WPBSA Proposals Submitted to Parliament for Re-Opening of UK Snooker Facilities
13th May 2020
The Chairman of the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), Lincoln MP Karl McCartney, has today submitted to the Sports Minister proposals for the re-opening of snooker clubs.
The proposals incorporate guidance for club owners and staff to be able to operate as sporting facilities by providing a safe and controlled environment for all.
Since the UK government placed the country into ‘lockdown’ on 23 March to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus we have maintained regular communication with a number of our affiliated clubs, hosting an online forum to help us to identify the key issues currently facing club owners during this unprecedented crisis.
In parallel with these proposals for the opening of clubs to the public, we are today also able to provide further guidance to our professional players based in the UK.
Step 1 – Professional Players’ Return to Work
We are acutely aware of the impact of the current closure of clubs and academies upon our professional players, many of whom have been unable to practice without access to their facilities.
“All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open.”
Having carefully considered this government advice we are today able to advise WST professional players only that they can now return to their practice facilities if specified conditions are met. These conditions are clearly set out HERE.
The place of work of a professional snooker player is not only at events. It is also where their practice table is based for training purposes. It is essential that players to have access to training facilities before returning to professional tournament play.
Snooker is no different to other professional sports and professional snooker players are no different to other athletes in this respect. Return to professional competition or approved online activity is essential for professional players to earn a living.
We are actively engaging with Parliament through the APPG to demonstrate how snooker can be played safely and responsibly by recreational and amateur players whilst adhering to current social distancing rules.
Key proposals include (but are not limited to) the following:
Regular cleaning of venues on a daily basis
Hand sanitiser to be provided at all tables, entrances and toilets
Regular cleaning of equipment after every customer
Staff to wear masks and gloves
Limited entry to venues / reduced opening hours
Social distancing measures including clear signage for customer flow to/from tables to be observed
Closure of bar areas with limited table service/takeaway food options to be provided
Player guidance to avoid unnecessary sharing of equipment and interaction
Should any club be found to be in breach of guidance provided they would be liable to closure by the relevant authorities.
It is hoped that that through the strict introduction of such measures it will be possible to re-open snooker clubs to the public in a safe and sustainable manner.
WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: “The unprecedented global situation that exists has had a profound effect upon us all and of course snooker has not been able to escape the reality that we currently find ourselves in.
“Our message to everyone connected with snooker however is that the WPBSA is there for you and are working hard to be able to restart our sport – at all levels – as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so. This will not be without its challenges, but through the measures submitted to Parliament today we are confident that the wider public will be able to access our sport’s facilities and will remain proactive until this is achieved.”
“We are further grateful for the support provided to us by the APPG which has worked with us closely during this process.”
Following the submission of our proposals to Parliament both the WPBSA and the APPG will maintain dialogue with the government and its relevant authorities to secure the full re-opening of snooker venues as soon as possible.
At the time of writing however, we would remind all UK clubs that they must follow all laws and guidance published by the government at its website: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
It’s a great effort by WPBSA to design and submit these proposals to allow players back at the table, for training purposes as the first step. The document is clear, easy to read, and well structured.
Now ask yourself if adhering even just to half of that would be realistically feasible in match play with 12 tables, 128 players, plus fitters, referees, and officials on-site. One of the recommendations is to avoid touching the table as much as possible. How’s that gonna work in a match? I’m well aware that mid-July – the latest possible start for the World Championship qualifiers – is still 2 months away, but I very much doubt that a return to “normal”, or “normal enough” will be possible within these two months. I honestly can’t see the World Qualifiers being played “safely” by then.
Today we look back on a 2019/20 World Women’s Snooker Tour season which has seen some fantastic snooker played across the globe by the world’s leading female players.
Of course, the end of the season has not concluded in the way that we would have liked with the unavoidable postponement of both the Festival and World Championship tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has nevertheless been an important 12 months for women’s snooker with tournament entries and media exposure continuing to increase.
