Snooker News – Unhappy Maguire and WST Classic

Following the announcement that the 2023 Turkish Masters was canceled, there was discontentment amongst the players, understandably.

Stephen Maguire was particularly vocal as he spoke to Phil Haigh:

Stephen Maguire launches scathing attack on snooker bosses

Phil Haigh Friday 27 Jan 2023 12:04 pm

2019 Betway UK Championship - Day 11
Stephen Maguire is frustrated with the current state of the World Snooker Tour (Picture: Getty Images)

Stephen Maguire has taken aim at snooker bosses, claiming the game is dying and those running it are not doing their jobs after the recent cancellation of the Turkish Masters.

It was announced earlier this week that the event in March has been scrapped due to funding problems, which has left a significant gap in the calendar for some players.

Anthony Hamilton explained that he currently has no matches scheduled between the Shoot Out this week and World Championship qualifying in April, a situation a number of players find themselves in if they haven’t qualified for the German Masters or Welsh Open.

With the string of big-money Chinese events still not back on the calendar due to Covid, players feel less busy now than they have done for years.

World Snooker Tour have confirmed that the Turkish Masters will be replaced on the calendar, so there will be more playing opportunities, but until that competition is announced, Maguire is sceptical.

The former UK champion played in the Shoot Out this week for the first time since 2015 and did so because he sees a lack of opportunities to play elsewhere.

The Scot says he spoke to people at the top of the sport at the start of the season and was made promises over tournaments, which he feels have been broken.

I have to because there’s no tournaments,’ Maguire told Metro.co.uk about his rare Shoot Out appearance. ‘I don’t want to play in it, don’t like it, but there’s no tournaments coming out. I can’t be selfish for my family, so I need to play in the tournament.

It’s dying, the game’s dying right in front of us. I spoke to the suits at the start of the season and they promised me there’d be tournaments on. Turkey was always a question mark and it’s turned out to be cancelled, so the suits aren’t doing their job, which isn’t good for the players

They might find a replacement, but it’s against time now. Is it going to be a best-of-five, a league, a PTC? It’s not good enough, definitely not good enough

I spoke to [WST chairman] Steve Dawson, [WST president] Barry Hearn, [WPBSA chairman] Jason Ferguson, I told them I didn’t want to speak to the press, I wanted to speak to them man-to-man, which I did. 

They all gave me the same answer: we’ll look after you, the tournaments will be there, don’t worry

The tournaments aren’t there, so there’s something wrong at the top of the game. It’s worrying for players. It’s not good enough for most of the tour. I’ve either been lied to that things will be ok, or they’ve just not been able to fulfil it. Something’s wrong.

I’ve never spoke to you like this, but the game’s dying right in front of our eyes. They have to do something, there’s something wrong. If somebody doesn’t do their job, in any walk of life, they get their ass kicked or they get the sack.

Players down the rankings who have failed to qualify for the German, the Welsh and the upcoming Players and Tour Championship are facing a lengthy spell without earning any prize money.

Hamilton explained that his last prize money came at the UK Championship in November, and while no more has arrived because he has lost matches, Maguire says this is not a problem that only a few players are facing, but many on the professional tour.

Am I going to tell my kid, or anyone tell their kid, to play snooker because it’s a good living? Is it a good living? Of course it’s not,’ he said. ‘We’ve put loads into the game, 30 years of my life, I love the game. But we’re not getting any help at all here.

There’s people out there ranked 28-29 in the world, looking at getting jobs. People from the outside think, “what a life you’ve got.” How can you be 20-odd in the world of supposedly a global sport, looking at getting a job, something’s wrong. The game’s dying, there’s no other headline.

[Waiting] January to April for a wage. That’s not a professional sportsman. The guys who are playing in the World Championships in April, they’re going to be playing their first or second rounds to pay back the loans they’re getting [a £20,000 guaranteed for each player this season]. Is that a professional sportsman? It’s just not.

The 41-year-old is not only frustrated with the reduced playing opportunities, but the nature of some of the tournaments now, with qualifying for the Home Nations events away from the main venues, in anonymous cubicles in front of a handful or no people, weeks before the actual event.

Streaming these qualifiers represents a revenue opportunity for World Snooker Tour, but Maguire questions where that money is going, he also wonders how the Turkish Masters can sign a five-year deal and be cancelled after just one event, similar to the announced 10-year contract for a Saudi Arabia Masters which has never emerged.

They’re making good money out of streaming, that’s why they fill the calendar up and it looks busy from the outside,’ he said. ‘They’re making money from the qualifiers, they’re getting their wages, where’s the money going? 

They’re cutting tournaments. There’s supposed to be contracts out there. Turkey was a five-year deal, Saudi was 10 years and they just cut them like that.

I played a couple of qualifiers, I can’t even remember where they were, it was pointless, it was daft. When the tournament came up, I couldn’t remember who beat me. It wasn’t me being horrible, it was just that far away. It’s rubbish.

On his own solution to the problems, Maguire says: ‘I’d cut the tour. Snooker is not big enough and I’ve said it for years, its not big enough to sustain 128 players. There isn’t 128 players out there who can play on the main tour. That might sound horrible, but there isn’t.’

Maguire has had a very poor season by his standards, sitting 58th on the one-year ranking list, so disappointing results have certainly contributed to how little he has played this season.

The other end of the scale, though, is Mark Allen who is top of the one-year list having won the UK Championship, Northern Ireland Open and World Grand Prix this season, earning over £500,000 in prize money.

The Pistol does not think the tour should be cut in numbers, but does agree with Maguire that the calendar should change, with all players going to main venues, as much as possible, and qualifiers replaced by other events on the calendar.

On Maguire’s idea to cut the tour, Allen said: ‘We disagree on this because I think if you cut the tour, the sport as a whole looks worse. A global game, with only 64 pros? I think that looks terrible

But all this qualifying in front of streaming cameras in Wigan, Barnsley, Leicester, that’s awful. Get everyone to the venue and then fill the calendar up, those qualifying weeks, put new events on. I’m not an advocate of cutting the tour, but you can’t have people playing the Welsh Open in Leicester, you can’t do it, it’s no good for the UK events.

I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ve been extremely selfish and unaware of what’s been going on because I’ve been doing alright. I know I’m in the Players, the Tour, but I talk to Jordan [Brown], to Stevie, who’s not had the best of years, and I know there’s not a lot

I think I’m super busy because I’ve been doing alright, but if you’re not doing alright, you’re struggling, there’s no in between. I don’t think there’s any in between.’

WST have responded to Maguire’s comments, stating that the Turkish Masters will indeed be replaced and that in many ways snooker is in very good health, given the challenges that emerged from the pandemic.

A World Snooker Tour statement read: ‘We share the player’s frustrations in the loss of the Turkish Masters from the tour this season. This event will be replaced, with further details be announced shortly.

We have recently enjoyed a fantastic resurgence in snooker’s popularity in the UK, smashing ticket records for many of our events. In January alone we have seen massive crowds at the Cazoo Masters, an 81% increase in fan attendance at the Duelbits World Grand Prix, and we have sold out the final day at the BetVictor Shoot Out. This pattern is repeated on every event in the UK this season, with previous attendance records broken. People are choosing to spend their hard-earned money by coming to watch snooker.

Our television viewing audience is also thriving. A peak of 2.5 million people watched the Masters on BBC, while last week’s World Grand Prix final on ITV peaked at nearly 1 million.

