Stephen Hendry chats with Willo … and my perceived negativity.

Here is the Instagram chat between Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams. Quite interesting and enjoyable.

Willo is bored out of his skull, has been a bit unwell, and isn’t looking forward to the prospect of playing the World Championship behind closed doors.

Here is Phil Haig reporting on that part of their conversation:

Mark Williams would prefer no World Snooker Championship than an empty Crucible

The World Snooker Championship is likely to go ahead this summer, but with the very real possibility of no fans being in attendance at the Crucible, Mark Williams would rather it didn’t.

The main event of the WST calendar has been rescheduled to start on 31 July and chairman Barry Hearn is confident it will go ahead, although it seems unlikely there will be anyone there to see it.

The Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy states that sport will be returning to broadcast from 1 June, but behind closed doors, making the July start date likely, but spectators unlikely.

There is to be another review on 4 July, which could see limited crowds let into the Crucible, but nothing is confirmed yet.

While some players will be keen to play the World Championships in any form, three-time world champ Williams would rather skip the event for a year than play in an empty auditorium, having played behind closed doors at the Gibraltar Open in March.

‘I’ve just come back from playing in Gibraltar when there was no one there and what’s the point?’ Williams told Stephen Hendry on Instagram.

‘There’s more atmosphere in the club, at least there’s someone at the bar or playing next to you. There was no one there, it was like “what are we doing here?”

‘It’s just going to be strange. Imagine paying in the Crucible, 9-9 in the first round, the visor goes up in the middle and there’s no one there, not one person.

‘If it does go ahead they’ll probably have the most viewing figures they’ve ever had because there’s not many sports going on

‘Would I prefer it to go on? Probably not if I’m totally honest, I’d rather not play if there’s no crowd, it’ll be so strange.’

WST have promised that the full prize money will be paid to players even if no crowds are present at the Crucible, and the financial issue will be bigger for some players than just overcoming an unusual atmosphere.

Speaking to when the coronavirus crisis first struck, world number 11 Dave Gilbert said: If the Worlds gets postponed then that’s a real shame, but if it gets cancelled it’s a disaster, we’re going to lose out on a fortune.

‘I’ve had a couple of good years, but I feel bad for everyone, there aren’t many players in our game who can not get paid for six-months plus.

There are a few, I don’t know the bank accounts of anyone, but if Judd and Ronnie and Selby start struggling for money then we all will be. There will be players down the rankings who might be really struggling.’

Hearn is expecting the event to go ahead and is pushing so, partly for this reason, as it is the biggest payday of the season for players involved, all of whom have seen their earning powers destroyed by the global pandemic.

‘I think we have every chance of at least staging it,’ Hearn told in April.

‘It will be with the normal prize money, it could cost us £2.5m in gate money, but that’s life, every battle comes with losses and it’s not an issue.

‘The prize money will stay the same, the players will be able to earn their money, because don’t forget most of my sportsmen are self employed.

‘They’re not contracted players like footballers, cricketers or rugby players where they’re negotiating how much to wave or defer, my guys aren’t getting anything.’

Hearn knows that losing the fans is a significant loss, but it would not be as big a loss as the whole event being cancelled.

‘It’s important for me that my players have the chance to earn money because this is the biggest one of the lot,’ he said.

‘It would be a tragedy to stage it with no one there, but if that’s the only thing we can do, that’s what we’ll do. We are talking about mitigating the size of tragedies.’

Answers to some questions:

Best win was his last World Championship win in 2018, with his family there, and proving everybody wrong.

The best decision was to give it another go when his wife convinced him not to retire and go to Steve Feeney to improve his game.

Toughest opponent? Ronnie or John Higgins

Favourite venue? Preston Guildhall. Names a few others but the Crucible isn’t one of them.

The infamous “Bangkok incident”

Williams doubts that Ding will not win the World Championship now. Too many expectations, and pressure. Ding is probably the best never have won it. He’s only 32 but Hendry thinks he’s past his best.

Rules change? Three misses and then ball in hand for the opponent instead of frame forfeited.

Turning to commentary when retired? Not really.

Remembering Alex Higgins and the little silver piggy charm he gave him. They got along well. He still has it.

The lockdown has got Willo so bored and frustrated about staying home all the time, that he now wants to play as long as possible, even badly. And when he drops off the tour … there is the Seniors tour.