Below we pick out a few of the highlights of the campaign and reflect on the action we have seen on the baize…
For the first time since the 2016/17 season we crowned three ranking event champions as regular champions Reanne Evans and Ng On Yee were joined in the winner’s circle for the first time by Nutcharut Wongharuthai.
Having been knocking on the door for the previous 18 months with four ranking event final appearances to her name, the Thai star memorably broke her title duck at the Australian Women’s Open with victory against On Yee in the final. The win saw her become only the sixth active player to have won a full-ranking event title and reach a new career-high ranking of third in the world where she remains today.
Either side of her triumph came further victories for England’s Reanne Evans, who added record-extending ninth and sixth triumphs at the UK Women’s Championship and Eden Women’s Masters tournaments respectively. The wins helped our reigning world champion extend an unbeaten run dating back to October 2018 and underline her status as the undisputed number one on tour.
It was however Ng On Yee who ended the winning streak of Evans at our most recent competition in Bruges back in February, a 4-2 final success marking her own return to form as she claimed her first title in over a year on the WWS circuit at the second Belgian Women’s Open.
Prior to the ranking event action though it was at the iconic Crucible Theatre in Sheffield where the new season was launched as women’s snooker returned to the home of snooker for the first time in 16 years.
The new Women’s Tour Championship saw our top four ranked players take to the baize at the venue which has hosted the professional World Championship since 1977, with only Reanne Evans have competed there previously.
With plenty of drama, tension and high quality snooker on display, the event represented a wonderful showcase of women’s snooker and demonstrated what our top players can do on the big stage.
The primary objective of WWS remains to provide opportunities for women and girls to pick up a cue and play snooker, providing the platform for players around the world, of any age or level of experience, to do so competitively.
We have been delighted this season to welcome several new players to the World Women’s Snooker Tour with no fewer than 35 women competing on the circuit for the first time.
With a total of 152 players from 29 countries currently ranked – an increase from just 38 players only six years ago – the tour is bigger than it has ever been during the current generation with more players joining all the time.
Among those to have joined the circuit, Northern Ireland’s Chucky Preston made an immediate impression at the Eden Masters by reaching the quarter-finals on her debut, while she was also one of a number of newcomers to reach the final of one of our side-tournaments during the campaign.
For the first time we welcomed players from Morocco as African Games champion Yousra Matine and Hind Bennani travelled to England to compete, with Hind reaching the Challenge Cup final at the UK Championship despite playing with a borrowed cue after her own did not arrive in time.
We have also been excited to welcome new players from Guernsey, Scotland, Russia, New Zealand and more.
It has been another season which has seen key movements across the world ranking list with a number of players reaching new career-high positions as they continue to develop their game.
As already mentioned above the most notable example is Thailand’s Nutcharut Wongharuthai who climbed to third position behind leading duo Reanne Evans and Ng On Yee at the top of the list.
Not far behind her and up to a new career-best of seventh is Emma Parker of England, who enjoyed another strong season by reaching her second ranking event semi-final at the Belgian Women’s Open, as well as winning Under-21 tournaments in Bruges and Leeds. She also achieved success at national level by claiming the English Women’s Championship for the first time.
Other notable players to have made significant gains at the top end of the rankings include former European champion Wendy Jans, while 17-year-old Ploychompoo Laokiatphong is up to 14th after she reached her first ranking event semi-finals at the UK Women’s Championship and Eden Masters tournaments.
It has been another season where together with our friends at the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association and World Snooker Tour, we have continued to work to provide new opportunities for our stars to compete at the highest level.
Most significantly this season saw our reigning world champion Reanne Evans qualify to play at the professional Champion of Champions for the first time, where she took on former triple crown winner Shaun Murphy live on ITV4. There she was able to recover from 3-0 down to force a deciding frame, before Murphy was able to get over the line with a one-visit break.
