Barry Hearn outlines plans for snooker return with players virus tested
Snooker could be one of the first major sports to resume following the coronavirus lockdown, with a Championship League tournament for 64 players set to go ahead in Leicester next month
Professional snooker will restart in two weeks’ time – under a strict new set of health and safety measures.
A Championship League tournament for 64 players with a first prize of £20,000 is to take place at the Morningside Arena in Leicester from June 1st-11th.
This will see the game become one of the first major sports to resume following lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
The rescheduled Betfred World Championship is due to begin on July 31st and next month’s events will get players back to work and offer a chance to road-test a new safety code.
The announcement comes after talks between WST and the DCMS and minister for sport, with input from snooker’s all-party group of MPs.
The likes of world No1 and reigning world champion Judd Trump would all have to be throat swab tested for Covid-19 prior to being accepted into the draw.
They would have to show negative, and that would apply to all entering the venue. A hugely trimmed operation would see player guests barred.
Masks would have to be worn by players at all times in the building except during the match and practice.
All those entering the venue would have to complete a full health check, and during the day no one could leave without permission of World Snooker Tour.
The venue would be fully sanitised in advance, players would be forced to wash their hands before playing, and would have personal hand sanitisers by their chair.
They must remain at least 2m apart from their opponent and the referee, and use their own set of playing accessories like rests and spiders.
In a letter sent to all professional players, WST chairman Barry Hearn said: “Health concerns, border closures and the very real possibility of playing events ‘behind closed doors’ may well be problems that exist for some time.
“In anything we do the health and safety of our players, employees and contractors is our primary objective.
“I remain, however, positive about the future of the sport and our ability to rise to the challenges presented.
“I shall next week write to you on my plans for recovery, a blueprint for activity, but bearing in mind in these uncertain times that they will be conditional on the virus situation around the world and various government guidelines.
“I appreciate that travel restrictions may mean that some of you are out of the country, however in order to stay ahead in a highly competitive sports industry, I must start the process by introducing phase 1 of the blueprint for activity as soon as possible.
“Phase 1 of these plans will see Championship League Snooker played ‘behind closed doors’ Live on ITV at the Morningside Arena, Leicester from Monday 1 – Thursday 11 June.
“One small step at a time is the order of the day, so I need to know if you wish to play in this event and I need to know quickly!
“All players, staff and contractors will be virus tested prior to accessing the venue.
“Please appreciate we are doing everything in our power to create a safe environment for your return to professional snooker.
“I would like to believe the whole Tour is behind this initiative, but it remains each players choice as to whether he or she plays in this event.
“For those players overseas who cannot return to the UK to compete, other playing opportunities are being investigated for you.”
This is great news. As you can read, organising and running that tournament under the current circumstances is a challenge and it will be difficult, and rather alien for everyone. This time there is a clear plan regarding how to protect the health of everyone involved. It will also be the opportunity to test the feasibility of running more important tournaments and evaluate how players, referees, officials, media crew and staff venue cope with the situation.
I hope that the players will give it a good go and support the initiative. Surely there will be things that may prove impractical or need improvement but the best way to find a safe working solution will be to give WPBSA and WST feedback and to collaborate with the authorities so that those issues can be resolved.
I’m also glad to read that opportunities are to be created for those who can’t return to the UK. The obvious one would probably be a similar tournament in China.