This is a very tough economic climate. The pandemic led to us being unable to host events in China, which previously made up 30% of the prize money available on the tour. But despite the global recession, we have been able to drive up prize money for the other events over the past two seasons. This means that when China events do return to the tour, we will be in a far stronger position than we have ever been.

The prize money available to the top players remains extremely high; Mark Allen has earned over £500,000 from ranking events alone this season. We appreciate that lower down the rankings, players have lost certain earning opportunities. But prize money for ranking events which all 128 players can compete in is now 71% of the overall total, compared to 68% pre-pandemic.

The opportunities are there for everyone on the tour – there are 12 ranking events this season which all 128 players can compete in, not including the Duelbits Series which are for the top performers on the one-year list. Snooker is a meritocracy and rewards those who are winning matches.

The initiative this year to provide a prize money guarantee to all tour players, ensuring that they have at least £20,000 over the season, has given players the security of knowing that they have an income and they can budget their season around this.

We are proud to have built a sustainable business where prize money is growing, where players have a guaranteed income and which captures the imagination of the fans.

Unfortunately this narrative doesn’t fit the story being peddled by a few players who have experienced the highs at the top of the sport in the past and now choose to criticise snooker rather than play a part in our journey forward.’

That may seem extreme from Maguire, but it’s not and many players will feel the same. It’s also honest from Allen to admit that he may have been blind to it because he’s doing well. And I understand WST position although the bit I have put in bold is at the heart of the issue: the prize money distribution is far too top heavy.

A replacement for the Turkish Masters has since been announced:

New WST Classic Added To Snooker Calendar

A brand new world ranking tournament, the WST Classic, will be staged in Leicester in March.

The 128-player knockout event will have total prize money of £427,000 and a top prize of £80,000. Open to all tour players, it will run from March 16-22 at the Morningside Arena.

This tournament, which replaces the Turkish Masters, will be best of seven frames from the first round up to the quarter-finals, then best of nine for the semi-finals and best of 11 for the final.

The top 64 players will be seeded in the draw, based on the seeding cut off after the Duelbits Players Championship, with all other players drawn at random.

WST Chairman Steve Dawson said: “We are pleased to add the new WST Classic to the calendar and to provide an extra earning opportunity for the players. Last week we had to cancel the Turkish Masters after several months of trying to get that event over the line, which was disappointing for us and the players. It was always our intention to replace that event and fill the space in the calendar.”

Details of whether the event will be open to fans, as well as how to watch online, will be announced soon.

It’s not fantastic, but it’s better than I expected.

As a side note… when Ronnie said, a few times, that he wouldn’t advice his kids to play snooker professionally, he was crucified by fans and fellow pros alike, most notably by John Higgins. Stephen Maguire here is saying the same … and no one bats an eye. Their motives are the same though: they don’t see their sport as providing financial security unless you are are the very top. Every parent wants the best for their kids, they don’t want them to struggle to make ends meet every month. The fact that Ronnie is at the top for nearly 30 years doesn’t mean he’s blind to the situation faced by lower ranked players.

An interesting perspective on the current match fixing situation

Yesterday, scanning the snooker related news as usual, I stumbled upon this piece by Al Jazeera

Don’t stop at the somewhat click-bait title. This piece actually does put the current issue into perspective and it also confirms some of the things Ronnie and Judd hinted at when they said that snooker will survive.

Match-fixing scandal threatens to turn snooker’s boom into bust

Concerns grow over the influence of organised crime in snooker, following charges against 10 Chinese players.

Andrew Wilks

Chinese snooker player Zhao Xintong prepares to take a shot at the table
The 2021 UK championship winner, Zhao Xintong, is among 10 Chinese players suspended over match-fixing allegations [File: Craig Brough/Reuters]

Match-fixing charges against 10 Chinese snooker players in the biggest corruption scandal to engulf one of the world’s fastest-growing sports has left fans and organisers fearful for the future of the game.

The players, including 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao and that year’s UK championship winner Zhao Xintong, have been suspended as part of an investigation into claims of “manipulating the outcome of matches for betting purposes” by the integrity unit at the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).

The revelations have raised questions about the influence of betting syndicates often run by organised crime gangs on a sport with a growing global following.

The rise of snooker – a game invented by British army officers in India in the 1870s – has largely been fuelled by a growing interest in the sport in East Asia, particularly China.

Once largely confined to the United Kingdom and Ireland, where it came to attract large TV audiences in the 1980s and 1990s, snooker’s wider growth was driven by the emergence of Asian players, such as Thailand’s James Wattana and Ding Junhui of China, whose 2005 China Open victory at the age of 18 kick-started a Chinese snooker boom.

The sport is now played by more than 120 million people worldwide and attracts TV audiences of 500 million. It is striving to complete its image transformation from a game played in smoky back-street halls by vying for inclusion in the 2028 Olympic Games.

Snooker underwent a transformation from about late 2009 when Barry Hearn took control of the professional game,” said Marcus Stead, editor of Snooker Scene magazine, referring to the businessman credited with popularising the sport in Britain in the 1980s who became the WPBSA chairman two decades later.

The game was at a low ebb but there’s now a lot more snooker being played. If you go back to the so-called golden age of snooker in the 1980s, most of the players were from Britain or Canada or a few from South Africa.

It’s now much, much more global. The sheer number of players in China is absolutely enormous. You’ve also had growth in continental Europe and Australia.”

While some have questioned whether this growth has left snooker open to match-fixing, experts in sport integrity say it is at no greater risk than many other sports.

Snooker is not the most at-risk or most affected sport,” said Tom Mace, director of global operations for integrity services at Sportradar, the sports technology company that monitors betting and worked on the WPBSA investigation.

Because of the scale of this current action and the WPBSA’s strict zero-tolerance approach, where you’ve got 10 players from China being suspended, it may appear that snooker is the most at-risk or affected sport compared to others but from our perspective that’s not the case.

It currently sits seventh in our all-time list in terms of matches detected per sport. The likes of football, tennis, basketball, table tennis, ice hockey all have higher numbers of suspicious matches detected. Snooker is not exceptional in terms of match-fixing risk.

Sportradar’s 2021 annual report on betting corruption and match-fixing recorded 903 suspicious matches in 10 sports, across 76 countries – a record over the 17 years it has monitored sports integrity.

The company, which has its headquarters in St Gallen, Switzerland, estimated these matches generated some 165 million euros ($180m) in match-fixing betting profit. As the world’s most popular sport, football accounts for 694 suspicious matches, or 77 percent of the total, followed by basketball with 62 and tennis with 53.

This means one in every 200 football matches monitored by Sportradar in 2021 was suspected of being influenced by match-fixing.

The propensity for betting-related corruption is closely tied to the level of gambling associated with a sport. So while snooker’s risk is not as high as some other sports, “it does have a very consistent and very strong global betting coverage”, according to Mace, largely due to the fact that it is popular in places where there is a well-developed betting culture.

As an individual sport, snooker is vulnerable to fixing as a single player has a greater influence on a match than in team sports. While match-fixing is a global phenomenon – Sportradar’s report found Europe accounted for more than half of fixed matches – there is a perception that Asian snooker players touring far from home are susceptible to approaches from criminals.

The 10 players who’ve been suspended are all young Chinese players,” said Snooker Scene’s Stead.

They’re thousands of miles away from home, a lot of the time their English isn’t particularly good, they’ve only got each other for company and they’re not being managed particularly well.

That leaves them very vulnerable to being approached by well-connected people from the Chinese criminal fraternity,” added Stead.

