No #SPOTYforRonnie

Once again snooker has only got minimal coverage in the SPOTY show and neither Ronnie nor Mark Williams have been considered.

Here is Desmond Kane take of it. Desmond is writing for Eurosport

Feature – Ronnie O’Sullivan SPOTY snub reeks of ignorance, snobbery and borders on national disgrace

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s latest snub for the BBC Sports Personality of the year award is a total farce that is either genuine ignorance or a weird old case of class snobbery, writes Desmond Kane

And so the incurable malady of the Sports Personality ceremony lingers on.

The disgraceful decision to again ignore Ronnie O’Sullivan, snooker’s greatest player of all time, from SPOTY, hit a worst note than David Baddiel trying to sing Three Lions at the smug, self-satisfied annual jamboree.

The decision-making to somehow omit O’Sullivan from the shortlist is as much of a waste of space as filling Birmingham’s Genting Arena with 15,000 to celebrate a closed shop. This is an event that completely lost its sense of decorum a long time ago. Probably when blokes like Harry Carpenter and big Frank Bruno were putting golf balls around the old BBC TV Centre back in the 1980s.

SPOTY is no longer for the people who watch sport, but soiled by people who think they know what the public like or want. Who think they know better than the great viewing public.

VIDEO – ‘Absolutely ridiculous!’ – Allen slams Ronnie’s SPOTY snub

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It has as much credibility as the haggard Brexit diatribe “the will of the people” by disconnected eccentrics who have completely lost any sense of what the public actually want or like.

“What has anybody done in British sport done that Ronnie hasn’t done,” said an animated Mark Allen after his 9-7 win over Shaun Murphy in the Scottish Open final in Glasgow.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that he gets overlooked time and time again.”

O’Sullivan was priced at 14-1 for the top award last night behind only Tottenham and England forward Harry Kane, and it must be said a deserving winner in Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas.

Even when the six names were trotted out by host Gary Lineker, who weirdly invited them to trudge onto the stage if they heard their name like some sort of sixth form teacher, O’Sullivan was still ahead of Lizzy Yarnold and James Anderson in the betting.

But how can he win if he isn’t allowed a place on the shortlist?

VIDEO – O’Sullivan lifts seventh UK Championship

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Like him or loathe him, at the ripe young age of 43, O’Sullivan has personality, longevity and continues to be a magnificent champion at a stage of his career when other players are reaching for the horlicks.

The latest judging panel who opted against O’Sullivan for the final list of six nominees for the top award are guilty of failing to properly appreciate one of this country’s most talented sports people of all time.

Since he turned professional in 1992, O’Sullivan has astonishingly never been nominated. Yet on he goes, continuing to not only compete with age, but actually improve with 19 major events carried off from the sport.

He has enjoyed a wonderful time in 2018, finishing the year with a record seventh UK title while winning the World Grand Prix, the Players Championship, the Shanghai Masters and the Champion of Champions amid a smorgasbord of runs to the latter stages of events.

If he cannot make it onto the shortlist, you can well and truly forget the biggest snooker story of the year: the rejuvenated world champion Mark Williams winning a third world title at the age of 43, 15 years after his second gong at the Crucible. This miracle on the Sheffield mound occurred a year after the Welshman was thinking of retiring for failing to qualify for the tournament.

How can such world-class individuals be overlooked when they have spades of personality, charisma, dedication and a winning mentality?

VIDEO – When Mark Williams went NAKED to celebrate his world title – Eurosport Advent Calendar

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Snooker is a game that was huge in the 1980s when it was transported from darkened spaces in working men’s clubs to mainstream TV.

It made icons of men like Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, Steve Davis and Jimmy ‘The Whirlwind’ White, but it is interesting that snooker has been treated with more disdain at a time when standards have never been higher. At a time when the standard-bearer is an English bloke who performs such a tough, unremitting game like he is potting pool balls down the pub.

O’Sullivan brings a spiritual element to snooker that has never been seen before and is perhaps unlikely to be witnessed again. O’Sullivan has made it more of an art form than a game. Van Gogh of the green baize. Quite possibly.

Well, the working class roots of snooker are obviously sneered at, and a general ignorance about the talent levels involved in the game make a mockery of the SPOTY panel of judges. Once again.

The SPOTY judging panel have made a barmier call than the trio who thought Deontay Wilder drew with Tyson Fury in their heavyweight contest last weekend.

Like O’Sullivan, Fury does not fit into the politically correct crew who put false, manufactured persona above proper working class heroes.

Like O’Sullivan, he has suffered from a cliquish interpretation of what the man or woman in the street likes.

SPOTY will continue to be run by a cabal of misguided snobs, but it completely lacks any credibility when it decides to omit great personalities for being great. And more importantly, for being true to themselves.

Follow the link above to watch the actual videos.

Desmond’s article only expresses the sentiments that countless others shared on social media yesterday evening.

#SPOTYforRonnie – The Guardian’s view

This is the take of  “The Guardian” writers on the coming SPOTY

BBC Sports Personality of the Year: who should win five top awards?