Once again Evans was also invited together with Nutcharut Wongharuthai to compete at the Shoot Out professional ranking event, although both ultimately found themselves up against impressive performances from opponents Ian Burns and Thor Chuan Leong respectively in the first round.
Both Evans and Ng On Yee also competed at the prestigious SangSom 6-Red World Championship in Thailand last September, while our top three ranked players were also set to play at the Betfred World Championship qualifiers in Sheffield this month, prior to the postponement of the tournament until later this summer.
Whether as a fellow competitor, an organiser, as a colleague or as a friend, it is safe to say that most people involved with women’s snooker during the past 40 years have come across Mandy Fisher at some stage or another.
One of three well-known women to have played under the surname Fisher – bizarrely none of them are related – the highlight of Mandy’s career on the baize came back in 1984 as she achieved her dream of becoming the world women’s snooker champion.
But her legacy to the sport will be something far greater as she played an instrumental role in the creation of the organisation known today as World Women’s Snooker (WWS), which she still heads today as its president.
For over 40 years her life has been intertwined with a sport that has fascinated her since she was a girl. Today in the first of a two-part interview, we hear from Mandy about how she became involved with snooker and the events that led to the formation of WWS in 1981.
“When I left school, I used to go to a local BRSA (British Rail Staff Association) club with my parents because there were a lot of activities including pool and bar billiards,” said Fisher. “One day they were short on players in their team and they asked me to play pool and I won. I then won the local singles championship in my area which was a big achievement at the time. I was the only woman ever to be in it and the only woman ever to win it.
“After that my dad took me somewhere to buy me a cue as a present when I was 16 and that was the first time I had ever seen a snooker table.”
From the outset Mandy was intrigued by the game and as she learned more, inspired by the opportunity in front of her to be able to progress to the highest level in the sport.
“The guy who had the snooker room said he knew of a women’s association and I went along and I saw the standard,” said Fisher. “I thought that there is no other sport in the world where I felt like I could reach this level and become good at it, so I spoke to my parents about how much I loved it. They gave up their front room and moved into a bedroom so I could have a snooker table in there!
“I practiced hard and I went to the World Championship and it was brilliant. A girl called Lesley McIrath won it from Australia and they announced that the following year there was going to be £2,000 for the winner and £1,000 for the runner-up. That was a year’s wages for me so I had a chat with my parents and gave up work to concentrate on snooker. That following year I reached the final, won £1,000 and lost in the final to Vera Selby.”
After her breakthrough performance came a devastating blow however as it was announced in 1981 that there would not be any future women’s snooker tournaments.
Although she was still young and new to the game, Mandy was not prepared to see her snooker journey be cut short and set about forming the association that exists today as WWS. Although this did inevitably come at the expense of her playing career to some extent, she still has many fond memories of the time.
“I was so passionate about the sport and so with the help of a company called Grosser Jack from Windsor in Berkshire, we formed the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association,” explained Fisher. “I was the founder of the association and I liked administration, so I had a lot of fun.
“I carried on playing but when I was running things and trying to get it off the ground it was difficult. I was proud to be one of the first women ever to reach the last 128 of the English Amateur Championship.
“There was a lot of talent in the women’s game at that time, players like Alison Fisher, Kelly Fisher, Tessa Davidson, Stacey Hillyard and other such good players. Everyone inside the top eight could make century breaks, which was significant when you consider that at the time it was still such an achievement in the professional game.
“We used to have 40 entries even in those days coming up to Leeds to play at the Northern Snooker Centre, which was – and still is – one of the best clubs in the country. Jim Williamson welcomed us with open arms which a lot of clubs didn’t in those days, so that makes it extra special that the club continues to be a significant venue for us today.”
Of course, the 1980s were known in the UK as snooker’s first boom period and for the women’s game it was no different as Mandy recalls.
“It was an amazing time to be involved in the sport,” said Fisher. “I was quite good friends with Jimmy White and Tony Meo because in my town the man who first introduced me to snooker used to have them down to play on his table and then he would take them around all of the little snooker clubs in the area.
