After Ronnie’s first round win at the 2023 WST Classic last week, there were no quotes by Ronnie in the very short WST report about his match. Rumours over social media were that Ronnie’s interview had been vetoed.
Jason Francis, who manages Ronnie and Reanne Evans, confirmed to me that Ronnie had spoken to two journalists, one of them being Hector Nunns, the author of the piece I share hereafter.
Everyone will have their opinion, but here are a few things I want to stress before you read it:
- The WST/WPBSA spoke person claims that Ronnie chose not to attend. This is not entirely true. Ronnie and Reanne were not due to play on the first day of the tournament, they had not planned to be in Leicester on that day. Jason Francis, who manages both, asked for them to be allowed to attend by Zoom rather than in person. That was refused.
- Ronnie claims that he has been carrying the sport for 20-30 years and it IS true. There is no doubt that it has taken a lot out of him mentally, even too much at times. Judd Trump himself said it recently: for over 20 years Ronnie is always in the limelight, he’s always expected to win, if he doesn’t its because “he didn’t try”. Everything he says or does is scrutinised and judged. Judd is right and those who claim that Ronnie didn’t do enough for the game don’t understand what it takes to play and succeed for so long under that kind of pressure. He’s not a business man, he’s a player.
- WST/WPBSA claim that the prize money has grown … for their UK events. Well, that’s a big part of the issue: the game is far too UK centric. It calls itself “WORLD” snooker but it IS massively UK centric, England centric even. You can’t expect big international companies to get behind a sport that basically looks like a national league with a few international invitees. Of course covid has limited what they could do, but that’s over now. Of course, China’s ongoing isolation policies have not helped either. But mainland Europe has been open for quite some time and the Women’s game has traveled a lot. So? One of WPBSA’s answer in the past has been that the UK centric organisation – especially that of the qualifiers – is cheaper for the majority of the players who are British/Irish. That’s true but that is also a big part of what causes the issue because it actually keeps it that way by making it harder, more mentally taxing and more costly for everyone else.
- The way that money that is there has been used has prioritised the shareholders over the players. Matchroom basically “owns” the sport but since Barry Hearn has retired I feel that snooker has not been their priority. Eddie Hearn has never been interested in anything but boxing, the very dynamic and capable Emily Frazer is 100% behind the development of pool and has even been successful in attracting some of the top snooker players to “her” sport.
- Jason Ferguson is someone I like. He’s been a player, he understands their needs, he genuinely cares for them and the sport, he understands the game but he’s not a business man. If anything, he is too nice maybe. He needs someone at his side who is a businessperson.
The whole situation reminds me of the start of the 2009/10 season: it has the same “feeling”. Discontent, players not allowed to speak their mind … Then it lead to Barry Hearn taking over snooker and initiating big changes. What will happen now? I don’t know but changes surely are around the corner.
So, here it is as reported by Hector Nunns, one of the two journalists Ronnie spoke to :
O’Sullivan launches most explosive interview yet ripping into snooker’s bosses
Reigning and seven-time world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has ripped into his sport’s bosses in an explosive attack over the current state of the professional game
Ronnie O’Sullivan has launched a devastating attack on the state of snooker and those running it – claiming the sport is in “the worst place it has ever been”.
In under a month the Rocket launches his bid for a record eighth world title at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. The world No.1 last year equalled Stephen Hendry’s mark of seven crowns amid hugely emotional scenes at the iconic venue as he beat Judd Trump in the final.
But this year’s blue-riband tournament will take place under the shadow of a match-fixing hearing also next month that sees 10 Chinese players suspended and charged with a range of offences.
There is also widespread discontent among top players over the calendar, cancelled tournaments and reduced overall prize-money levels post-Covid with China events not yet back on stream.
And recent efforts by the governing bodies to stop players speaking out appear to have been a red rag to O’Sullivan – who states the situation is “beyond a crisis”. The game’s No.1 box office star has even encouraged players to go on strike to force major change.
He said: “Listen, snooker is in a bad place. It’s in trouble. Forget Turkey [Turkish Masters recently cancelled]. This needs at least another £50million a year just to make it a proper tour.
“When you look at the number, it’s bad. When you look at £10million prize money for 25 events across the year for 128 players, it’s never going to be good. It needs at least to triple that to make it work. Maybe you do need some proper people like Liberty [in Formula One] or someone with the vision to bring it up to date.
“You look at the people actually managing the game, they are not the brightest sparks either. So you can’t see them digging themselves out of it. But you don’t have to be Einstein. It is probably in the worst place it has ever been. The image of the sport, it’s a bit like a pub sport now.
“Look at some of the tournaments. The Shootout. Some of the venues we play at. It’s lost its charm of what it used to be. It’s cheap. If they can be honest enough with themselves, maybe the people that run the game need to say: We have taken it as far as we can.
“If they really have the love of the sport they would hand it over to somebody else that had higher ambitions. It is probably as bad as it has ever been also because of the betting scandal.
“There are a lot of players I know who are really unhappy and frightened to speak out because they will get fined. They are told that. The game is struggling, if you look at the numbers it is in a bad way. But we all want good for the game.
“I can’t do more. I have carried the sport pretty much for the last 20-30 years. It’s not one player. It’s the sport, it’s not a massive sport. At Wimbledon it is probably £50million for the one event. You look at golf, minimum first prize of £1.2million and the top players don’t even turn up for that.
“We are playing for the winner gets £80,000 most weeks and the runner-up gets £35,000. It’s bang in trouble. Mark Allen has done well this year, Judd Trump did well a couple of years before that. A few others do alright. But for the rest, there is nothing there.
“A lot of these players are tempted by crumbs. If you give them a few crumbs, and they say, I will play, keep them quiet, keep them on board. But the only way to get change is for the players to say, we are not playing until you listen to us.
“If you want us to play in this tournament for six days then this is what we expect. This amount of prize money. Two weeks for this amount of prize money. Nothing will change until the majority of the players go, you know what, we are not playing.”
World Snooker have sought to reassure O’Sullivan and the tour that there are causes for optimism, with a plan in place that will kick in post-Covid as the Asian markets re-open.
A spokesperson said: “Last week we held a constructive meeting with the players, unfortunately Ronnie chose not to attend, where we set out our vision for the future of snooker and addressed issues which are important to the players.
“The outcomes were positive, and players were encouraged by the progressive strategy set out by WST. WST is working diligently across many of the areas Ronnie has raised and is achieving considerable success as a result. We have smashed records on ticket sales for the majority of our events this season, and our global TV and digital audience is bigger than ever.
“Prize money for our UK events has increased since the start of the pandemic. Post COVID we are committed to returning to China in 2023 and optimistic about that prospect, which would put our tour in the strongest position it has ever been.
“We are working with the leading agencies in sports, whose clients include the Premier League, FIFA, Ryder Cup and The Masters. Our long-term strategy is based upon best-in-class analysis and driven by data. We would always welcome Ronnie to share his ideas and discuss our plans and strategy directly with WST.”
The “underline” highlighting some bits in the above text are my doing. Opinions expressed are my own, and my own only