Our writers offer their choices for the highest honours at the prestigious ceremony, from Ronnie O’Sullivan to Tracey Neville

Alastair Cook. Ronnie O’Sullivan, Tracey Neville, Ester Ledecka and the England football team all caught our scribes’ eyes.
Alastair Cook. Ronnie O’Sullivan, Tracey Neville, Ester Ledecka and the England football team all caught our scribes’ eyes. Composite: Tom Jenkins, PA and Getty Images

Main award: Ronnie O’Sullivan by Andy Bull

Ronnie O’Sullivan has been winning for 25 years now: five world championships, seven Masters and seven UK titles, the latest of them this month. His 19th major victory means he has overtaken Stephen Hendry and become the most successful player in snooker history.

Hendry had already reconciled himself to it. “Ronnie is the best player I’ve ever seen,” Hendry has said. And in all that time, O’Sullivan has never even been nominated for Spoty. Which suits him just fine. “I’m so happy I don’t get nominated,” he has said. “Standing around at some gathering – it’s not my scene.” Which is true, Spoty is a lot of nonsense, but it is also the sort of thing you might say when you have been snubbed 25 times.

O’Sullivan is the rare sort of genius you can actually relate to, one who is always carping about his job, his workplace and his boss. Just like us. And if he lost the popular vote in Crawley when he said their venue “smells of urine”, anyone who has spent any time in an average English leisure centre might suspect there was a grain of truth to it, too. O’Sullivan has always been pretty honest about how hard he finds life, his mental illness, his drink and his drug problems. And unlike some of the other nominees, he is not boring, he is not bigoted, and he is happy to pay his taxes. He is slogging through life just like the rest of us, doing the best he can, it’s just his best is that much better than everyone else’s.

Greatest sporting moment: Cook’s farewell century by Ali Martin

Ian Botham was often asked who wrote his scripts. But for one sunny September day in south London the great all-rounder’s playwright was seemingly seconded to Alastair Cook who, having stated the fifth Test against India at the Oval would be his last in the whites of England, signed off from the stage with a 33rd and final century.

At 33, Cook was calling time because of miles on the clock rather than age. He felt the extra drive that was required at the top level was missing and, in a summer dominated by the bowlers, a double-century against Australia the previous winter was starting to become an outlier. But, freed from any pressure or doubts, an innings of sweet timing followed, and not just by way of willow on leather.

By the time Cook walked off there were 147 runs to his name – bookending a record-breaking England career that had begun 12 years earlier with a century on his debut in Nagpur – and a capacity crowd that included his heavily pregnant wife, Alice, and two young children was rising for its umpteenth ovation. As the slightly embarrassed opener noted at the close: “Sometimes dreams do come true.”

World sports star: Ester Ledecka by Sean Ingle

A robust case can be made for all four world star of the year nominees. Francesco Molinari won the Open and took a maximum five out of five points at the Ryder Cup. Oleksandr Usyk became the undisputed world cruiserweight champion. And the incredible Simone Biles was the first gymnast in 30 years to win a medal in all six women’s events at the same world championships, a feat made all the more remarkable given she had a kidney stone 24 hours before her first discipline.

Yet what Ester Ledecka achieved in Pyeongchang was arguably even more mindblowing. Not only did the 23-year-old Czech become the first athlete in history to compete in skiing and snowboarding at the Winter Olympics – she also shocked the world by taking gold in both events. No one gave Ledecka a hope in the women’s Super-G skiing final, given she is primarily a snowboarder, was racing on skis rejected by the US superstar Mikaela Shiffrin and had been in severe pain beforehand. In fact, her victory was so unexpected that NBC declared Austria’s Anna Veith the winner before Ledecka came through to win by 0.01sec.

A few days later Ledecka crushed her rivals in the snowboard parallel giant slalom, a head-to-head in a series of knockout races, to make history. Her snowboarding coach, Justin Reiter, reckons Ledecka – who is also a brilliant windsurfer – is “one of the greatest living athletes”. Who are we to dare argue?

Gareth Southgate
Pinterest
Gareth Southgate after England’s victory against Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Team of the year: England’s footballers by Paul MacInnes

On the one hand it is too obvious. Men’s football dominates the sporting landscape in this country and sometimes the social and cultural equivalents, too. This England team do not need any more attention than they already have and – you know what? – they did not win anything either. But on the other, there is really no choice: Gareth Southgate’s side delivered the most significant performance of any British team this year. The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet for a number of reasons and one of those is that competing (and even noncompeting) countries invest so much of themselves into it. A good performance lifts a nation, a bad one sends it spinning into introspection.

England’s underperformance at international level had become a psychodrama; their defeat at Euro 2016 by Iceland four days after the Brexit vote a national metaphor. To throw all that off as England did was a seismic feat. To go further: to play modern, intelligent football, to do so with camaraderie and a smile, was not so much a pleasant surprise as a delicious shock.

England (the nation) revelled in it, it made people happy. What more can you ask for from a sporting team than that? And a semi-final place was not bad either.

Coach of the year: Tracey Neville by Anna Kessel

How many people can say they changed their sport forever? Tracey Neville’s England netball win did just that. Beating Australia, the best in the world, in their own backyard to clinch Commonwealth gold. Only Australia and New Zealand had ever made the final before. Neville’s team changed English sporting history and broke a global hegemony.

She did it with coaching prowess, bringing Helen Housby – who scored the winner in the final seconds of the game – into the England squad, making the inspirational Ama Agbeze captain, and squeezing every ounce of professionalism out of semi‑professional players.