“I was lucky enough during the day to go in and play, then they used to go out and do an exhibition. I would go along and watch which was fantastic, He did that several times and got them lots of exhibitions, in the days when they were amateurs before it really took off in a big way.”
The dominant player during the 1980s was six-time world champion Steve Davis and Mandy has fond memories of crossing cues with him and his great rival Alex Higgins on the baize.
“I did a local exhibition with Steve and Alex at the Bushfield Sports Centre in Peterborough in front of 1,000 people and they bussed a load of people from March to support me which was wonderful,” recalled Fisher. “The atmosphere was incredible and I played three frames against Alex Higgins and I did sneak one off him (he probably allowed me to win it, I’m not quite sure!).
“But during the second best of three against Steve Davis I just produced. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline but I did play really well and I was 54 points ahead at 1-1 in the third frame before he cleared up with a 57 break. But it was fantastic and I have great memories of that evening, it will always stay with me.”
Although he was not a player, another man synonymous with snooker in the 1980s was of course Barry Hearn, then manager to Steve Davis and now chairman of the sport’s commercial arm World Snooker Tour.
“Barry was lovely and in the early days he gave us an awful lot of support which I am eternally grateful for,” explained Fisher. “My first experience with him was when he organised the intercity mixed pairs where I played with Steve Davis and another girl called Julie Islip played with Tony Meo.
“The event was on national television, screened directly before the FA Cup final to keep viewers on that channel. We did a pre-match interview the week before with Dickie Davis on World of Sport and then went down there to Southend to play on a match table in front of all the people which was amazing.
“Barry did all of that and he saw the potential in women’s snooker. He later secured sponsorship from Forte Hotels to sponsor us for three years, with events played across London. He also achieved the Mita world masters which injected huge sums of money into the women’s game. He really is the Midas man!
“Unfortunately for us Barry was becoming heavily involved with other activities such as Leyton Orient football club and boxing, typically making a success of everything that he does! But it was fantastic to be able to work with him during that period and to see what he is doing now with the professional game.”
More recently, women’s snooker has survived some challenging times before in 2015 agreement was reached with snooker’s world governing body the World Professional Snooker and Billiards Association (WPBSA) for World Women’s Snooker to become its subsidiary company. With the support of the WPBSA the World Women’s Snooker Tour has been able to expand like never before with international events held across the world and over 150 players now on the world ranking list, leaving Fisher optimistic for the future.
“It has been fantastic to have the WPBSA on board during the last few years,” continued Fisher. “They have been really enthusiastic about it and it has been great to host events outside of the UK in mainland Europe, Asia and the Oceania region of the past few years. In particular, last year’s World Women’s Championship in Thailand was one of the best tournaments that I have been involved in during the past 40 years.
“I firmly believe that the sky is the limit with women’s snooker. There is no physical reason why a woman cannot play snooker as good as a man. Certainly, Reanne Evans is capable of and has proved that she can play amongst the professional men. We are welcoming more new players all the time and I am confident that as we continue to grow and visit new territories, we will only continue to see players improve. I see a very bright future ahead for the women’s game.”
Thank you to Mandy for her time and we look forward to seeing her and everyone else back on Tour next season.
In honour of Women’s Snooker Day, Annette Lord looks at one of the game’s female pioneers who surprised many watching the classic Crucible matches in lockdown.
“Who’s the woman commentating on the BBC in 1982?” That was the question on many fans’ lips when the TV network launched its Crucible Classics last week, looking back at golden matches from yesteryear.
In fact, some messaged Snooker Chat searching for the answer after seeing Tony Knowles trouncing Steve Davis 10-1 and others took to social media with the query.
The answer is Vera Selby, a remarkable lady who is not only a multiple world champion in both snooker and billiards but was honoured for her services to both sports and also amazed everyone by playing regularly well into her 80s.
