if conditions will be difficult. Make no mistake, they will. Making sure that social distancing is respected, that all equipment and the place are kept sanitized, that any potential infection is spotted immediately … all that will result in a lot of constraints for players and officials. And that’s just at the venue. But players and officials will have to stay somewhere, preferably in just one place that they have for themselves, with the same precautions being applied. And there is also the small matter of traveling, particularly for those who aren’t living in England.

Part of those issues was discussed by Stephen Hendry and Alan McManus in their chat last Monday.

I haven’t listened to the whole chat yet. I must confess that I struggle badly with their heavy accent. Even Reanne Evans, who of course is a native English speaker, reflected that she was close to the point of needing subtitles 😉.

But in the first half of their chat, they discuss the coming Championship League and it doesn’t look like many Scottish top players will be there.

From what I understood … Alan certainly does not intend to enter, and, for what he reports, nor do John Higgins, Stephen Maguire or Graeme Dott. John has a table at home, but the others didn’t have access to a table to practice. And John himself wasn’t apparently too keen on practice during the lockdown. Alan said that it would be a lot of hassle to play under those conditions, that traveling wasn’t straightforward and that going there unprepared was probably pointless.

Of course, younger players, hungrier, at risk to lose their tour card or just plain skint might see it differently. Someone like Scot Donaldson might be one of them: he did well this season and will certainly want to do well at WC qualifiers, should that go ahead. This would be good preparation for it.