The victory gave netball an iconic moment. That glorious photo of the Red Roses piled into a happy heap – Housby’s blue tongue and delirious expression – was plastered across front pages. Its power moved mountains: bringing in TV deals, a glossy Nike campaign and 130,000 more players.

In victory, Neville lifted her own profile, a very rare thing for a female coach. The media attention suits her. She is laugh-out-loud funny, down to earth and hugely likable. A women’s sport and a female coach outshining male competitors? That truly is a new world order.

#SPOTYforRonnie

Snooker personality of the year is upon us and Eurosport, amongst others, have been starting a social media campaign to get Ronnie in it. 2019 has indeed been remarkable year for Ronnie, who won five titles in the course of it, the last being his records breaking seventh UK Championship only a week ago.  It uses the hashtag #SPOTYforRonnie

Here they tell you why Ronnie deserves to be nominated for SPOTY

There is of course also a case for Mark Williams as well, after his extraordinary win at the Crucible last May, not forgetting the press conference and  celebrations that follow.

But in terms on “recognizability” by average Joe, Ronnie is by far the most marketable figure in snooker, and the one more likely to attract votes even from those who follow our sport only casually.

The recognition is long overdue and Hector Nunns on twitter reminded us why. This article is already four years old but still very much “up-to-date”.

ANOTHER BBC SPOTY SHORTLIST WITHOUT O’SULLIVAN

ANOTHER BBC SPOTY SHORTLIST WITHOUT O'SULLIVAN

RONNIE O’Sullivan may or may not have deserved to make the shortlist for this particular year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year Show, but the annual programme celebrating the sporting year this Sunday will be another reminder that he has never even been nominated and put forward to the public vote.

This year O’Sullivan has won the Masters, the Welsh Open making a 12th and all-time record 147 maximum break to win it, the Champion of Champions and the UK Championship in one of the best finals of recent years, chucking in another 147 in the event. And all done with the usual panache and style that has even fellow pros purring, drawing in TV viewers in the millions.

Let’s be generous to this year’s much-changed BBC panel and note some of those achievements occurred after the shortlist was announced, and also that he fell short in the big one, the World Championship final at the Crucible, losing 18-14 to Mark Selby in a match which he unusually let slip. If you believe that a world title should be some kind of pre-requisite to be nominated then there is at least a reason this year, although that is a decent campaign by most normal standards.

However the BBC have now given themselves a serious problem over O’Sullivan and wider sporting recognition for him on SPOTY – and it stems purely and simply from bewildering past oversights, and from not nominating him when they should have.

If not earlier, they should have had him on the shortlist in 2012, when his career was all but saved by sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, and O’Sullivan went from being 4-0 down in the first round in January at the German Masters to beating Andrew Higginson, winning his first ranking title for two and a half years in Berlin, and then winning a fourth world title and a first for four years.

And even more unforgivably, he should have been on the shortlist last year, incredibly waltzing to a fifth world title after finally doing what he had threatened for years and taking almost an entire season away from the game to recharge the batteries.

Having not taken these opportunities to give O’Sullivan the chance of at least a public vote for the recognition, either a) he never will be; b) the pressure reaches such a level he might get nominated in a year he shouldn’t be to make up for it; or hopefully c) he does win another world title, by no means guaranteed, and the chance is finally and belatedly taken to push his claims.

In recent casual conversations with sports editors they have expressed amazement that O’Sullivan has never been on the shortlist, since he transcends his own sport in the way great sportsmen do. And yet it is some of their colleagues who have in the past been in part responsible, making up the numbers on the panel who decides – alongside BBC senior management, and a selection of the great and the good of British sport.

There just seems to be a snobbery that persists about snooker, and a bias, agenda, call it what you like towards other sports. There is simply no other rational explanation as to why O’Sullivan has never been on the shortlist. This can’t be levelled at the public – they aren’t even getting the chance to vote – so it is the panel. A public vote would in my view in the years mentioned above have resulted in something akin to darts legend Phil Taylor’s second place in 2010.

Steve Davis, working for the BBC at the recent UK Championship, stated as diplomatically as he was able that O’Sullivan there was “more emphasis on sports where you sweat”, in fairness probably as far as he could go before in all likelihood earning some kind of rebuke from his employers. Davis, of course, finished in the top three five times in the 1980s in the days of a free vote.

His BBC co-presenter and commentator Stephen Hendry was stronger after last year’s baffling omission, raising the snobbery concern. O’Sullivan himself is pretty philosophical when asked about it, just accepting that he and his sport are not the cups of tea of those doing the judging.

In fairness there was a time in his career when O’Sullivan probably didn’t help himself, with the regular talk of retirement and hating his own sport – but the work with Peters has seen almost all of that disappear since 2011. And there is a valid reason he is called a genius to the point of monotony. That he is a genius.

The bottom line is that O’Sullivan would be far more recognised – and for good reason – than many of those shortlisted this or last year. He would be more recognised than most footballers. Probably six of this year’s crop could happily go down the street without being spotted. Fame isn’t everything, but O’Sullivan is widely known for his supreme talent and honours on the table and a certain notoriety, fascination and intrigue off it.

Personality, let’s call it. Let’s see if anything changes if he can equal Davis’s world title tally in Sheffield.

 

Photograph by Monique Limbos

It still valid, every word of it.

