An Open Letter to Steve Dawson

After Ronnie’s angry outburst about the state of snooker, Steve Dawson, chairman of WST, reacted with this:

Steve Dawson Responds To Ronnie O’Sullivan

WST Chairman Steve Dawson has responded to remarks made by Ronnie O’Sullivan in the media this week.

Dawson said: “Ronnie is a fantastic player and a legend of our sport, but sometimes his misguided comments go too far. I feel it’s necessary to respond to some of the damaging remarks he made to the press this week.

Firstly, Ronnie has never attended a players’ meeting or engaged with us to discuss his opinions. There are three formal levels where he can provide feedback: through the WST Board, through the WPBSA Players’ board or through players’ meetings, and he has not engaged through any of these channels. He also has my number and is welcome to speak with me directly.

He often compares snooker to golf and tennis, but I would challenge him as to whether for his part he elevates the sport and acts as a role model like a Rory McIlroy or Roger Federer. We are striving to take snooker to a higher level, but we need the players to be ambassadors in public, and to communicate any concerns they have through the right channels. Comments like those from Ronnie this week are damaging to us as a sport – and they’re unfounded.

In 2010, the commercial rights of snooker were awarded to Matchroom Sport. In that time, snooker has grown exponentially around the world. At the time there were six tournaments and total prize money of £3.5 million. This season there are 21 events. Prize money reached £15 million before the pandemic and is currently at £11 million. The dip since 2019 has been principally caused by the inability to stage tournaments in China whilst the country was in an unprecedented lockdown. We are determined to resume a full schedule of events in China in the near future, and at that point our tour will be stronger than ever.

During the time that we have run the tour, Ronnie has earned £7 million in prize money, including the £500,000 top prize at the World Championship last year. No doubt, with his talent, it would have been a lot more had he chosen to play in more events.

Our long-term strategy is to increase the number of events and prize money, and to bring us closer to the levels of the leading individual sports such as golf and tennis. We work alongside global giants such as IMG on this ambition. There are many individual sports, including popular Olympic sports, where the levels of prize money are significantly lower than snooker. For now, we are more than holding our own for the nature and size of the sport.

The fact is that our global television audience is higher than it has ever been, as is our digital audience. In the UK, we have smashed ticket records on many events this season, including the Masters where Ronnie played in front of 2,000 enthusiastic fans in London. Despite the economic climate, fans in the UK are coming to our tournaments in bigger numbers than ever. This does not suggest a crisis!

He also played in the Hong Kong Masters, a tournament we brought back to the calendar this season, where he won the title in front of 9,000 fans. It is tough to create new events during a global recession, but we have maximized opportunities to keep the calendar full and we will continue to do so.

His comments too often are disrespectful to snooker’s dedicated management, the sport’s commercial and venue partners, and to his fellow players. In the past he has described lower-ranked players as ‘numpties’ but they love the sport just as much as he does and our role is to give them opportunities to compete. This season we have provided every player with a £20,000 income guarantee to help them pay expenses and develop their careers.

He suggested that players should go on strike – but why? That certainly won’t drive new revenues. He also claims that players are frightened of being fined for giving their opinions but again this is not borne out by the facts. The number of players fined for comments made in the media is tiny – generally they are given much more freedom than athletes in other sports because we want them to engage more with the media and the fans. If Ronnie took advantage of his own massive global popularity to be a true ambassador for snooker then he could work with us to drive the sport forward for his benefit and for the sport as a whole.

Snooker is bigger than any player. The sport will continue to grow and we have no doubt that in the years to come it will be more successful than ever before.

My message to Ronnie – and all players – is come and talk to me and the team. Our door is always open.”

Well … Ronnie’s statement that snooker is at its worse ever is probably over the top, as in terms of playing opportunities the situation was far worse in 2009 indeed. However, I think that the “malaise” he expresses is genuine and, probably, the shadow the current match fixing enquiry casts over the sport as we approach the climax of the season, the World Championship, and his title defence, is a big factor here.