Selby was born in 1930 in Richmond, North Yorkshire, and first became aware of billiards aged six through watching her uncle play in the cellar of his home in Newcastle. This started a life-long love of cuesports, with Selby becoming women’s world billiards champion eight times between 1970 and 1978.
She was also one of the leading women’s snooker players of the 1970s, winning the national title four years in a row from 1972-75 and also regaining it in 1979.
But her success didn’t end there. Selby was crowned the first ever women’s world snooker champion when the inaugural tournament was held in 1976 and five years later captured the title again, entering the record books by becoming, at 51, the oldest female world champion in any sport.
That was 1981, and within two years Selby – who made a living as a lecturer in art, textiles and dress design at what was then Newcastle Polytechnic – had taken early retirement aged 53.
Selby was also becoming a voice on TV, as some of the Crucible Classics last week proved.
Some fans were astonished to hear Selby commentating, and there was also praise for the BBC for being “ahead of its time”.
“I had no idea there were women commentators back then,” said v3rng (@vernongiles1959), one of many to comment on Twitter.
“Vera Selby commentating for BBC at the Crucible in 1982. Snooker was way ahead of its time with a female commentator,” added Phil Gilman (@bookiemonster81), with Chris Schou Watts (@goatsebeast) saying: “Good on the BBC for getting women involved at the top level so early (seeing as snooker only really ‘started’ in the 70s).”
It was certainly a surprise to remember that snooker had a woman commentator in the early 1980s. But Selby was not the first female to commentate for the BBC on cuesports. Thelma Carpenter, also a champion in both billiards and snooker in the 1930s, commentated for billiards on BBC Radio. And Joyce Gardner, one of her rivals in both games whose once recorded a snooker break of 82, was also employed to commentate on radio. One of her appearances was at the 1946 World Snooker Championship, where she gave her thoughts on Joe Davis v Horace Lindrum for the fee of 6 guineas (£6.30).
Yes, there were female cueists in the 1930s. Alongside Gardner and Carpenter at the top of the game was Ruth Harrison, from County Durham, who won the Women’s Professional Snooker Championship – a national event – eight years running.
Back to Selby, who was given a lifetime achievement award for services to billiards in 2014 and was made an MBE for services to snooker and billiards in the 2016 Queen’s birthday honours.
She told the BBC’s Rob Walker: “It was wonderful. Prince Charles gave me it. He said ‘you don’t look like a snooker player.’ I replied, saying we weren’t all big butch male players and he laughed.”
Amazingly, Selby was still competing at the age of 86 and is now 90, enthusing about the benefits of playing for older people.
She said in 2016: “It guards against dementia and it’s a physical thing as well as being mental. You are not getting fresh air but you are walking round and round the table.”
What a remarkable woman. Vera Selby, we salute you!
I had the pleasure to meet Vera at the Women’s Day in 2016 . She is a truly remarkable person!
I you are passionate about snooker and you don’t already, give Nigel’s blog “The Green Baize” a follow.
When Stephen Hendry announced his return to competition on the Seniors Tour at the Seniors World Championship 2017, there were a lot of expectations and his faithful fans predicted that he would wipe the floor with the opposition. He didn’t. Actually, he was very poor. In his first match, he only just beat Aidan Owens, an amateur, by 3-2, on a black ball shoot-out, and lost by 3-0 to Peter Lines in the next.
He competed on the WSS Tour in the next two seasons, but the poor form continued, and it was clear that he wasn’t enjoying this. But maybe, this is about to change…
Stephen Hendry teases coming out of retirement after work with snooker coach
Stephen Hendry has teased the possibility of coming out of retirement, having worked with coach Steve Feeney and beginning to enjoy playing snooker again.
The seven-time world champion retired in 2012 after defeat in the quarter-finals of the World Championship and has not been tempted to return, only playing on the Seniors Tour in recent years.
The 51-year-old struggled to adapt to life in snooker’s chasing pack after dominating the game throughout the 1990s, and regular defeats eventually became too much for him to handle.