There were also plenty of players supporting the idea on social media. Such recognition would benefit snooker as  a sport and all its exponents. Asked the question in Glasgow this week, Mark Allen’s answer was unequivocal.

 

Media Day ahead of the Crucible 2018

The top 16 seeds were to meet the press today at the Crucible. Here are some images shared on social media by Worldsnooker, and thanks to Tai Chengzhe  who sent me a couple more!

Of course, as result there are plenty of articles and interviews out today. Here are links to a few you might like:

World Snooker Championship 2018: Ronnie O’Sullivan avoids Stephen Hendry comparisons (BBC)

World Championship: What makes the perfect snooker player? (BBC)

Ronnie O’Sullivan: Older, wiser and playing the best snooker of his life

World Snooker Championship 2018: Crucible quest continues for qualifying survivors (BBC)

Hector Nunns, on twitter, showed his appreciation for the players efforts and availability

Long day at the Crucible for the Media Day with the top 16. Credit to the players, they’ve all got through a lot of interviews. Some have now gone home, some stayed in if playing Sat/Sun

Strange article in the Weekly Standard

It’s long, and strange and whilst there is truth in it, I’m not sure I agree … to me it’s the expectations put on Ronnie by people who forget he’s only human, and by himself as well in the past , that are crazy, not his career that is a “failure” by any means.

This is it

The God of the Snooker Table

The game’s greatest player and the anguished dream of perfection.

Ronnie O’Sullivan at work in London, January 22, 2017 Photo Credit: Ben Stansall / AFP / Getty
 A beautiful simplicity seems to unfold when Ronnie O’Sullivan constructs a century break, potting 100 points’ worth of balls on a single visit to a snooker table. No one ever described snooker as an easy game, but when O’Sullivan begins to flow, he makes each moment look natural. Obvious, almost. Self-evident. To watch him line up a shot is often to think that you—or I, any of us—could pot that particular ball. And while we’re watching the struck ball settle in the pocket, the cue ball has magically drifted to a spot where the next shot possesses the same easy clarity. The same self-evidence. And so with the next, and the next, and the next, until he’s finished putting away the 36 balls that make up a completed frame of snooker.

“The Rocket,” they call him for the speed with which he plays, and he is, more than anything else, an artist at the game. Michelangelo once said that sculptors should discern the shape that wants to be freed from a block of marble, and Ronnie O’Sullivan practices a kindred art, perceiving in some not fully conscious way the simplicity that wants to be revealed on a snooker table.

That artistry may be what keeps O’Sullivan the crowd favorite everywhere he plays. At age 42—getting on in years for a successful professional snooker player—he is still by a huge margin the most popular figure in the sport from London to Shanghai. He’s lost nine tournaments for every tournament he’s won, but bookies nonetheless make him the favorite in nearly every match, if only to lay off the sentimental bets that invariably follow him.

His artistry may also be the problem with Ronnie O’Sullivan’s game. By almost any measure, the Rocket has had a successful career. His 30 career tournament victories over his 26 years of professional play tie him for second-most since the modern recordkeeping system was established in the 1970s. He stands as the all-time leader in prize money, having won in competition some £9 million (plus many millions more from exhibition matches, endorsements, and celebrity appearance fees).

And yet, to watch him play—to watch, for example, his seven-match trek to the English Open championship this October—is to wonder why he hasn’t been even more successful. For anyone else, his snooker career would seem a triumph, making him one of the all-time greats. But the Rocket wasn’t supposed to be one of the greats. Since his debut as a professional at age 16 in 1992—for that matter, since he first started appearing on the covers of snooker magazines as the game’s child prodigy at 10 or 12—O’Sullivan has demonstrated his transcendental ability, the best snooker has ever known. He’s also demonstrated his petulance, his quirky charm, his oddball humor, and his deep unhappiness: a morbid depression at each failure to play consistently at the impossible level of perfect snooker. It’s one of the many peculiarities of Ronnie O’Sullivan that he could have found all this success and still seem something of an underachiever. Something of a disappointment. Something of a failure.

Added to his play is the drama of his public presence, ginned up in equal measure by O’Sullivan himself and a British press that grasps at any storyline about the only snooker player whose name the entire nation knows. He sprained his ankle on a long-distance run just before the English Open, and he spent his first match limping around the table while wearing comfortable blue sneakers with the black vest and bow tie that snooker tradition demands. He easily won the best-of-seven match 4-1, but the British reporting was all about his rule-breaking shoes.

In the end, the shoe controversy was settled sensibly enough, with the tournament authorities giving O’Sullivan medical leave to wear soft shoes in his remaining matches, as long as they were black. But soap opera refuses to travel far from the Rocket. At the end of his third match, a middle-aged woman came down from the stands and began trotting around the table, telling O’Sullivan that she was “just going for a jog.” Snooker referees enforce silence during shots, decorum during matches, with a ferocity that golf officials, tennis umpires, and Amtrak conductors on the quiet car can only envy. But the invasion of the players’ area seemed to have them at a loss. So O’Sullivan calmly stepped up, potted the pink ball that assured him the match. And then—worried, he said, that the officials “were going to rugby-tackle her”—he handed the jogging spectator his cue so she could take on the final ball remaining. (She missed. Twice.)