I don’t have Steve Dawson’s phone number and I’m only a fan, but I still decided to voice my own concerns through an “open letter”. Here goes…

Dear Mr Dawson,

I’m only a fan of the sport, and a photographer who has traveled to many of your events for years, taking a lot of pictures and freely sharing them on social media, and with the press officer on duty in order to promote the sport. I care about snooker and as such, I wish to share some of my concerns following Ronnie’s outburst and your answer to it. I can’t help to feel that he has some genuine points even if he didn’t express them in the ideal way.

It has transpired in the media that players have been urged not to express negative views about their sport in public, no matter their true feelings. If that is indeed the case, this is a very bad and dangerous move by the governing body. Players should have the right to express their true feelings and concerns, just as you have the right to answer if you feel that what they say is incorrect or exaggerated. Trying to stifle the player’s freedom of speech will only lead to suspicions that the governing body has something to hide.

You cite Roger Federer and Rory McIlroy as examples to follow. What about Tiger Woods and John McEnroe? Did they “damage” their sport with their antics and outburst? I don’t think so. And what about Alex Higgins whose heavenly birthday was celebrated by many fans last week? He was a fantastic snooker player, but he was unreliable, obnoxious, aggressive and very vocal and critical of the authorities. On the balance of things, do you seriously believe that he damaged snooker? Times have changed you will tell me. Maybe, but deep down human nature hasn’t changed and mavericks will always fascinate, seduce, infuriate … what they will not do is bore people to death. Let them be… please.

I fully appreciate the efforts by the governing body to keep players playing during the covid pandemics. Your team worked wonders. I totally get that the situation in China has been difficult and there is nothing you could do about it. I’m glad to read that there is hope for a return of big events there in the near future. The £20,000 income guarantee is a fantastic initiative. You have a lot to be proud of.

However, I have the feeling that the tour has become increasingly UK centric, and the wording of the seventh paragraph in your response to Ronnie did nothing to qualm my concerns. It’s all about the UK. Is this not WORLD snooker? We used to have events in Belgium, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Gibraltar… Only two events remain, both in Germany. Mainland Europe has been open and out of covid restrictions for quite some time. What happened to the majority of those events? By the way, Ronnie went to play in Bulgaria and Hungary this season, in front of huge crowds. The interest is there.

Also, qualifiers for all events all happen in the UK, no matter where the event itself is held. Why? I’m not following Golf, but in Tennis qualifiers if any are played close to the main venue and just before the event. That ensures that the form players are going through, rather than those who were on form two months before the actual event and it also ensures that “local” wildcards ,if any, can be watched by the local fans. Why isn’t that the case in snooker? Wildcards in the German Masters never made it to the venue… If you followed the last EBSA youth events, you will have seen that there are many young talents developing in mainland Europe, especially in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe. Why not give them more “equal” opportunities to watch and play their sport in their home country? It would only benefit snooker as a global sport.

Finally, while it’s true that Ronnie never attended those meetings, this time , from what I understood, he wished to participate by zoom. That wasn’t granted. Surely he wasn’t the only one. From what transpires, most of those meetings are poorly attended. If a meeting is called at short notice and due to happen on the eve of an important event, then maybe it is to be expected that many players will prioritise their preparation over a meeting that requires them to travel. The technology is there today that offers solutions. Why not use it? I know there may be concerns about privacy and confidentiality, but there are solutions for that too.

Truly yours.

Monique Limbos

10 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Steve Dawson

  1. So many people love to watch Ronnie as I do and also Alex, hope he is looking down on us!! If Ronnie finishes playing in tournaments, love him or hate him, he draws the crowd, which will diminish if he stops.
    Listen to him!!!!! Engage him, because he won’t be lapdog, you need him more than he needs you.
    Yours JD

  2. Just when you thought: Surely this year there won’t be a ROS WC controversy… 🙂

    Who remembers shoe gate? 🙂

    Who thinks there will be a revival of the discussion of Ronnie’s breakaway tour this time? 🙂

    • I don’t think there will be a revival of a breakaway tour. What we might see is Ronnie distancing himself from the main tour and do more exhibitions, notably in Asia.