The implication has been that these young Chinese players had been told there would be unpleasant consequences for themselves and their families if they didn’t do as they were told.

An independent hearing will evaluate the evidence against the 10 players, who face lengthy bans from the sport if they are found guilty.

There are also concerns about the effect the scandal could have on the sport’s following in its largest market.

Yan Bingtao is spearheading a generation of Chinese players at the moment who are said to be the future of the sport, so this news comes as quite a disappointment, mainly to [fans in] China who follow these players and hold them in high regard,” said Shabnam Younus-Jewell, host of the BBC’s Framed podcast.

Over in China, because snooker is such a massive sport out there – they absolutely love it, kids play it in schools – there will be a real feeling of dread there about what’s going on,” she added.

This feels like a huge investigation, one of the biggest carried out by the WPBSA, and there’s a feeling – people have called it a dark day but it could be more than that … It’s a really difficult and quite a murky situation.”

Many acknowledge that the WPBSA has done much in recent years to tackle corruption, with clear rules and methods for informing the authorities about approaches to throw games.

If you are approached you’re supposed to inform them using a confidential phone line or email address and the procedures make it very clear that if you are found guilty you will face a very long ban, which will ruin your career,” Stead said.

However, the disparity in earnings between those at the top of the sport and those who fail to progress in tournaments is thought to be an element driving corruption. Of the 130 players on snooker’s main tour, fewer than half earned more than 40,000 pounds ($49,600) prize money last season, from which travel and accommodation costs must be paid.

For risk profile, we look at the betting coverage versus the wealth of the athletes, how much money players earn,” said Mace.

In snooker, the top 16 are fairly comfortable but if you look at the prize money distribution and players’ earnings, once you’re outside of the top 16 or top 32, these players are not making huge money.”

We live in a dreamworld, if we think we can eradicate [corruption] completely, there still needs to be a greater investment in this on a global scale. It’s now on the agenda and there are not many sports that don’t recognise it as something they need to tackle and invest in but still the money needs to improve,” Mace added.

Highlighting some parts in bold/underline is my doing.

Again a lot of the quotes above hint at a strong possibility that some, if not all, of the currently suspended players might have been forced into this, as Ronnie and Judd both suggested in their reactions immediately after the suspensions were announced.

They are easy preys for crooks when they arrive in the UK. Just imagine … you’re a teenager, you barely speak the language, your family is on the other side of the world. The money you earn, if any, may seem to be a lot at first, and there are many temptations around, nice clothes, restaurants, maybe the casino … But the cost of living is much higher than at home. Before you know it, you have debts. And there comes a fellow citizen, an adult, who lives in the country for while, offering to help you… It’s easy to fall in that trap.

Of course we have to wait for the full investigation results. Meanwhile, I think that we should keep an open mind. I have read things like ” But how??? Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao have been earning good money from the sport!”. That’s true, they have earned good money in the last couple of years, but maybe the facts that they are investigated for are older than that, dating back to a time when they weren’t earning much.

Two titles in Two Days for Mark Selby and Spoty Nomination for Ronnie

It’s been an extraordinary couple of days for Mark Selby. On Sunday night he became the 2022 English Open Snooker Champion and yesterday, with his brother in law, Gareth Potts, he won the Ultimate Pool Pairs Championship.

This was reported on the Ultimate Pool Twitter account:

🏆

𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗗𝗥𝗘𝗔𝗠 𝗧𝗘𝗔𝗠 𝗔𝗥𝗘 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗖𝗛𝗔𝗠𝗣𝗜𝗢𝗡𝗦

🏆

In a final where the standard was simply out of this world, Gareth Potts & Mark Selby end the reign of Karl Sutton & Shaun Chipperfield to become the new Ultimate Pool Pairs Cup Champions!

And they shared some images too…

Congratulations Mark and Gareth

Mark seems to be in a much better place than he has been for a long time and this is also shows in this piece by Hector Nunns:

Mark Selby: Ronnie O’Sullivan Is Snooker’s Lionel Messi

Mark Selby was inspired by football’s GOAT Lionel Messi to one of his most cherished title triumphs. 

But the four-time world champion admits that it may prove impossible to snatch that tag from the great Ronnie O’Sullivan in his own sport. 

World No2 Selby, 39 managed to catch Argentina and Messi winning a World Cup final for the ages between sessions of his 9-6 victory against Belgium’s Luca Brecel at the English Open in Essex.

And just as it was a highly emotional night for Argentina’s captain, so there were tears shed by Selby and wife Vikki after a tough year that saw him publicly and bravely confront mental health struggles. 

Selby said: “I have always been a Messi fan over Ronaldo. I know Ronaldo is also brilliant and has done it in several different leagues, while Messi was mainly at Barcelona

But if I was paying to watch one of them, I’d pick Messi over Ronaldo. I think it’s fair if he is now seen as the GOAT, and the greatest of all time. That is my personal choice

And I suppose for anyone else to be even in the conversation as the GOAT in snooker you’d have to break all of Ronnie’s records. 

So that means seven or eight world titles at least, the debate until now has been between Ronnie and Stephen Hendry, though most would now say O’Sullivan

It is Ronnie for me. And look, even if I won 10 world titles I am not one for saying ‘It’s me’. That’s for others. But while I am still playing, I’ll be trying to win eight.

It was brilliant with the timings to also get to see the World Cup final before the evening session. I went back to the hotel to get some food and it was on there

I think I watched it from about 75 minutes onwards. And I was cheering on Argentina because Messi is an absolute legend – the greatest player I have ever seen in my lifetime

Knowing that was his last World Cup, I would have been an absolute tragedy for the player he has been if he was never to have won it

So I saw him get the third, then France level at 3-3, and then the shootout. That is like a deciding frame in snooker – the toss of a coin.” 

For a generation Scot Hendry, despite the unparalleled raw talent possessed by the Rocket, would often come out on top in polls to decide who was the all-time best in snooker. 

But May’s most recent world championship win for O’Sullivan in Sheffield, seeing him equal Hendry’s seven Crucible crowns, has seen the world No1 inherit that mantle in the eyes of all but a very few observers for all his many other achievements. 

O’Sullivan has also won the most ranking titles, the most majors in the game’s Triple Crown series, made the most maximum 147s and scored the most centuries. But Selby remains one of very few still with any realistic chance of getting to seven in the blue-riband tournament. 

On his English Open success, Selby added: “From where I have come from and where I have been, it is incredible really to be back winning and enjoying my snooker and my life

Winning was all about what it stood for and represented, rather than the trophy itself. And to have Vikki and our daughter Sofia there was extra special. Vikki has been to the well and back with me

It may well have been harder for her than me, at least I was getting help and speaking to the right people. She didn’t always know what to say from day to day

But people didn’t always think about her and she was suffering as much as I was. It was hard for me to do that because I couldn’t even support myself. 

So she has been an incredible rock and I honestly don’t think I’d be here without her. She told me years before I did that I should seek help. But I thought I could do it on my own.” 