However, eight years after retirement, Hendry has been working with Feeney, the man behind innovative training technique SightRight, which has been credited with improvements in numerous players, most notably Mark Williams en route to his 2018 World Championship win.
Hendry is making no promises or plans just yet, but he sounds more interested in playing competitively than he has for almost a decade.
‘I’ve been doing a wee bit with Steven Feeney and I’ve started to get a bit of pleasure from hitting the ball back,’ Hendry told Ken Doherty on an Instagram Live.
I’d done about half a dozen sessions with him and I was getting quite into it, then obviously this [coronavirus] has happened.
‘Hopefully, Praise God if Sheffield is on, if he’s there, he’ll maybe give me a few hits.
‘He asked me what I wanted from it in the beginning and I just said, “I want to enjoy playing snooker,” that’s all. ‘The way I was playing, even in the Seniors. Not hitting the ball properly, it was just torture really, it’s the last throw of the dice.
‘If this thing works out with Feeney, I start to hit the ball properly and get a bit more enjoyment out of playing… ‘
The World Championship Seniors is hopefully going to be on in August. You win that, get in the Champion of Champions, you see what happens there and you never know.
‘I’m making no plans, I just want to enjoy playing then see what comes from there.’
Feeney has also worked with Ronnie O’Sullivan and has been a huge influence on Dave Gilbert’s vast improvements in his mid-thirties, which saw him reach the World Championship semi-finals for the first time last year.
The coaching is based on sighting and alignment and Feeney has also done substantial work with darts players and golfers.
After the rescheduling of the World Championship to run from 31 July-16 August, the World Seniors Championship is now set for 20-22 August at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.
Jimmy White is the defending champion, but there will be even more attention on Hendry with a win potentially seeing the legendary Scot return to regular action.
It will be interesting to see where Hendry goes from here. In 2017, after losing to Lines, he admitted that he wasn’t handling pressure well anymore. In his bio he spoke of “yips”. A lot is about confidence in snooker and if confidence returns… who knows indeed? Not to play at his prime level, of course, but to play with pleasure and guve a good account of himself. I’m sure fans would welcome that.
Barry Hearn suffered his second heart attack earlier this month, but the 72-year-old is already back at work, motivated and searching out his next hit of adrenaline.
The veteran promoter suffered his first heart attack in 2002 and the second came on 5 April, but far from being concerned by the health scare, Hearn was more worried about being a burden on the NHS during the coronavirus crisis.
Having a history of heart issues in the family, Hearn knew exactly what had hit him earlier this month, but it took some persuasion from those around him to not just keep calm and carry on.
‘I’m doing alright,’ Hearn told Metro.co.uk. ‘During times like this you feel silly complaining and I won’t be, because there are people going through much worse things than just a little heart problem. It was just throwing a couple of stents in.
‘When I went into hospital I was embarrassed to be there, really, but everyone told me “no, you’ve got to go” and it was good advice. I might not have woken up. That would have been a terrible way to finish the book, wouldn’t it? But you still feel embarrassed because they’re front line troops in there
‘I knew what it was because I’d had it before, but this was a minor one, so I was reluctant to go and see anyone. I’ve got a cardiologist so I spoke to him, told him the symptoms and he said “get down there!” I had a night in the intensive care unit, which was horrendous, but they looked after me really well. ‘Maybe it’s told me that I have to grow up a bit, I can’t do everything myself, I need to maybe delegate a bit, but I just don’t like to. I didn’t like handing the boxing over to Eddie, but what a good idea that was, he’s doing a better job than I ever did.
’ Barry’s father, Eddie’s grandfather, Maurice died at just 44-years-old due to heart problems, and with the same health issue running deeper through the roots of the Hearn family tree, it has motivated Barry to live life to the full. ‘You grow up in that sort of environment, waiting for your turn because his father was 45, his father was 43, so I bucked a trend there,’ Hearn explained.
