Following the announcement that the 2023 Turkish Masters was canceled, there was discontentment amongst the players, understandably.
Stephen Maguire launches scathing attack on snooker bosses
Phil Haigh Friday 27 Jan 2023 12:04 pm
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.
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.