Mark is not the only one to recognise Ronnie’s status in snooker and in sport in general. After being snubbed several times when he should have been – most notably in 2013 – Ronnie finally got nominated for SPOTY:

Sports Personality of the Year 2022: Gadirova, Mead, Muirhead, Stokes, O’Sullivan, Wightman up for award – BBC Sport

54 minutes ago

Sports Personality

(Clockwise from top left) Jessica Gadirova, Beth Mead, Eve Muirhead, Jake Wightman, Ben Stokes and Ronnie O'Sullivan
(Clockwise from top left) Jessica Gadirova, Beth Mead, Eve Muirhead, Jake Wightman, Ben Stokes and Ronnie O’Sullivan
BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2022
Venue: MediaCityUK in Salford Date: Wednesday, 21 December Starts: 18:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app

A shortlist of six contenders has been announced for the 2022 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

The nominees are gymnast Jessica Gadirova, footballer Beth Mead, curling’s Eve Muirhead, cricketer Ben Stokes, snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan and athlete Jake Wightman.

Voting will be open during the show on BBC One on Wednesday, 21 December.

Gary Lineker, Clare Balding, Gabby Logan and Alex Scott will present the 69th annual awards.

The programme, filmed at Media City in Salford, will celebrate 12 months of incredible sporting action.

The public can vote by phone or online on the night for the main award, with full details announced during the show.

Other awards to be announced include Young Sports Personality of the Year,Team and Coach of the Year, Unsung Hero and the Helen Rollason Award.

Eight-time sprinting gold medallist Usain Bolt will be honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award, while football World Cup winner Lionel Messi is the World Sport Star of the Year.

Sports Personality contenders

Jessica Gadirova

Age: 18 Sport: Gymnastics

A rising star of British gymnastics, Gadirova claimed floor gold on the final day of the world championships.

It was the English gymnast’s third medal at the event in Liverpool after winning silver in the team event and a historic bronze in the all-around competition.

That was Britain’s first world all-around medal and Gadirova became only the fifth British gymnast to be individual world champion.

Gadirova, who took floor gold and team silver at the European Championships, is also on the Young Sports Personality shortlist along with skateboarder Sky Brown and diver Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix.

“I’m just so shocked to be in that shortlist with such incredible athletes and to be recognised for my hard work and achievements – it’s incredible,” she told BBC Sport.

Beth Mead

Age: 27 Sport: Football

Mead won the Golden Boot and was player of the tournament as England claimed a historic triumph at Euro 2022.

The Lionesses lifted their first trophy at a major women’s tournament with a 2-1 victory after extra time against the eight-time champions Germany at Wembley.

“It was a proud moment for me and a surreal moment, walking out of that tunnel and going to play football in front of a home crowd,” Mead said of the final played in front of a record 87,192 crowd.

“The day in general, the noise in general, the atmosphere was honestly something I’ll never feel or experience again.” 

Mead scored six goals and contributed five assists during the tournament as she bounced back from the disappointment of not being selected to represent Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics a year earlier.

The Arsenal forward was voted BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2022 and was runner-up in the Women’s Ballon d’Or, the prize awarded to the world’s best footballer of the year.

Eve Muirhead

Age: 32 Sport: Curling

Muirhead led the Great Britain women’s team that won curling gold at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

As skip, she claimed an elusive gold medal in China at the fourth time of asking, the pinnacle of a career during which she became Scotland’s most decorated curler.

“I look back and I still wonder how I got myself through lockdown, covid, everything. It was such a rollercoaster, standing on the top of the podium at the end of it all was very, very special,” she told BBC Sport.

In 2014, she was the youngest skip to win an Olympic medal as her team claimed bronze.

For Scotland, Muirhead won the European Championships three times and she claimed a sixth world mixed doubles title earlier this year alongside Bobby Lammie before later announcing her retirement from the sport.

Age: 47 Sport: Snooker

O’Sullivan claimed his seventh World Championship to equal Stephen Hendry’s record in the modern era.

Aged 46, he became the oldest world champion in Crucible history, eclipsing Ray Reardon, who won his sixth title aged 45 in 1978.

‘The Rocket’ cemented his position as one of snooker’s all-time greats with an 18-13 final win over Judd Trump.

It was a 39th ranking title for the English player who holds almost every major record in the game and also won the Champion of Champions and Hong Kong Masters in 2022.

O’Sullivan, who has on occasion been outspoken about snooker and his fellow players, told BBC Sport: “The love/hate doesn’t come from hating the game, I’ve always loved the game, just my frustrations would spill over and it would look like I had fallen out of love with the game.

But it was only because I wasn’t playing the game to the standard that I wanted to play.

Ben Stokes

Age: 31 Sport: Cricket

Stokes, the 2019 Sports Personality winner, starred as England won the men’s T20 World Cup by beating Pakistan in a thrilling final.

Under intense pressure at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, Stokes was there at the end on 52 not out.

Having inherited a side with one win in their last 17 Tests, Stokes’ England claimed nine out of 10 in increasingly audacious fashion against New Zealand, India, South Africa and Pakistan.

He captained England to one of their greatest overseas performances, with a bold declaration helping secure victory with a record run rate in their first Test in Pakistan for 17 years and setting his side on the path to a historic 3-0 series win.

Stokes told BBC Sport: “I think it shows that you don’t have to be stuck in a particular way of playing Test cricket just because it’s been done for however long, a long period of time. It’s different but it’s exciting to watch.”

Jake Wightman

Age: 28 Sport: Athletics

Wightman produced a stunning run to take 1500m gold at the World Championships in Oregon.

The Scot was the first British man to win the world title in the event since Steve Cram in 1983.

He produced a brilliant final burst to pass Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen and clinch the title, called home by his father Geoff who was the stadium announcer.

“It’s that moment you cross the line, it’s just such euphoria, I just wish you could bottle that up because it soon fades away a little bit,” Wightman told BBC Sport.

“The disbelief and the shock are something that I will never have again.”

Wightman also won 800m silver at the European Championships and 1500m bronze at the Commonwealth Games.

I don’t think Ronnie has any chance to win it. The winner this year will very almost certainly be Beth Mead, and I expect Ben Stokes to be in the top three too. But maybe, only maybe, Ronnie could come second or third which would be fantastic as snooker is neither as popular as football nor “fancied” by the establishment …

Phil Haigh spoke with Ding Junhui – 10.12.2022

Yesterday, before all the bad news emerged, Phil Haigh had shared this wonderful conversation he had with Ding Junhui. Thank you Phil for this most interesting piece.

Ding Junhui: We need to save snooker, let’s try different things

Phil Haigh Friday 9 Dec 2022 1:00 pm

Ding Junhui would like to see some changes to give snooker a boost (Picture: Getty Images)

Ding Junhui fears for the future of snooker and has outlined how to put the sport back on the pedestal it deserves.

The former world number one vented some frustrations after defeat at the recent Scottish Open, posting on Chinese social media about a very late finish, having waited around for hours to play his match. He was outside the Edinburgh venue after 1am, unable to even get a taxi back to his hotel.

I was trying to explain what happens in tournaments,’ Ding told Metro.co.uk of his Weibo post. ‘When you lose games, nobody’s happy, but I wanted to let people see what happens and see if that can change anything

Some tournaments like these, the times they set are not good. They need to get away from that. I don’t think the roll-on-roll off is good for the players

It’s been going on for many years so maybe people are ok with it, but I prefer having a match at a certain time. Players should be able to get ready for the match, know what time we play, then we play our best. We’re not just waiting to see when we play, it’s like a circus.

For the fans as well, they want to know when their player is playing, not wait four, five hours and see them at 11pm. Who wants that? Ronnie knows when his time will be, I’m not as famous as Ronnie, but we should respect everyone. There’s only 131 professionals.

The issue with match times at certain events represented the tip of the iceberg for Ding and his growing dissatisfaction. He fears snooker is in something of a malaise and would like to see things change.