‘I think it’s just made me appreciate my whole life, I’ve appreciated every day I’ve been given and I’ve not wasted it, I’ve tried not to miss a moment because I know how precious time is.’
Hearn is back at work and busy as he tries to find ways to get his darts and snooker players back to work as soon as possible with the coronavirus putting global sport on hiatus.
He has already found a way to keep darts players busy with the PDC Home Tour which is seeing the world’s best play over webcam from their houses, while the World Snooker Championship has now been rearranged for the end of July.
The chairman of both the PDC and WST, Hearn still leads the way on the decisions made by both organisations, and he does it all for the rush he could never get from competing himself.
‘The sadness of me and sport is I’m arguably the best sports promoter in the world, not arguable in my book, but I’m a failure at every sport,’ Barry said.
‘Running marathons, triathlons, I’ve always reached a reasonable standard in every sport but never one I’d want to promote myself. I’ve failed the Hearn entrance exam, but I enjoy it.
‘I love competing with myself in everything and I run my business the same way. It’s a successful business but I run it like a sportsman’s world – to win.
‘I love it. It’s a buzz in my life, a rush of adrenaline.
‘When Anthony Joshua first signed for me [at Matchroom Boxing] he looked at me, sort of old fashioned, quizzical, like “what do you really want out of me?”
‘And I went, “I just want 1% of your adrenaline” and that sums up everything. Whether it’s Steve Davis winning, whether it’s Phil Taylor winning, whether it’s Anthony Joshua, Chris Eubank, all the people over my life. If I can get 1% of their adrenaline going through my veins then I’m a lucky man and I’ve been lucky so far.’
As someone who claims to be the best sports promoter on the planet, Hearn does not deny that ego is involved as well as the thrill of the action. In darts and snooker he has very little competition, but is motivated by bettering his own achievements.
‘We’ve all got an ego, we all want to be seen to be doing the best job ever,’ he continued. ‘I want to do the best events, the ones that get the biggest ratings, that pay the biggest prize money, that make the most money, it’s all a chase after adrenaline in different ways.
‘I take a lot of satisfaction in where sports have got to over the last 20 or 30 years. Darts, snooker, boxing, Eddie would look back on this period of his life with pride because he’s taken it to another level. That’s what people like us do, what turns us on and what gets us out of bed in the morning.’
As the leading figure in snooker and darts, and with son Eddie certainly one of the most influential people in boxing, the Hearns wield substantial power in the sporting world.
However, Barry feels sport as a whole is done a disservice by those in political power who do not give sporting endeavours the support needed to reach new heights.
Hearn feels he takes care of the professional level of his sports, but there must be improvements to how amateur activities are run.
‘We do need a better infrastructure in the UK for amateur sport because so many of the governing bodies are run by blazers – that’s not a compliment – who are passionate about their sport but have no idea about commercial ramifications,’ said Hearn. ‘
That has to change because amateur sport is essential to the country and essential to me. Things like diversification, across women, ethnic communities, age, disability, there’s a whole range and it’s such a big job, I get frustrated as I get older because I think it should be government-led.
‘I don’t think successive governments have paid sport the respect it deserves and made investment in sport that unifies the nation, keeps us entertained and makes us lead a better lifestyle.
‘I always think, whatever we pay for defence, we should put the same into sport and we don’t. We rely on amateur enthusiasts to do it and it’s not their fault that they’re not good enough.
’ A master salesman and spin doctor, Hearn could have been a politician in another life, and fancies himself as one, but although he knows it is too late for him to pursue that career path, he doesn’t mind telling the government how he would do things.
‘If I was 20 years younger…obviously I’d make a great Prime Minister, but the minister for sport, it’s an outrage that that isn’t a full cabinet position,’ Barry said.
‘I was talking to him yesterday, I said “the problem with you guys; you’re great, you’re passionate, but you have absolutely no power. I might as well talk to a tree!”
‘They’re lovely people, intelligent, good ideas, but zero power. That’s the first thing I’d want to change, the minister for sport is a cabinet position. It’s as important as defence, certainly as important as the charities we support overseas with our development fund. God knows what we could do with that money.