In the following days, he struggled to set aside his most successful contemporary, John Higgins, then romped through the remaining rounds, defeating Kyren Wilson 9-2 in the best-of-17 final, with 4 century breaks along the way. But every O’Sullivan match has to have a little melodrama for the tabloids to report. He showed up for the final at Barnsley Metrodome arena on October 22 without his cue. Only a friend’s 40-minute dash back to the hotel saved O’Sullivan from having to forfeit the opening frames.

What championship tennis players arrive at a tournament final without their rackets? Golfers without their clubs? Boxers without gloves? O’Sullivan’s career is littered with dozens of strange episodes—some small, like the forgotten cue, and some large, like his storming out of the arena after his (victorious) first round of the 2016 world championship. Enraged that he hadn’t played as well as he wanted, he skipped the mandatory media interview, let his close friend, the artist Damien Hirst, watch him smash up his dressing room, and then fled to London to spend five days in the hospital getting treatment for depression and exhaustion. (He returned in time for the tournament’s second round the next week, which he lost, marking one of his earliest exits in years.)

Ronnie O’Sullivan would probably have been a happier man—and have won at rates that better reflect his talent—if only he could have brought himself to play the game as others do. With 13 perfect frames in his career (scoring all 147 possible points) and over 900 century breaks (the most 100-point turns anyone has achieved) he has considerable great play to be satisfied about.

But snooker was not designed for much precision. Small flaws and minute miscuings add up across the expanses of green baize, and the Rocket cannot stand it. In truth, Ronnie O’Sullivan has never played much snooker. What he plays is some mad game against the imperfection of the world and his own demons. The battle only happens to take place on a snooker table. Having won 74 percent of his matches over his career, O’Sullivan has the highest winning percentage of any longtime tournament player, but it feels to him mostly a record of frustration: How could he lose more than a quarter of his matches? The greatest snooker talent who ever lived, snooker’s sole genius, plays to create the perfect simplicity of a work of art.

It’s a mug’s game.

* *

Tabletop cue-and-ball games originated in the 15th century among French and English aristocrats, essentially as lawn games moved indoors for the winter (hence the traditional green color of the cloth). At the beginning, the thick end of the stick was used to whack the balls, like a miniature version of croquet. Pockets, once they started to appear, were akin to ponds or bunkers in golf: things to be avoided while the balls smashed around the table.

By the 18th century, the pockets had become goals rather than hazards, with the narrow end of the cue used to poke the cue ball. A range of new games developed, culminating in the modern forms of billiards and pool. Snooker, too, although it was a deliberately invented variety, created in the 1870s by British Army officers stationed in India. Snooker was army slang for a new and useless cadet, and in the officers’ mess the term came to be applied to the game: first as a position with the target ball blocked from a direct shot (leaving a player snookered) and then as a name for the game itself.

The officers brought snooker back to Great Britain, and the game had a brief vogue among the upper middle classes and the posh gentlemen’s clubs. But soon enough it drifted down to working-class pubs and what became snooker halls, where it picked up the vague aura of seediness and criminality it kept for decades. (No one was surprised, for instance, to learn that the Kray brothers, England’s most infamous 1950s gangsters, had started out managing snooker clubs.)

Still, in the late 1920s, the game found its chance. Billiards, snooker’s main rival in Britain, was falling in popularity, mostly because of the tedious stalemates at the highest level of play, while American pool had never caught on. Perceiving the opening, some skillful players (notably Joe Davis, who won every “world championship” from 1927 to 1946) tried to bring respectability to a professional version of the sport. They mandated vests and bowties for snooker players and dressed the referees in dinner jackets, giving the game the working-class formality of emcees in 1920s music halls—an aesthetic to which snooker still adheres.

As far as the rules go, snooker thrives on the kind of British complexity that makes cricket so indecipherable. (Hard to play, hard to watch, and hard to explain to Americans, as the old line runs.) A frame of snooker starts with 21 balls on the table, plus a cue ball. Fifteen red balls, worth one point each, are arranged in a triangle. Six different balls are then set in marked positions around the table. Called “the colors”—yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and black—these balls rise in value from two to seven points. The game requires using the white cue ball to knock any red ball into one of the table’s six pockets, followed by knocking in any colored ball. Each time one of the colored balls is potted, the referee returns it to its place on the table. After all the red balls are gone, the colors must then be potted in order from yellow to black.

At most, then, a frame of snooker requires knocking in 36 balls: 15 reds, alternating with 15 colors, followed by the 6 colors. Players continue a turn, called a break, until they miss, at which point their opponents get a chance. And all of this takes place on a table almost double the area of even the largest tournament-sized pool table, with pockets an inch tighter. Just to make things more difficult, the green baize covering a snooker table has a definite nap running in one direction, distinguishing the warp from the woof of the cloth. Many of the combinations allowed in pool are banned by the rules of snooker, which require the object ball, whether a red or the designated color, be the first ball struck by the cue ball. A foul results from accidentally potting a color other than the one the player named while lining up for the shot, which eliminates most bash-and-pray techniques.

All these rules are designed to lend snooker a superficial precision—and to casual spectators, cue-and-ball sports do look like wonderfully clean games: Euclidean in their angles and Newtonian in their motions. In the 17th century, deistic philosophers commonly used billiards as a metaphor for God’s mechanistic management of the physical universe.