The 14-time ranking event winner led the Chinese boom in snooker when he burst onto the scene in 2005, but he feels the focus has turned to another cue sport in his home country.

Chinese 8-ball is becoming stronger, a lot of snooker players have turned to 8 ball and a lot of players have started by learning 8-ball,’ he said. ‘I don’t think snooker is looking good for the future, we need to save the sport.

We have a lot of Chinese players now but half of them are just older faces, not new faces coming through who are 16 or 17 years old. I’m not sure the level is there.

I don’t see many overseas players from Asia or Europe who are interested to come and play professional snooker. The prize money should be developed a lot. You can compare it with 10 years ago. Everything is so expensive now, so it shouldn’t be the same level.

The 8-ball tournaments happen a lot in China. You can win around £50,000, something like that. There’s around 30-50 tournaments like that, so people think there’s no point to come and play snooker

That’s why I suggest we need to put the prize money up. If you can win some tournaments in China, even if you love snooker, what’s the reason to come here to play? People need to earn a living

It’s becoming bigger and bigger and much easier to play on the small table, easy rules. I’ve never played, I’ve never been interested. I still love to play snooker that’s why I hope we can make some changes to make snooker get back to its right place. I don’t want to see snooker falling down.

Ding has climbed back to number 21 in the world after his recent run to the UK Championship final (Picture: Getty Images)

Ding feels that snooker needs to showcase itself better, attracting the brightest talents and letting the fans see the best playing the best as often as possible.

He wants to see a return to the tiered system of qualifying, a points-based ranking system – both of which he believes helps develop young players more successfully – and improved prize money, which of course, is easier said than done.

The first thing is to change things to make the sport high quality,’ he said. ‘The UK and World Championship, people are interested in that, they’re very good matches, people love to watch the best players kick each other. This is what we want.

People don’t want to see things like at the German Masters, where only six of the top 16 have qualified. Who is interested in that? Neil is there, Jack Lisowski, I can’t even remember who else.

The UK Championship returned to the tiered system of qualifying this season, with the tournament appearing to be a very successful one in York.

Ding feels the events with a flat 128 draw cannot have the appeal of a tiered system as matches can be too easy for top players early on, whereas at the main stage of the UK, the opening round was full of memorable contests.

Some tournament like the Home Nations they make the first round at the venue, but it’s still not good,’ he said. ‘Judd plays someone he should beat very, very easily, still people are not interested because there is no point. 

If England play some unknown team, do you want to watch? You always want to show the best on TV. Even if Judd plays very, very bad he’ll still win 4-0. It’s not interesting for people. 

We want to see the players fully concentrated, fully ready to play every match, that’s how the players need to be and the tournaments need to push the players to be like that. Not first round as a practice, a warm up. Second round still maybe the same, third round maybe even still! Who knows.

The UK and the World Championship, it’s better, every match is good. You can see with your eyes that it’s working well. People are not interested in not interesting games.’

The argument against a tiered system is that there is too much protection for the top 16 players in the world, but having been in that bracket, and now just outside it, Ding feels those players deserve the benefits of their success.

We always talk about what’s special about being in the top 16. Playing in the Masters, qualifying for the UK and the World Championship. That’s not special,’ he said. ‘You get in the top 16 you deserve that, you should be in those tournaments, that’s not special. 

Playing the top players all the time is special. That’s how to improve the sport. That’s why the English Premier League is the most famous in the world. In Spain there’s only two or three teams, who wants to watch the other games? No chance.

We love to play the UK, we don’t mind to play qualifiers, because if you’re not top 16 you should go to the qualifier, when you survive that you play the top 16. If you want to be top 16 you’ve got to work hard, survive in the qualifiers and beat the top 16, then you’ll be in the top 16. That’s how to make players improve. That’s why top 16 can be special.

While the flat 128 draws were brought in to provide more opportunity to lower-ranked players and youngsters making their way onto the professional tour, Ding reckons it has made things harder for them.

He feels the players that came through as professionals in the tiered system, before 2013, have a level of consistency that pros since then do not, while any success that younger players do achieve is too wildly rewarded on a money-based ranking system.

I think they need to make the right rules for the players, so they can grow,’ said the three-time UK champion, ‘A lot of players like me, Mark Allen, Neil Robertson, Ricky Walden, Martin Gould, we all turned pro in similar years. Climbed up by ourselves, and we’re in that top level, everyone’s there, no one’s bad.

Ding Junhui was beaten by Mark Allen in a memorable UK Championship final this year (Picture: Getty Images)

This is the difference between two systems, we can see the players’ levels are different, the quality is different. Other people can win a tournament, but they are not consistent.

It’s not good for the young ones who win once, say they win the UK, they’re in the top 16 but their level is not there yet. They’ve just played good in one week. What’s the point after? It damages them a lot, damages confidence, damages everything.

They can climb the rankings too fast, they feel like they’re at a level but they’ve only played good for three or four days. They didn’t actually learn that quick, nobody tells them and they confuse themselves. Why am I losing? Why am I playing bad when I practice perfect? 

Even when you play good, you don’t win every match or every tournament, you can still lose, that’s why people like sports.

Ding also feels that, far from expanding the game with better opportunities, the flat draws make it far too difficult for players from outside the UK to make any kind of impact in the sport.

If you say this is World Snooker, I don’t see the world,’ he said. ‘It’s British, Chinese, some Thai players, Neil. I don’t see many European players, just a couple of countries

You’ve got to give some opportunities for other countries, but the system is not good for them. New players can easily get top 16 in first rounds, that’s the problem

The Grand Prix, Players Championship, Tour Championship, how do you get into those if you play Judd, Neil, Ronnie every time?

They need opportunities to win some matches, get to the next round with some ranking points and find their chances. They can take it step by step, slowly, slowly. No one can play the first year and beat everyone, no one.

Coming from a different country you have to take care of yourself. Find somewhere to rent a flat, find somewhere to practice, pay practice fees, booking hotels, flights, everything by yourself. There’s not going to be help. You don’t have money to pay a team to look after everything

That’s why the prize money doesn’t cover that. Maybe you earn £30-40,000 a year, that could be everything you spend on tour, there’s nothing left, so what’s the point? The prize money should have improved.’

Ding beat O’Sullivan on his run to the UK Championship final in York (Picture: Getty Images)

With just three players in the world’s top 16 under the age of 30, it does seem clear that the system is not producing enough top young players and Ding fears for the future when the veterans at the top of the game eventually retire.

I worry about it, because players are getting old,’ he said. ‘You can’t always expect one player to bring in a market like me, I’m getting old too. After five or 10 years what are you going to do in the Chinese market? I can’t be any help. Hopefully the young ones will do well.

They say 25 is very young now in snooker, but for me it’s not young. It’s like a middle age of this sport. 

You can play till 45, but you imagine Ronnie or whoever, if they played all their tournaments in China or somewhere out of UK, do you think they would come to play? They would be retired at 40, nobody would want to play because they’re away from family, from their homes, the food they love.

I don’t think they’d like to live in different countries. I don’t think they’d continue to play snooker. They play all the tournaments in the UK or Europe so it’s easy to play till 45 and keep playing. If I was playing 10 tournaments in China I could play till 60 because it’s easy to travel, but all over the world, can I play till 50? No.

Covid has put a stop to Chinese tournaments for now, which has been a huge blow to the sport, but Ding sounds confident that they will return to the circuit soon.

He warns that there might not be the level of investment that there was previously, but says there is still plenty of interest in the game when snooker does return to China.

