Jason Ferguson is still dealing with the uncertainty Covid has brought to snooker (Picture: Getty Images)
With fans returning to the British Open on Monday it feels like snooker is returning to some normality in the UK, but there are plenty of challenges still to overcome for the sport’s organisers as the pandemic drags on across the globe.
The Turkish Masters, set for its first ever staging next month, has been postponed till March 2022, we still await a return to China for the string of big tournaments while events in the UK are still being impacted by the various changes that have occurred over the last 18 months.
Metro.co.uk caught up with WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson who gave the latest on what’s going on in the sport at the moment.
The event was postponed until next year with Turkey still on the UK’s red list and wildfires causing serious disruption in the country.
‘I’m disappointed,’ said Ferguson. ‘It’s something we’ve been working on for a while against the odds, so its disappointing to have to postpone it, but I’m really excited about Turkey. I firmly believe it’s going to be one of the best events on the World Snooker Tour in the long-term, it’s such a fantastic location.
‘It’s going to happen, it’s just a case of when we can do it safely. When we do it we want to do it with a bang, not something behind closed doors or anything like that, so let’s postpone.’
On replacing the event on the calendar he added: ‘We are constantly working on opportunities everywhere, but there’s nothing firmed up as to filling those gaps in the calendar at this moment in time.
There are one or two things in the pipeline. The message I would give is that it’s a moving landscape at the minute because of problems that still exist in Covid times. Difficulties with venues, going overseas, broadcast arrangements. Hopefully the players can bare with us because it is a moving feast at the moment.
On the proposed ranking event in Barnsley to replace the Turkish Masters: ‘We’re subject to venues, to broadcast arrangements we can put in place, we had said there was a potential event to fill in, we said we’d try and fill the gap.
‘Unfortunately at this moment in time it’s not possible and we’ll keep working at it. I’m sure things will pop up here and there, but unfortunately it’s just not possible to fill that gap with a ranking event.’
The British Open format
The best-of-five format over the first four rounds of the British Open has created some disappointment among players and fans, with the matches extending to best-of-seven in the quarter-finals and best-of-11 for the final.
‘We’re in this period of a changing calendar all the time,’ explained Ferguson. ‘The British Open was resurrected with only months’ notice, it wasn’t something we planned long-term. It’s been brought back due to lack of overseas events. We thought: “What have we got that’s meaningful and historic that we can use?” the British Open was staring us in the face. It’s going to be exciting.
John Higgins won the last edition of the British Open, 17 years ago (Picture: Getty Images)
‘Formats are a little bit short in this current year, we’ve just had the Championship League, it’s quickfire but we are hamstrung a bit by what we can deliver for broadcast and in the timeframe we’ve got.
‘Numbers of players, numbers of matches, we’ve got 128 professional players. It would be easy to do 32 players with long formats but we won’t do that because it’s not right for our player membership.
‘It is unfortunate that the format is a little bit short, I’m a bit of a traditionalist, I love the long format. A lot of players do and a lot of fans do, but a lot of people also like short formats, so we’re appealing to a mixed audience. Let’s see. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and the broadcast numbers will tell us what fans thought.’
Players missing the British Open
Ng On-yee and Marco Fu
‘It’s purely down to travel. The travel is just so difficult for them, and not just getting here, we think we can get them here but realistically they’ll be here for months at a time and getting back is going to be problematic.
‘Until things clear a little bit the Hong Kong Sports Institute have said, “Our advice is don’t go at this moment in time.” We’ll work hard with the players and the HKSI to get them here.’
Ng On-yee is still waiting to make her debut as a main tour professional (Picture: Getty Images)
‘Yeah he did go back to China, he’d been in the UK on his own without his wife and daughter for a long, long time. He made it here last year, stayed and competed, plied his trade as a professional player as he needs to. He went back for a while and he’s there now. He’s popping up a bit, doing some TV work around the sport, still on the frontline, spreading the good word.
‘It’s just personal reasons for Ronnie, there’s nothing to elaborate on, there are no issues at all. I think if he wants to take some time out…when you look at Ronnie, he’s won all those titles, broke all those records and he’s still competing at that level, to expect him to compete in every single event is a lot to ask.
‘I’ve got great respect for him and the fact he’s still competing at this level after all these years is quite extraordinary. I tend not to be too concerned if he misses one or two events because it’s a great way to prolong his career.’
Ronnie O’Sullivan withdrew from the Championship League and British Open (Picture: Getty Images)
Returning to China
The tour has not wound its way back to China since the 2019 World Open, due to the pandemic, and it looks like the wait to return will go on for a while yet.
‘I think we’re fairly clear on where we are,’ Jason explained. ‘The Government have been clear that they shouldn’t be putting any international events on until after the Winter Olympics (4-20 February 2022).
‘That’s a major blow in terms of planning for events, but at the same time we understand that strategy that the Government has taken that view to try and protect the Winter Olympics.
‘It looks as though February will be when we’re clear on what we can do. With the China Open usually in March, and we’d planned to put a couple of events there back-to-back, that does look doubtful now to do it in the current season. It doesn’t mean we can’t do the World Cup after the season, but we’re subject to restrictions being lifted.
Judd Trump won the 2019 World Open in Yushan (Picture: Getty Images)
‘The Government’s got a responsibility to protect the Winter Olympics as a major global event. If we’re not going to hear about what we can do in China until after the Winter Olympics then that’s going to wipe out China events for the current season. Realistically we’re planning for the following season. That leaves a gap for Turkey and it leaves gaps for other things that we’re looking at in various corners of the world and some things a bit closer to home.’
The exciting teenage talent won the English Under-14 title earlier this month in dominant fashion.
Ferguson said: ‘Quite unfairly I’ve take a bit of stick over the amateur game lately. I’ve seen a few people jumping in, saying, “There’s nothing happening, there’s no talent coming through.” What a load of rubbish!
‘We’ve only just started playing again and the kids haven’t played because they haven’t had the luxury of being classed as elite sports people, through lockdown these kids have missed 12-18 months. They’ve come back out, its not put them off, and there’s an abundance of talent.
‘Stan Moody is unbelievable, he’s the full package, it’s really exciting to see.’
It was revealed on the
Snooker Scene Podcast that Jamie O’Neill is not playing in the British Open due to suspension.
‘He was suspended,’ said Ferguson. ‘He had digressed slightly in terms of Covid policies last year. Those matters were dealt with, he was suspended and he’ll come back out fighting. He’s been full of remorse, been very good about everything, but rules are rules and they had to be applied.
‘He digressed in the way our structures were working around the sport, making sure we were keeping everything in line with policies. It’s dealt with independently of us, I don’t get involved in it and we have to respect the decision of the panel. It’s a temporary suspension at the start of the season.
On if he’ll be back after the British Open, Jason said: ‘He’ll be back.’