Unfortunately, snooker at the highest level becomes something non-Euclidean and even anti-Newtonian. Snooker tables are so big that a pot down the diagonal runs over 13 feet—an enormous distance to roll a five-and-a-half-ounce ball across napped cloth and expect it to hold its line. On those expanses, infinitesimal imperfections in the cloth and resin-cast balls, even dustings of chalk, have an influence. Balls wobble, failing to keep an even motion. Unpredictability adds up from tiny slippages of the chalked cue tip, angular momentum as the balls spin, and small compressions as they strike one another.

Players sometimes seek non-Euclidean lines with tricks of friction to swerve and reverse direction (putting “English” on the ball, in the old American expression). But always they play with a probabilistic physics. Professional snooker is more like Niels Bohr’s vision of the atom than Newton’s picture of the solar system. The key to snooker is only partly—almost incidentally—the potting of reds and colors. The real game concerns where the cue ball goes after it has struck the target balls. Using top spin, side spin, or back spin to control the bounce of the cue ball off the target ball, calculating the reversal off the side cushions and the cannon (a billiards corruption of the French word carom) off other balls, the players aim for a probabilistic field, seeking to settle the cue ball somewhere within the area offering the greatest chance to line up the next shot.

And how do you play the game if you’re someone who despises chaos theory and unpredictable cascade effects—someone congenitally incapable of a let’s-just-see-what-happens attitude? How do you play the game if you’re Ronnie O’Sullivan?

* *

O’Sullivan owns a painting Damien Hirst made for him, an enormous tableau (12 feet by 6 feet, the size of a tournament snooker table) that shows the position of the balls as O’Sullivan began his first maximum break of 147 points, with ghostly gray images of the frame’s later positions.

Snooker has had some famous moments in the years since the BBC began televising it, giving the game a national prominence—originally in 1969 with a program called Pot Black, designed to show off the BBC’s new color broadcasting, and then in 1978 with the first coverage of the World Snooker Championship tournament. Cigarette companies became the broadcasts’ enthusiastic supporters (followed by gambling companies, once the BBC banned tobacco advertisements, and snooker has had a problem with players’ gambling in recent years). As the television and promotional money increased, so did the number of players converting from amateur to professional, and the level of prizes rose from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands.

Television showed a classic frame in 1982, for example, when Alex Higgins—the Hurricane, he was nicknamed: a slight and wildly self-destructive Irish player, the most popular figure of the time—snatched an improbable victory from another crowd favorite, Jimmy White, in the semifinals of the world championship. A second came in the 1985 championship final, when the largest British audience for a sporting event tuned in to watch Dennis Taylor in his oversized glasses defeat the most successful player of the 1980s, Steve Davis. After grueling through to a 17-17 tie, Taylor and Davis played a 35th and final frame that lasted 68 minutes, ending well after midnight with over 18 million viewers watching Taylor pot the final black ball to win the title.

And then there was the break Hirst memorialized for O’Sullivan—a first-round match at the 1997 championship in which the Rocket, 21 years old, scored a perfect 147 in a break that took him only 5 minutes and 20 seconds. A typical frame for professionals lasts around 20 minutes, with matches varying from as few as best-of-7 frames to as many as best-of-35—and tournaments requiring as many as 7 matches to get through to the final round. Like the walking in professional golf, the grinding through frames, day after day, makes endurance one of the abilities needed to win a snooker tournament.

That grinding seemed to irritate O’Sullivan even while he was young, and the speed of his 1997 perfect break remains unrivaled. A 147 score requires that the 7-point black ball be the only color potted after each red: no reaching for a nearby pink or blue to ease the tactical situation, no running up the table for a yellow, green, or brown. O’Sullivan’s 5:20 time, averaging 8.8 seconds per shot, stands as one of those sports records never seriously challenged, akin to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point basketball game and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in baseball.

And perhaps the most interesting element, as one watches video of the break, is that the young O’Sullivan never appears hurried. A handful of professional snooker players (notably Tony Drago, Hurricane Higgins, and the Whirlwind, Jimmy White) played the game fast, rapidly lining up the best available shots. But they always seemed to be rushing, pressing for speed, while O’Sullivan simply flows around the table, gliding to the next spot and even appearing to take his time. Each of his career’s 13 perfect games is a master-class in break building, but that first 147 had a joyousness in its perfection—a happy promise of all the young genius would do. And then he lost the next round and failed to reach even the quarterfinals, growing frustrated and surrendering a 12-13 match to a journeyman named Darren Morgan.

The highs and lows of that 1997 tournament are a perfect microcosm, a lasting figure, for much of O’Sullivan’s odd career. Every sport has seen players of undoubted ability (think of, say, football’s Ryan Leaf) who failed to click at the professional game. Every sport, for that matter, has seen any number of players who had runs of brilliance (think baseball’s Denny McLain) but never quite put together an extended career. What’s rarer are the athletes who have shown what, for any others, would have been greatness at a high level for a considerable period but nonetheless appear to leave their talent unfulfilled. Mike Tyson, certainly. Mickey Mantle, perhaps. Jim Brown. The wildly emotional early years of John McEnroe. Tiger Woods, maybe. Often enough, father-figure demons haunted them. Many of them drank, drugged themselves, and misbehaved, rebelling against the activity that had made them famous. All of them found less joy in the sport than we believe we would have, when we imagine ourselves with their stratospheric levels of talent.