Hopefully next season everything will be back on but I’m not sure because a lot of companies lost a lot of money and a lot shut down because they had no business for three years,’ he said. ‘Maybe a few tournaments will happen, but I’m not sure. The Shanghai Masters will be ok, the others I’m not sure.

People are interested. They have had three years with no live snooker.’

Ding is keen to point out that he still has high hopes for snooker and players are not always the ones that have all the answers, but he hopes they are listened to.

It’s a great sport,’ he said. ‘Players feelings fly up and down, but it’s worth thinking about because sponsors may think different too. Sometimes you think they are not interested, but maybe they are. Let’s try different things.’

There is nothing to add really. I’m just happy and humbled that Dings’s ideas and concerns about snooker are so very similar to those I have expressed on this blog in recent months, be it about the UK-centric organisation of the sport, the need to go back to a tiered/point based system and the concerns about “pool” type sports taking the ascendency over snooker.

Yesterday news will inevitably impact Ding’s academy and its image. It’s a crying shame. I hope that the whole affair will be clarified and solved asap and that the sport and the academy can move on.

Ronnie yesterday … bad day in office and good ideas

Ahead of his match yesterday, Ronnie looked in good mood and looking forward to play competitively again. It didn’t go to expectations. He was beaten by 4-1 by Alexander Ursenbacher … again

Here are the scores:

And the report by WST:

Swiss Bliss As Rocket Falls

Alexander Ursenbacher once again proved to be one of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s bogey players as the Swiss ace beat the World Champion 4-1 in the first round of the Cazoo British Open.

Switzerland’s top player Ursenbacher has now beaten O’Sullivan in all three of their ranking event matches – the other two coming at the 2019 Welsh Open and 2020 UK Championship. That’s a remarkable record for a player who won just three knockout matches in the whole of last season and remains in danger of relegation from the pro tour.

Ursenbacher’s mother Florenca surprised her son by making the trip to Milton Keynes to watch him play for the first time since his amateur days, and to her delight he rose to the occasion with a fine display against the reigning Crucible king and world number one. O’Sullivan’s attentions now turn to next week’s Hong Kong Masters.

Breaks of 69 and 45 helped Ursenbacher to a 2-0 lead. O’Sullivan pulled one back, and had a chance to clear from 58-7 behind in frame four, but missed the third last red to a top corner on 16. He was soon 3-1 behind, and world number 63 Ursenbacher wrapped up the result in the fifth with a run of 46.

I didn’t think my mum was ever going to come over and watch me because of her work schedule,” said Ursenbacher, who now meets Joe O’Connor in the last 64. “It surprised me when I saw her this morning, I was so happy and I thought there was no way I was going to give in tonight. I was really nervous all day, I was anxious and couldn’t eat. She’s the best mum you could wish for but that put pressure on me because I wanted to make her proud.

Against the best players, it’s the easiest way to push yourself. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to play Ronnie. When I play him I just want to go for it, it’s the ultimate test because he’s the greatest player who has picked up a cue. I always give 100% against him. I just play how I feel and hopefully you will see more of that from me for the next 20 years.

I have lost weight recently. My cat died in April and that helped because I was so upset I couldn’t eat anything, then after that I didn’t put it back on.”

It’s hard to know why some top players struggle against certain opponents. The most famous example is of course Mark Johnston Allen who has a 100% career record over Stephen Hendry.

Stephen Hendry, in commentary, reflected that he had not seen Ronnie play that badly for years. “He was rubbish” was his assessment of Ronnie’s performance. And, truly, Ronnie was very poor, especially in the first two frames. He had no touch at all, overhit the balls and misjudged his safeties. The only positive is that he continued to try. To be honest, he didn’t play well over the week-end either. Having to rest his arm, he probably didn’t put the work in and it showed.

But it wasn’t all about Ronnie. Alexander played really well. He was extremely efficient and reliable when in the balls. He didn’t miss anything easy. He totally deserved the win, on merit.

Off the table, Ronnie came up with the suggestion that the Main Tour should better support the Women’s Tour, notably by funding it.

Here is what Ronnie had to say about that, as reported by the BBC:

It’s so wrong that World Snooker haven’t made it better for the girls,” O’Sullivan told BBC Sport.

Why can’t they just take 5% off the prize money and give the ladies a good opportunity to play in good conditions?

I think everyone would support it and back it. You don’t want to be having this conversation even in another two or three years, it should be something that’s done within the next two or three months.

Decisions can be made quickly and done quickly, and it’s important for the likes of Reanne [Evans] as well because they have been playing a long time and they deserve to have that opportunity.

About the Mixed Doubles he added

It shouldn’t be a special event for them, it should be normal,” said O’Sullivan.

I think the best thing World Snooker could do is make that happen. You see what it’s done for ladies’ football, I was more geed up watching the ladies play than I was the guys. The guys haven’t been able to get the job done but the girls showed them how to win.

It would be great for the girls to have that opportunity.

And more specifically about Reanne Evans

Reanne is a 12-times world champion, that’s some feat. At least let her make it a professional job where she doesn’t have to go out and do other things to make ends meet.

She’s devoted her life to this game, most people in her situation would have given up snooker but she hasn’t, she loves it.

To this WST responded

Our remit is to run the World Snooker Tour for the professional players, including the four women on the tour. 

We felt the Mixed Doubles event over the weekend was fantastic. We are proud of snooker’s inclusivity and to be one of the few sports where men and women can compete together.

But that’s missing the point. One of the reasons why women struggle so much when getting on tour is because they never play under professional conditions on the Women’s tour and almost all of them have a full time job because there is no money on the Women’s tour. They are also not welcomed in some – too many – clubs … unless behind the bar. It’s not by chance that two of the four who got on the main tour, are On Yee and Mink who both have access to excellent conditions when “at home”. On Yee has funding as well. Reanne was well supported by her family and was able to devote a lot of time to snooker. Most women never get such opportunities. It all highlights how remarkable Rebecca Kenna’s achievements are. She has a full time job. She experienced rejection when trying to play in her local leagues, when some clubs didn’t allow her to play some “fixtures” solely because of her gender. She persisted, worked hard and is now a pro. Last week-end, she showed real qualities. But she shouldn’t have had to go through what she did. It’s baffling that in 2022 there are still clubs that don’t allow women to play. Also too often, unwelcoming behaviours, mocking and sexual “teasing” are tolerated in clubs. I have experienced it myself… and I’m a grand-mother. I have witnessed it many times too. “it’s just banter” or “boys will be boys” are the usual justifications for not doing anything about it. If this was about race instead of gender people would be up in arms.

Neil Robertson supports Ronnie’s ideas as reported by Phil Haigh

I think the women have been brilliant this weekend,’ Robertson told The Metro. ‘Hopefully women’s sport can kick off, get some more sponsors, some more funding and they can start to play for really good prizes themselves. Even though the money is increasing, it is still very low so we want to see that increase.’

On O’Sullivan’s five per cent plan he added: ‘It wouldn’t bother me at all – I’m always up for stuff like that. I wouldn’t mind prize money coming off from the top and being filtered down elsewhere where the funds are maybe needed more.

The Coming Mixed Doubles Challenges As Seen By Reanne and Rebecca

Reanne Evans and Rebecca Kenna have shared their thoughts, expectations and emotions ahead of the coming Mixed Double event.