Now back to the article above, yesterday’s post and my perceived negativity…

Let me first say that I certainly don’t want “to cancel everything”. I would love to see snooker return as soon as it can return safely. Barry Hearn brands the possible canceling of the World Championship a “tragedy”. The real tragedy would be if someone – a fan, a player, a referee, an official, a member of the BBC crew or the media … anyone – would get the disease because they attended the event, and dies, or survives but their health is gravely/permanently damaged, or they pass it to someone, maybe an elderly parent who dies… THAT would be a tragedy, not the cancellation of a sporting event no matter how prestigious. The canceled event can be staged another time, the dead person(s) can’t be revived. I don’t want that to happen, and I feel that nobody has right to take ANY risk about it if it can be avoided. That’s my view and nothing will change it.

Now specifically about the World Championship.

There is a possibility that it can be held safely, under closed doors, come the 31th of July. Anything else would not be safe. I read posts saying “The Crucible is less than 1000 people”. Yes indeed, but it’s a very intimate venue, people sit extremely close to each other, and some are close enough to the players to be able to touch them. The proportion of elderly persons in the snooker audience is usually quite high. Unless the crisis is totally under control NOBODY has the right to take such a risk, no matter how much money is at stake.

However, the qualifiers yield an even bigger challenge, as they involve a much higher number of persons and they need to start mid-July the latest. The qualifiers is the part of the World Championship that is ultra-important for the lower-ranked players, the ones who are currently suffering the most from the lack of earnings. They are also ultra-important because, for many players, it’s where their career could be revived … or ended.

Here are excerpts of the conversation I had this morning on Twitter with Phil Haig, the author of the above article, and Gary Moss a snooker blogger and journalist.

Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 10.12.41Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 10.13.07Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 13.16.49

Those were my points

Here are the reactions.

Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 10.08.10Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 10.06.37

Many of you may never have been backstage at the Crucible or at the EIS. I have, Gary has and Phil Haig may have. The logistic is extremely important in the current situation to keep  everyone safe.

The Crucible is a great venue for the fans – especially when we get to the one table setup – but it’s actually too small for its purpose when it comes to snooker nowadays. There isn’t much room for anything, be it players/referees room, dressing rooms, media room, practice area, tournament’s office, or hospitality. Everything is small and cramped. And even if there are no spectators some very basic things may prove difficult. Ideally, the players dressing rooms should be cleaned/disinfected each time it’s reallocated. Well during the first two rounds it’s reallocated at every session… and if one session runs late, there might not be enough time for player one to undress, and pack their things, cleaners to do their job and player two get ready for their match. Unless the schedule is completely reconsidered, with an earlier start and bigger “gaps” between sessions. It would be possible – maybe – but probably not with an audience. I can’t see the theatre opening at 7:30 so that the snooker can start at 8.

The real issues are with the qualifiers really, and it’s not just logistics. It’s also about the travel restrictions, their possible consequences, and the fair treatment of all players whose livelihood is at stakes. That’s where the last of the above screenshots comes into the conversation, and you see Phil’s last answer. There is a lot to think about, and surely WPBSA is thinking about those issues. I trust Jason Ferguson about that: he’s a former pro, he will have gone through all the uncertainties associated with being a self-employed sportsperson and he loves his sport to bits.  But he isn’t the boss, and he isn’t a businessman first and foremost. Barry Hearn is a businessman, and I’m not sure I trust him 100% here.





One thought on “Stephen Hendry chats with Willo … and my perceived negativity.

  1. Of course, all of your points are valid, as are the answers. The first thing is that all this is still 11 weeks away, and things can change for better or worse. That is why there is room for optimism, but with flexibility and contingency planning. If things go badly, then it gets postponed, but if things go according to plan…

    The notion of ‘safe’ vs. ‘not safe’ is not a black-and-white binary choice. Nothing is ‘safe’, except perhaps staying at home for the next 12 months – although actually there are risks doing that. It’s a question of reasonable risk management, which is something that varies considerably day-by-day. If we are talking about very small numbers of people, testing is feasible and can play a vital role.

    Actually, the recent information from the UK Government and Barry Hearn have provided more details, but haven’t changed what was expected anyway: if the WC goes ahead on 31st July it will be behind closed doors, the qualifiers are unlikely to happen and most of the overseas players won’t be able to participate.

    Is this fair? Of course not! I once missed a tournament because my train was cancelled: that was very unfair, but the tournament was still played. Indeed, coronavirus is a very unfair thing in lots of tragic ways. Ultimately they are trying to hold the best snooker tournament they can in an extremely difficult situation. The alternative is nothing.

    Does it pollute the record books? Yes, but we can live with that. It gives us more opportunity for endless debates in online forums!

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