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This is the class of which Ronnie O’Sullivan is the archetype. Born in 1975, he was both cosseted and abandoned as a child. His parents were working class with millionaire money, running a string of sex shops in London. It kept them too busy to care much for Ronnie and rich enough to hire constant help. The father, Ron Sr., cut a large figure, paying all his son’s club fees as he developed into a young snooker phenomenon. Whenever Ron came into the club to watch his son, one friend recounted, he paid for all: “No one put their hand in their pocket.”

By the time he was 12, the ambidextrous boy was reportedly making several thousand pounds a year from exhibitions and junior tournaments, and he was already developing the charm and persona of working-class shyness that would endear him to fans. Asked how big he wanted to be in the sport, he told a television interviewer he wanted to be 5-foot-10—the perfect height, he thought, for a snooker player. The interviewer laughed and the audience fell in love with the wide-eyed little boy in a satin waistcoat and bowtie.

By the time he was ready to turn professional at 16, he seemed primed to explode on the snooker scene. Forced to play qualifying matches as a first-year player, he set the sport’s record by winning 38 matches in a row and 74 of his 76 qualifiers. But then in 1992 his father was sent to jail for knifing to death in a pub brawl a driver for the gangster Charlie Kray. Emotionally, the world collapsed for the young player.

Ronnie won the U.K. championship the next year at age 17, the youngest champion of one of the Triple Crown tournaments, the three most prestigious events on the tour. Dozens of reporters lined up to film him and shout questions as he brought the trophy to prison to show his father. Two years later, his mother, Maria, was sent to prison for tax evasion.

Through the first decade and a half of his career, he won enough tournaments to keep himself among the game’s premier players, including the Masters in 1995 at age 19 and the world championship in 2001, completing his trio of Triple Crown victories. But his wins were rarer than they should have been as he wandered through the snooker scene lost in drink and fatherlessness. In 1996 he was suspended after he head-butted an official. He quarreled with the snooker association, gave shyly charming interviews that kept him in the public eye, and lost matches he should have won. In 2000, O’Sullivan checked himself into rehab after being stripped of a title for failing a drug test. In 2001, while winning the world championship, he called a suicide hotline and began dosing himself with antidepressants.

Snooker players usually start to lose their edge in their 30s. Stephen Hendry, for example, was the greatest player of the 1990s, the man whose 36 career victories in ranking tournaments place him ahead of O’Sullivan. He no longer had his old invincibility by the time he was in his mid-30s, and had essentially retired by 40. What weaken, most obviously, are the eyes: Snooker lives in the middle range between nearsightedness and farsightedness as the players lean over to bring the cue ball, an arm’s-length from their faces, in focus with a target ball sometimes 10 feet away.

Throughout his late 20s and early 30s, O’Sullivan seemed a wild man. He grew his hair out. He shaved his head. He sat through another player’s break with a towel over his face. He sired three children out of wedlock with two different women, neither of whom is his current companion, and he reportedly has rarely seen his eldest daughter.

In 2004, the six-time world champion Ray Reardon coached him on improving the weakest part of his game, setting up safety shots and snookers that leave opponents no good replies, and O’Sullivan won the 2004 world championship. It didn’t settle him. He repeatedly threatened to retire, and he walked out of a match with Stephen Hendry down only 4-1, reportedly saying, “I’ve had enough of it, mate.” It was always as though he wanted to play by himself, hating the presence of his opponents and being out of sync with the referees. In 2008, he threw away a match against Marco Fu by playing too fast and too sloppily—and then, obviously stoned, he made an obscene suggestion to a female reporter at the after-match press conference. And just because he was the unpredictable Ronnie O’Sullivan, he went on to win the world championship, his third, only a few weeks later.

A dry spell would soon follow, as age apparently caught up with O’Sullivan, who failed to win a tournament from late 2009 to early 2012. His top spin disappeared, his long pots went astray, and his safety shots rolled short. He found himself concentrating even more on his obsessive running, seeking in the loneliness of roadwork some escape from his anxieties. (His 2003 autobiography, Ronnie, tells of his parents’ troubles, while his 2013 book, Running, speaks of his own demons.) Over his career, he’s flirted with multiple religions and even left the game for a while to try farming.

What eventually did seem to help were sessions with the sports psychiatrist Steve Peters, and suddenly, at age 36, he started claiming tournaments again. In 2012 and 2013 he won his fourth and fifth world championships. In 2014 he took his fifth Masters and his fifth U.K. championship. In 2016 and 2017 he added his sixth and seventh Masters titles—despite such well-reported adventures as deliberately refusing a perfect game, scoring 146 in protest over the low bonus offered for a 147.

Mark Selby has been the top-ranked player for the past few years, but Ronnie O’Sullivan, entering relatively few events, remains a serious threat at 42 years old—reviving his career yet again this season as he followed his English Open victory by reaching the finals of the Champion of Champions on November 12, winning the Shanghai Masters on November 18, and playing well in the U.K. championship through the first week of December.

* *

The late surge of good play hasn’t made him entirely happy or content. He claims to be much calmer these days, much more accepting of small failures. But after winning the English Open, he immediately began to squabble with tournament officials and refused to accept the trophy that went along with his victory. He publicly complained about “numpties” in subsequent matches, his word for minor players who, he thought, enter tournaments just so they can get their pictures taken with famous champions. He caused a scene by insisting on photographers being thrown out of a match in Shanghai, and he told an interviewer that he would happily skip the next Triple Crown tournament for the chance to appear on a British reality-television show.