Rebecca, who has been practising with Mark Selby, spoke to WST:

Kenna Hopeful Primetime Slot Can Inspire Next Generation

Rebecca Kenna is hoping this month’s BetVictor World Mixed Doubles event in Milton Keynes can “inspire” a generation of young girls across the country to pick up a cue.

After a summer that saw England’s Lionesses roar, a historic first Tour de France Femmes click into gear and England’s hockey stars strike gold at the Commonwealth Games, snooker is ready to take centre stage.

For the first time, the four women on the World Snooker Tour will be playing live on ITV. The event also marks 40 years since the network broadcast the inaugural World Doubles Championship back in 1982.

It’s just so fantastic that it’s on the main ITV channel because I never saw any women playing snooker on TV growing up,” said Kenna. “If I’d have seen women playing in a mixed doubles event with the world’s top four, as a five-year-old, I would have gone, ‘wow, I want to do that now!’ It’s a great incentive to see us on there. Hopefully, it does inspire some young girls to become professional snooker players and get the chance to play alongside those greats on live TV.

There’s also going to be a great incentive to join the women’s tour and get into that top four. And you never know, it might grow to a top eight and top 16. The tour might grow hugely from this and get more sponsorship, more players, better quality. Everything can then go in the right direction.”

Kenna will partner four-time World Champion Mark Selby for the event, in what she described as a “perfect” duo. But it won’t be the first time she has played in a team. Born in Keighley, just outside of Bradford, Kenna regularly played at The Liberal Club as a young girl with her dad by her side. Now 33, she hopes to lean on these experiences.

My dad was actually a big fan of Mark Selby. He unfortunately passed away in 2015. So it would have been really nice for him to see this. But, I hope he’s watching somewhere,” she said.

We used to play at club level and we never got nervous playing. But when he played with me, he’d say, ‘I’m a bit nervous, I wanna play well for you.’ And I’d say, ‘just relax, there’s no point in being stressed about it.’ So there is no point putting pressure on yourself or anyone else because there are other pressures. People watching on TV, people watching at home and in the crowd. If you have any external pressures on your shot, you’re not going to play very well. You just need to relax and play your own game.

Kenna heads into the event with momentum. A run to the final at the recent US Women’s Open in Seattle saw the women’s world number four not drop a frame in six matches before coming unstuck in the final against Jamie Hunter, losing 4-1.

While Kenna admits she didn’t deserve anything other than finishing second in the final, she enjoyed the experience of playing Stateside.

I loved Seattle,” she said. “There was a really good quality stream, with a commentator. People watching could get involved and talk back to us, they even had some players on commentary. They did really well trying to advertise it over there and it grew some new interest. Hopefully, more clubs might start to put snooker tables in their areas and not just play pool. But it was a really good experience. I hope we can go back in the future.

Just over two weeks have passed since Kenna returned from across the pond. A quick scan of her internal to-do list and she remembers she needs to check in on her shop, Cue Sports Yorkshire. Amongst practising, securing another sponsor and picking up a new car, Kenna found the time to make the journey down the M1 to meet the Jester from Leicester himself.

For the tournament, the rules state each player will take alternate visits to the table, rather than alternate shots, and Kenna admits the tactical side of the game is something she and Selby have discussed.

We’re not going to overthink it with who’s following who,” said Kenna. “We’re just going to play our own game and hopefully do well. You’ve got to take your chances and play the right shots.

The four men are all legends. And obviously, we know that they can score so heavily. So it might be on my mind that I don’t want to leave anyone anything. I don’t want to give them a sniff, because that might be the end of the frame. So I’ll be trying to pick out the best shot to play. If I’m in, try score, and if there isn’t a shot on, try play the best safety I can.

Those first quotes by Bex are very significant. I have written this many times: snooker, like all sports, is a number game. Girls need to see women play on the big stages to be inspired. Exceptional talents are … exceptional. The chances to identify one in a small “population” – which “female snooker players” currently is – are extremely low. Get more girls to play, make them feel welcome and the standard will improve.

Reanne was interviewed WST as reported by Phil Haigh and admits to mixed emotions

‘Mixed emotions’ – Reanne Evans on partnering Ronnie O’Sullivan at World Mixed Doubles

Phil Haigh Thursday 15 Sep 2022

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Reanne Evans will be tough to beat at the World Mixed Doubles (Pictures: Getty)

Reanne Evans admits there were some mixed emotions when she was partnered with Ronnie O’Sullivan for the World Mixed Doubles as performing in front of the greatest player of all time brings some pressure with it.

The brand new tournament starts on 24 September and sees the top four male players in the world team with the top four female players, which has obviously produced some exciting pairings.

Judd Trump teams up with Ng On Yee, Neil Robertson is paired with Mink Nutcharut and Mark Selby partners Rebecca Kenna, but Ronnie and Reanne is undoubtedly the highest profile team.

Clearly Evans was delighted to be drawn alongside the current world champion and world number one, but she admits it does come with some pressure as well as she doesn’t want to let the Rocket down.

Mixed emotions,’ Evans told WST on being paired with O’Sullivan. ‘I was like, you’ve got the best player in the world, the best player ever to pick up a cue, in my eyes. But then you’ve also got to perform in front of him as well!

He’s a great guy and I’ve had the privilege to play with him and against him in Snooker Legends and exhibitions.

Hopefully it’ll make me a little bit more relaxed because I’ve been there and done it. Obviously not on TV in a proper match, but I’m looking forward to it and hopefully he is too.

Whoever Evans was paired with, the team element of snooker is very different to a normal match and it does pile the pressure on.

I used to play league competitions with a team, you’re not just playing for yourself, its a different mindset, a different pressure,’ she explained.

If I miss I’ve let myself down normally, but now I’ve let Ronnie down, let my team down It’s a mix of pressures and emotions. But I’m looking forward to it, it’s exciting and a really good format.

I’m just going to go out there and try and enjoy it as much as I can, then hopefully we can win the thing, but it’s a flip of a coin. Anyone can win it, so I’m just looking forward to it.’

An Impromptu Interview with Jason Francis

Before you read further … I wanted to know more about the 900, and Jason had agreed to give me an exclusive interview for my blogs. Jason and I have known each other for many years and, well … our conversation lead us onto other subjects dear to us both, the Seniors and his future endeavours. That wasn’t planned but here goes … and enjoy!

M: On Tuesday next week, 8 players will compete in the first instalment of the 900 series. What inspired you to start this series and how did you come up with the concept?

J: I’ve always aim to create events that I, as a snooker fan, would want to watch or play in. That’s the main priority, at the end of the day I am a snooker fan. So whether it be the Legends Cup, the re-spotted black deciders, the team events, the doubles… its all about entertainment. So I created the Amateur Snooker League in 2021, ASL, and we did a trial event… it wasn’t right. So I listened to some tv companies, I tried to understand what is important to them… and I created the 900.

M: The players competing in the series are invited. How did this work and what criteria guided your choices? 

J: So I always said from the start the first event should reward those who have supported all my other events, no apologies for that. So many amateurs have taken time out to travel and play in whatever event I put on, many probably with no realistic chance of winning that event, but they’ve followed me so when I got this on I stuck by that promise, while at the same time making sure we tried to access every top amateur snooker champion in the world.

M: Organising such series of events comes at a cost and there is prize money as well. How is this series funded?

J: If you truly believe in something sometimes you have to be willing to back it, you have to set a level of prize money that is attractive, eye catching to amateurs but at the same time sustainable. On every event I have ever staged there has been no guarantee of me making money, that’s life as a promoter and what a lot of people just don’t get. There are plenty of people who sit in salaried positions in both sports I am involved in who can make decisions without that having any personal risk… I wonder sometimes if they would be making those choices if it was their money?

