GARY WILSON ON TESTING TIMES: WHY SNOOKER COVID-19 RULE CHANGE IS POSITIVE NEWS
Former World Championship semi-finalist Gary Wilson tells Desmond Kane why he feared being forced to take another Covid-19 test with snooker’s organisers updating the guidelines on Thursday to fall into line with other major professional sports.
In normal times, the only test Gary Wilson would be worrying about before the English Open is the one 15-year-old Ukrainian prodigy Iulian Boiko will provide in the first round on Tuesday night. But these are far from normal times. For society or professional sport.
In the year of the pandemic, it seems difficult to remain positive. Especially when you are positive.
World number 18 Wilson is attempting to refocus his season after being forced to withdraw from the European Masters – the first major ranking event of the season – on Tuesday 22 September before his match with Duane Jones after a Covid-19 test came back positive despite being blissfully unaware of his plight.
The fall-out saw his fellow professionals Elliot Slessor and David Lilley also pulled from the event after he enjoyed a spot of dinner with them at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, the somewhat surreal new temporary home of snooker behind closed doors.
A similar fate befell the unfortunate world number 55 Daniel Wells before he was due to face world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in the European Masters opening round after he tested positive. Contact with Michael White saw his fellow Welshman deprived of a place in the event despite being well.
The double whammy for Wells was turning up at the Championship League last week after self-isolating for 10 days only to re-test and still return a positive outcome on Friday 2 October.
The asymptomatic Wilson – the potting pride of Wallsend in North Tyneside – had no idea he was carrying coronavirus as well as his cue case, but is hoping to avoid a similar fate with the first of the Home Nations series breaking off on Monday.
“I’m absolutely fine thankfully. I tested positive a couple of weeks ago and did my self-isolation period,” Wilson told Eurosport. “In the meantime, me and Dan Wells have been texting each other because we were obviously in the same boat.
“He was fuming the other day because he tested positive again and then it has all came out when he’s done more research that you shouldn’t be really tested again until 42 days after you’ve tested positive.
“That information has come from public health in England and he has passed that information onto Jason Ferguson (the chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association). Jason has been sympathetic about the situation and is trying to clarify it.
“So I’ve told the snooker authorities that I don’t really want to turn up to the English Open and have to do a test again on Monday.
“The information is pretty clear from medical people that you shouldn’t be doing tests until six weeks after you’ve tested positive because there is still the risk of dead viral cells in your body.
“It has been on the news lately. It is actually a fact that you can no longer be contagious or have the illness, but can still test positive because of the dead viral cells in your body.
“That is what has been going on this week basically. The WPBSA are trying to come to some agreement with medical officers that we shouldn’t need tested again so soon after testing positive.
“Dan has missed out twice basically. He shouldn’t have been tested at the Championship League and I’ve got a test coming up on Monday that I shouldn’t have to test according to the stated medical advice.”
Since this interview, Wilson and Wells – who faces Mark Davis in the first round – have got the clarity they require with the players being informed by the sport’s authorities on Thursday they will not have to undergo another test enabling them to participate in the English Open without the stress of being forced to withdraw.
“Any player who tests positive will NOT be re-tested for a period of 30 days from the date of when the positive test was taken unless the player is demonstrating symptoms of the virus,” said World Snooker Tour in a statement released to the players on Thursday “following lengthy consultation with our Chief Medical Officer (CMO), plus other senior medical consultants familiar in the Covid19 pandemic.”
“1. The above policy is similar to that applied by other professional sports bodies, for example, the English Football League, who have adopted the same government guidelines but with a re-testing period of not before 90 days since the positive test,” said the statement.
“WST will continue to review this situation and will make changes to this policy if it is felt appropriate to do so and in consultation with our CMO.”
Wilson – who lost to Judd Trump in the World Championship semi-final in 2019 after defeating Mark Selby during a glorious run – believes it is right snooker tightened up the regulations in conjunction with the relevant medical advice.
The ardent Newcastle United supporter points to the guidelines Premier League and golf are adhering to as both common sense and caution in being safer than a bout of Selby safety play.