  3. Reading the letters from both sides, it is obvious that dialogue is required and needed to work out a solution to take on board Ronnie’s concerns, and by the way other players have issues regarding freedom of speech, ie when being interviewed by the media post matches and being fined for their comments. I am a fan that enjoys watching tv coverage, I have read Ronnie’s and Jimmy s books and I hope that both players and the governing body will find common ground for the good of the game, the continued success that the game is achieving, and most importantly, bear in mind that the fans of snooker need to be considered because without them and their contribution financial wise the game would not be where it is today.

  4. Well said Monique. Players and fans have also raised questions about increased dividend payments to shareholders at a time when events are being removed from the calendar and not replaced.

    The current ranking system is confusing (just look at for the various lists and permutations) and rewards winners rather than consistency, which has led to several players dropping off the tour once one-off points are removed. It would be better to have a single ranking list and tiered/seeded draws so that new players don’t play top players in most events, all that does is hurt the confidence of promising players, many of whom will lose their tour card after their initial 2 years due to this imbalance.

    Why not remove qualifying for overseas events and take the top 64 entrants to the venue. The money saved through not staging qualifying in low key venues in the UK could then be reallocated as prize money to tier 2 events in snooker clubs throughout the world for players ranked 65-128, with top ups from amateur qualifying immediately prior to the main event. Offering healthy ranking points to Tier 2 events would lead to greater fluidity in the rankings and allow new players to break through quicker than is currently the case.

    Snooker needs new ideas and new blood at the playing and management level, which is basically what ROS was saying. If only WST were as capable of generating positive media headlines we might not be having this discussion

  5. Steve Dawson’s comments make it sound as if Ronnie has never made an effort to be involved in working with the snooker bosses to manage the World Snooker Tour away from the table, which I don’t believe is accurate.

    Setting aside the issue of Ronnie being denied attendance at the meeting via Zoom, he has talked in the past about how he used to try to be involved in working with the Powers that Be to bring about positive changes in snooker but how he eventually gave up because the Powers (including presumably Barry Hearn) weren’t receptive to player suggestions and it ended up feeling like a waste of time for Ronnie to be involved.

    Among other things, I think Ronnie put some effort into convincing the snooker bosses to distribute prize money more equitably rather than giving so much of it to tournament winners, but his efforts along those lines were so firmly rebuked that he lost interest and any hope of fostering change.

    It’s possible that the new snooker bosses might be more open to change than Barry Hearn was, but I think Ronnie was so put off by his past experience that if the new bosses want Ronnie to be meaningfully involved now, they would probably have to make a special effort to reach out to him and (against their natural instincts) treat him differently than they treat other players…

    • Although Monique characterized Ronnie’s comments as an “angry outburst”, the fact that Ronnie’s words were just in print and not on video suggests that we can’t really say much about Ronnie’s emotional state while speaking.

      In my opinion, I doubt Ronnie was “angry” or that he was worked up at all while speaking. Ronnie has said that he “checked out” and emotionally detached himself from snooker years ago, and I doubt that he is very emotionally-invested anymore in the issues he addressed in his interview. There might have been a time when he cared, but I think his attitude toward World Snooker now is that he can take it or leave it. He has other things to do outside of professional snooker, and Snooker arguably needs him more than he needs Snooker.

      That isn’t to say that I don’t think he meant the things he said, because I do. I just don’t think he was “angry” while saying them. I suspect he was just speaking “matter of factly”, and that his lack of emotional investment in the issues is part of why he doesn’t get involved in Snooker management, player meetings, etc. anymore.

      • That’s not my impression from Hector’s wording and I know Hector personally. I’m not sure what triggered it though.

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