Sam Craigie echoes Ronnie O’Sullivan: Snooker can be a ‘a recipe for depression’
Sam Craigie has described a career for snooker players outside the elite as ‘a recipe for depression,’ echoing the thoughts of Ronnie O’Sullivan, who said that is why he would not encourage his own son to take up the sport.
Craigie is the world number 41, an excellent player on the way up in the game, but the winning feeling is still hard to come by, even for someone at his position in the top half of the world rankings.
The 28-year-old has been to just one ranking quarter-final in his unbroken stint on the professional tour since 2016 and he says the constant hunt for improvement, with few results to celebrate can feel like torture.
‘I don’t really love snooker, I’m not really a snooker maniac,’ Craigie told the WST Podcast. ‘It’s just something I’m good at and there’s a living to be made from it. It’s the same as going to work.
‘It just gets under your skin, looking to perfect something that can’t be perfected when you go to practice.
‘You’re never happy and there’s always something to work on. I think that’s the reason I play, just trying to get better.
‘You do [enjoy it] when you’re playing well. Sometimes winning isn’t enjoyable. Playing well is the best feeling in the world, but how often does that happen?
‘I think it’s like a recipe for depression, it really is.
‘Anyone around my position in the rankings or lower, you’re always losing and it’s just bloody torture half the time.’
O’Sullivan has made the same point before, somewhat controversially, saying that he would not encourage his own son, or other youngsters into snooker.
While it ruffled some feathers that the six-time world champion was speaking of his chosen sport in that manner, he has spoken about the issues of the lower-ranked players, both mental and financial.
‘I’ll be honest with you, if I had a son I would not let him play snooker so maybe it is a good thing there isn’t the opportunity for him to play snooker,’ O’Sullivan told Eurosport at the Scottish Open in December.
‘I’d rather he played golf, football, tennis. I’d rather he played curling, I’m only joking! Personally if I had a child [that wanted to take up snooker] I would not want him to play snooker I really wouldn’t.
‘I’m not talking about the winners. I’m talking about the guys that are ranked 60, 70 in the world that are struggling. It’s not good for them. If you compared the 125th golfer and what he earns and the 125th snooker player then he’d make a million dollars on the golf tour. You can afford to miss a few cuts because you can make enough money to offset the losses you might make.
‘One way you could maybe remedy it is at least give the first round losers their expenses. A lot of these guys have not got the money. It’s unfair.’
In another interview with Eurosport last year, the Rocket spoke in similar terms to Craigie on the hours spent on the practice table – which he considers an unhealthy environment – which can be a mental strain when the rewards don’t materialise.
‘Everybody is at different stages of their careers,’ he said. ‘When you are in your pomp, and getting victories, trophies and are at number one you don’t mind taking the snooker depression because you think I’m getting rewarded for it.
‘But if you are putting that effort in and aren’t getting anything back, getting beaten in the first, second and third rounds all the time, and it’s still leaving you feeling like s**t, it’s a lot harder to take and handle.
‘I don’t think it’s healthy to be in a room hitting balls for four, five and six hours. That’s what snooker players generally do.’
Players at all levels of the professional game can struggle with mental health problems, with current world champion Mark Selby speaking openly about his ongoing issues.
Many others have spoken out about poor mental health in recent years, including Gary Wilson, Dave Gilbert and Mitchell Mann, and have all seen things improve as a result. Hopefully talking about problems continues to be a route to recovery.
When Ronnie said those things he was crucified by many, allegedly damaging the sport that made him rich and discouraging kids to play snooker. Ronnie never said that kids shouldn’t play snoooker, his problem is with snooker as a profession, and it’s not about those at the top, it’s about all the others who struggle to just make a living out of it but without whom the circuit wouldn’t exist. They are the majority.
It’s courageous from Craigie to say those things, and it’s great fom Phil Haig to give him a voice in the media. The idea that “trophies are eveything and sport should be chosen just for the love of it” is a myth. The reality is that it’s also a job, and there are bills to pay, and food to be brought to the table. Sam has a young family, he has responsibilities towards them. His kids won’t live solely on thin air and dad’s rosy dreams. He knows it and it’s hard.
As for Ronnie, I totally understand his position. I wouldn’t want my children to embrace a profession that will, most likely, not allow them to earn a decent living despite the hard works they put in it. I would not want them to take a job that actually costs them, and puts them under extreme mental pressure. No parent in their right mind would want that.
The answer of course is that snooker needs to change, so that the prize money structure needs to be less top heavy, so that first round losers get a minimal wage, covering their basic expenses. Only then it will be able to truly grow.