“It’s 100 percent we shouldn’t be tested so soon,” commented the 2015 China Open finalist. “As far as I’m concerned, if me and Dan get tested again it’s not really acceptable.
“There are other sports that are different because they are outdoor sports like football and golf. Snooker is a little bit different because it is indoors, but football is saying 90 days after the first positive test you don’t get tested again.
“They are kissing and cuddling on the field and have 90 days after a positive test. If they can implement that rule in the Premier League, and I think golf is 30 days, what is snooker doing? If the evidence is there that you shouldn’t get tested for 42 days, there is every chance I could come down again, test positive and get kicked out of the event for no reason.
“I’m hoping a bit of common sense will apply here.
“I had a four-hour drive down to Milton Keynes, got my test, stayed in the hotel overnight, tested positive then got back in the car back up the road for the self-isolation period.
“The WPBSA gave us all £200 as a goodwill gesture for travelling expenses the last time which was kind of them, but nobody wants to go through this. No test is the only way forward for me.”
While Wilson tested positive before embarking upon his period of self-isolation at home, his fiancée Robyn was tested and returned a negative outcome.
“It has been a serious illness for some people, but I never even knew I had it. All I had was a tickly throat. I possibly had tiredness, but that’s a hard one to determine because everybody feels tired at time,” explained Wilson.
“I can remember thinking I was going to bed a bit earlier a few nights, but you never really know if that is a symptom.
“The tests are probably right that I did have it, but I was very mild. At the most, a tickly throat.
“No headaches, cough or flu-like symptoms so for me it was just a case of doing your 10 days isolation as per the recommendation after the test just to be sure and I got out of self-isolation last Friday before going down the club on Saturday to start practising again.
“I’ve been absolutely fine and so has my partner Robyn. We’ve been sharing same bed etc, and she has had a test that came up negative.”
“It’s a bit of a strange one,” opined Wilson, who has made over 150 centuries in his career. “Some people don’t seem to catch it or catch it and don’t know they have it.
“It makes me wonder if I had it. I have absolutely no idea where I would have caught it. There is nothing that stands out. It is just something random.
“Me, Elliot and David had food the night before. I was asked that question when I came back positive and obviously couldn’t lie about it. I feel a little bit guilty, but there was nothing much I could do about it.
“We were all doing social distancing and following the regulations. It is just unfortunate that we’ve all had to sacrifice a tournament because of it.”
Like his fellow professionals, Wilson, 35, is adapting to the new normal of trying to perform without fans amid an outpouring of hand sanitizer, one-way arrows around venues and a face mask looming as closely as his chalk. A jobsworth’s dream, but a living pestilence for professional sport.
“It’s going to be a very strange season, but thankfully as a player there are still lot of tournaments there to play in,” said the straight-talking cueist, who is hoping his wedding to Robyn can still go ahead next spring.
“You just have to make as much money as you can because it’s not really about pleasing fans at the venue. Nobody knows where this will all end.
“You can understand why they’ve moved the events to Milton Keynes. The Championship League in June there was really strict, everybody adhered to the rules and there was no room for anybody to step out of line in any respect.
“Everybody was scared at the time, but I think that gave the players a lot of confidence because the venue was so clean.
“From a business side, it makes sense to keep the events there. It saves them a fair bit of money and allows them to keep the tour going for the rest of the season.
“We’ll still have the UK Championship in York, but it’s understandable to stop moving about at the moment. We’ve just got to be thankful that the sponsors have stayed on board.
“I’ve got full praise for (World Snooker Tour chairman) Barry Hearn, World Snooker Tour and Matchroom for all their efforts to keep the sport ticking over. ”
The fact that this disease comes in so many forms – ranging from being asymptomatic, to being deadly, or leaving people with permanent debilitating health issues – is the reason really why tests MUST be done and everyone has to be extra cautious.
Now of course, if a person who has tested positive, and is over the disease, will stay positive for a while even though they aren’t contagious anymore, common sense has to prevail IF re-infection can be excluded in the immediate aftermath of the disease because immunity has been gained.