What remains for him? Still able to win matches in his 40s, embarked on yet another successful run this season, O’Sullivan should reach in the next few years the mark of 1,000 century breaks he has said he wants. Six more ranking tournament victories would match Hendry’s 36 wins (albeit over a much longer period than Hendry’s 17 years). O’Sullivan’s last 147 was in 2014, and he may add a few more perfect breaks before he stops playing. His career will go down in snooker history as ranking alongside the careers of Joe Davis, Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, and perhaps Mark Selby.

It doesn’t seem quite enough. The greatest sheer talent snooker has ever seen, the one true genius of the sport, he should have no one rank alongside him. To watch Ronnie O’Sullivan play snooker, in those moments when the Rocket flows and his break-building reveals the simple beauty in the game, is to wonder how he ever lost a match.

The answer is inextricable from the style with which he plays. The imperfections of the snooker table, like the imperfections of the world, will not be overcome forever. The demons of the human condition will not be held at bay for long. Ronnie O’Sullivan wanted to make a perfect art of snooker, and the problem isn’t his choosing snooker. The problem is his sad need for perfection. His mad need for art.

Hustle or Crucible?

Ronnie also spoke yesterday with Desmond Kane (Eurosport) and hinted that he could – possibly – miss the World Championship 2018.

So here is the article:

Ronnie O’Sullivan threatens to miss World Championship for reality TV

Desmond Kane

Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed he could forfeit the chance to bid for a sixth World Championship due to his business interests off the table.

O’Sullivan has said he could be filming a second series of reality TV programme Hustle in Australia – where he plays pool against local players – when the sport’s biggest tournament begins on April 21 in Sheffield.

He has not missed a World Championship since his first appearance as a teenager at the event in 1993.

“Eurosport events are a priority for me,” said O’Sullivan after his emphatic 4-0 victory over world number 113 Duane Jones at the Northern Ireland Open. “The China events are a priority for me because of my commitment to sponsors.

“If I wasn’t to play in this year’s World Championships, or play in the UK. Or play in any of those tournaments like the German Masters, don’t be surprised. Because I know I can’t play every week.

“For me, I don’t need another UK, another world or another Masters. If my agent thinks it is right for me to go, I’ll go.

” It is a toss up whether I’ll do another Hustle or play in the World Championship in May. I can’t do both. “

“If I do another Hustle, I can’t really play in the World Championship.”

O’Sullivan is the sport’s leading money winner this season having won the English Open in Barnsley and the Shanghai Masters on Saturday. He has also lost finals at the Hong Kong Masters and the Champion of Champions.

“It is good that I’m doing well now because then it doesn’t really matter about the World Championships,” said O’Sullivan. “We’ll just have to wait and see. It is nice to have a safety net.

“I have to prioritise the events I play in. I want to do another Hustle because that is something away from snooker that I can do. There are no restrictions there.

“It is about getting the balance right. 17 days at Sheffield is okay if you win it, but if you don’t win it is a waste of time.

“For me, it is just about managing my time and my diary. I don’t think it is going to be possible to do the show and the World Championships because I have a few things I want to do at the end of May.

“I’ve got some other stuff to do in early June in China. I have a really great relationship with the people in China. It is more important that I put Hustle and that first.”

O’Sullivan has hinted that he would be open to sitting down and listening to a sponsor if there is the incentive of appearance money, a principle World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has publicly rejected.

“For me, the World Championship is just another tournament. It is about doing what is right for Ronnie, not just being too focused on titles. That is the old me,” said O’Sullivan.

“If the terms are right and we can agree to certain stuff, there should be a way round it. If not, then Hustle is something that is on the table. Everyone enjoyed the last one in America. “

“There is loads of people who want me to do another one in Australia; I have to look beyond snooker. For me, this is just a shop window. It is tournaments rather than doing I’m A Celebrity. It is just keeping playing and having fun.

“I know people want to see my playing snooker, but there are other things I like to do away from snooker. Those are the reasons I’m happy today so why would I turn my back on something that has made me happy?

“If people can get round the table and come to some common sense..but it is difficult sometimes to come to that middle ground. You have to make some tough decisions.

“I probably have to give them six or seven weeks notice before they begin doing their research in Australia. They go out there and pick spots and places to go. Once the wheels in motion, you can’t let them down. Otherwise there won’t be another series of Hustle.

“Once I commit to it, I have to commit to it. If people want me there, they’ll get round the table sooner rather than later because it is never nice to leave it to the last minute.

“It is not just money, there are certain other things. My agent will sit down with me, and we’ll make the decision.”

O’Sullivan thumped Jones in a very one-sided encounter to reach the third round of the tournament and a last-32 meeting with Elliot Slessor on Thursday.

Obviously, as a fan, I want to see Ronnie play at the Crucible and it certainly wouldn’t be the same without him. But, at the end of the day, he’s nearly 42, it’s his life, his career, his future … and his happiness, therefore it’s his decision and his only. I still really hope things get sorted and that somehow he can do both.

And I don’t like the word “threatens”, he’s not threatening anyone.