M: It is an amateur only series. Why is that?

J: That’s because we are televised and the WST professionals are not permitted to play on television without permission from world snooker and of course the 900 will clash with so many of their events over the course of the next 9 weeks. So many pros have asked me to play in it, I’ve told them in the future go and get permission and I will gladly have them in but the event trying to get sanctions comes with too many other restrictions that get imposed, especially around ownership of international tv rights outside the host broadcast.

M: On social media, you hinted at a “Professionals’ 900” and a “Women’s 900” in the future. Regarding the professionals in particular, how will that be made possible? Will they not be in breach of their contract considering that those events are televised?

J: As above… if the prize money is right I can invite pros and then its up to them to go and get permission, its seems they can all go and play pool at the moment so if a ‘professionals’ week happened on a non WST event week then why would they not allow their players to earn money in a week where they can’t provide a tournament? I think it would be pretty cruel to stop players earning money if they are not staging an event. The women’s is very much the same as no tv women’s event would have credibility without the top 4. Let’s see.

M: Among the players you invited, there is a significant number of “Seniors” players. I suppose that they are particularly keen to get their cues out as, this season, there is only one major Seniors event, the World Championship. What happened there? 

J: The 900 has a mix of Legends, Top Amateurs, Seniors, Juniors, Women and WDBS, it’s the inclusion of all that I am so proud of being able to do. Very few of these would have been on tv much, some not at all. They deserve their chance. The Seniors situation is a bit more complicated

M: In the last couple of years, a number of your Legends have definitely retired (Cliff Thorburn, John Parrott, Dennis Taylor). How does that impact the Seniors Tour? I’m mainly thinking about the promotion of the events here.

J: It’s simple, you’ve lost 4 commercially valuable and attractive names.. and so far we don’t have 4 to fill the gap but just because they are not hitting balls it does not mean that they are not of use at the events in other ways. Commentary, hosting, corporate hospitality. It’s a he problem though and one I was talking about way before it happened.

M: Younger “Legends” appear to be keen on playing on the Seniors tour. Mark Williams in particular has recently expressed his interest on social media. Currently, being a top player he can’t. However you hinted at changes that would make it possible next season. What are those changes?

J: So the truth is back in October 2021 I presented a blueprint for the future of seniors to my board, the WPBSA players board and WPBSA board itself

It was very much around the point above that we were losing ‘marquee’ names and we were not replacing them. The current agreement with WST allows us to invite players over the age of 40 ranked 65 and below, in return Seniors agrees not to clash events or approach any sponsors or broadcasters they work with. 

The agreement was right at the time we signed it, it no longer really works for either side so since January we have been trying to work on a new agreement with them and to explore my blueprint which requested to open up invites to the whole tour, even if it meant raising the age to 45. 

I also suggested if that was not acceptable it could be limited to tv invites to former major winners. This would not have affected the opportunities for amateurs, or any WST pro who was not invited, as that allocation of places would have remained the same. 

But the benefits would have been huge and to me it was so simple. The value of being able to invite Ronnie, Mark, John, Ballrun for example, 4 world champions to a seniors event staged at a time when no WST event was on, the commercial value of that to a sponsor, to ticket sales, TV, to the tour in general would have been massive in my opinion… and could have increased prize money significantly. 

And I go back to my very first point about putting on events I would like to play in… imagine winning a club qualifier knowing the chance to play Ronnie or John Higgins live on tv in the crucible is the prize? 

Anyway sadly it didn’t work out but that should not be a criticism of WST as at this time they are in a huge period of transition with their own challenges to face so I understand supporting seniors is not a priority. Barry stepping back feels a bit like a team losing their captain, then Nigel retiring as well means a hugely experienced operator is lost to the team, then you add on Pete and Eugene retiring who fitted all the tables and it’s no surprise that Jason Francis wanting Mark Williams in his senior events becomes less important to them.

M: What happened to the Uk Seniors in Hull

J: Lots of people ask what has happened to Hull, our home of the Uk Seniors for the past 3 years. That is something that has disappointed me. I found out that WST had placed the Tour Championship there early next year while I was actually in the venue for my darts. I worked so hard on that event and with the council, the mayor to try and get Hull on the map for snooker, maybe I did it too well as a major ITV just got dropped in right over the top of our planned 2023 UK Seniors. And what did irritate me, but was I accept an oversight, was that internally our sport talked about how great it was to get snooker to Hull, we’d been there three years! So anyway it was clear two events as close to each other would not work, and again me as a snooker fan am I going to buy a ticket to see Patrick Wallace v Darren Morgan (with respect to both) or am I going to go to a best of 19 between the likes of Ronnie and Judd? Not often I really get irritated but that was a blow as that decision was made without a single consideration of the Seniors tour.

M: So whats the future?

J: But the good news is from May, when the agreement ends, Seniors is free to do whatever it wants and my partners at the WPBSA have been so great in continuing to support their tour as they truly see the benefit of it. 

So whereas seniors fans and players may be disappointed for this season, please sit tight as with the freedom to stage events when and where we want, with no restrictions on who we talk to or invite, with my new broadcast partners on events in darts I think the Seniors could very well get back to where it was pre covid.

M: Back to the 900 … the line-up is extremely diverse, which is great to see. Notably, it includes female players. Yet you consider a “Women’s 900”. Why is that? 

J: I think a Women’s week special, just like the pros could work very well. Once again I would dip into my own pocket to get that on, its well-known I am a huge supporter of the women’s game, women in sport, and not just because I manage Reanne. Why more Women’s snooker is not on tv baffles me.

M: What about other “specific” 900s? A “Youth 900” maybe? Thinking “under 18”  and or “under 16” here. 

J: So this time the rules on betting meant I could not invite a Liam Davies, a Daniel Boyes or Stan Moody despite how good that would have been but what underlies the whole 900 concept is not just about this tv event. 

The software I have built with a young whizzkid called Aaron from Scotland can soon be licensed to clubs who can run their own events, their own leagues. 

The beauty of a game of 900 is its 15 minutes… it’s a couple of games in your lunch hour. In a night league format for 3 or 4 players to play a couple of games and be done before midnight. It suits the modern lifestyle. And then my events can be about leagues, clubs sending us their champions. It can be played as a doubles event, a team event… it’s so flexible. We already have enquires for clubs wanting to run their own 900 events.

M: Anything else planned?

J: You’ve known me long enough to know I never sit still but also a lot of people don’t know I’ve been fighting a criminal court case for almost three years after someone in the sport made up a series of lies and false allegations against me because I uncovered some financial irregularities in a company I was involved in with some other professionals. They tried to destroy my reputation, my role with seniors and me personally, it was incredibly stressful having to keep quiet about this during that period on legal advice. That all came to an end in June when the truth finally all came out in court, as I knew it would, and I was found not guilty, completely vindicated and got a costs order.

So that’s behind me and now I am free of that I am back on full charge…Doubles in November, Champs league for amateurs I hope to start in 2023. Added a 4th darts major, Legends is taking Ronnie to Bulgaria and Germany this season, working on exhibitions for Stephen H. Team Champs in April 23 and the small matter of 4 Seniors Qualifiers, 4 Super Seniors Qualifiers and 3 Seniors Open Events…keep up everyone lol

Thank you Jason and good luck in your endeavours!