‘Times like this you do get a little bit isolationist, you do what’s right for us. Why haven’t we got this PPE? Imagine me running that! I’d have every bastard in the world making that stuff. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would be effective and efficient.
‘That’s the same with sport, yes we need to do more, across a whole range of sport. Who’s going to do it? You can’t lump everything on Bazza!’
There is no doubt that the fire still burns in Hearn and his love of sport is unquestionable as he turned his political anger towards a lack of funding for grassroots cricket.
‘What pisses me off, we win the Cricket World Cup, within 24 hours, the entire team is on the lawn at 10 Downing Street with Theresa May having their picture taken.
‘Over the last 12 years, 50% of local village teams have gone out of business. 50%! I wouldn’t go. I appreciate a wonderful victory, great for the nation, but do something for my sport and I’ll come and have my picture taken. Is that a good swap?
‘In the realities of what we spend on everything else it’s a pittance but sport doesn’t get the respect. People criticise, there’s not enough amateur snooker competitions. I know there’s not! What do you want me to do?
‘I’ve done my bit. I’m trying to get the dream out there, but I need a bit of help, boys.
‘Until someone puts point-whatever per cent of our GDP into sport and it won’t be sidetracked into other things to save money, then like any business you have a budget and you can allocate a budget, it’s simple business and it frustrates me.’
So what’s next for Hearn? Getting his sports back on track through and after the coronavirus crisis is the immediate concern, but he, as ever, is looking further ahead.
Neither a second heart attack nor a global pandemic can keep Barry down, and he will plough on in search of more success.
‘The world’s a changing place,’ he said. ‘The numbers have been amazing, the company’s grown from me underneath a billiard hall into one of the biggest sports companies in the world. It’s very satisfying.
‘But then along comes this virus and we’re an events company without any events.
‘We have to be creative like we have been with the darts at home and next week we’ll trial some snooker stuff and get ready as this lockdown eases, hopefully some behind closed doors events before we can go on to entertaining live audiences.
‘This is something I’ve never experienced in my life, I think it’s our toughest challenge and we have no idea really how long it’s going to go on for and how much damage and pain it’s going to cause,
‘Looking ahead, I don’t think we’ve gone as far as we can go anywhere, even in the UK and Europe. I’m pleased to say the numbers are going up everywhere, in all our broadcasters.
‘Realistically, obviously I’ve done an outstanding job, but compare snooker to golf in China we’re still miles behind even though we get bigger figures, so there’s an image perception issue still
‘Tennis and golf are probably the two that I compare us to to say “why on Earth aren’t we four times bigger when we are actually 10 times bigger for exposure and audience? The World Snooker Championships get 500 million viewers, a hell of a lot of them are from China. It dwarves virtually everything else in China. I feel we’ve still got huge potential there.’
Given his relentless drive, many onlookers assume it is all about the money for the snooker supremo, but Hearn says that has long since subsided as a motivating factor.
‘People will always say it’s about the money, but that’s usually people with no money say that.
‘When you get to a certain stage with money you are doing it for love and passion. Like I found out a couple of weeks ago, I miss it, its not about how much you make, that’s just a measuring stick.’
Barry Hearn does not exactly come across as humble there … but we knew that already.
There is no doubt about his passion for sport, but, although I love many sports, in my opinion, sport should not be a top priority in any government. Not until poverty is eradicated, not until quality food, health care, and education are REALLY available to all. We are very far from that. And when I write education, I’m not speaking about academic grades, I’m speaking about much more fundamental things: knowing how society functions and how to function in it, understanding the basics of the economical, and political systems we live in, understanding our place and impact on the global ecosystem, developing the ability to reason, analyse and be creative, to grow a critical mind as not to fall for dogma, myths, and indoctrination, be it political, racial or religious. And more down to earth, being educated to the basics of health care (physical and mental health), nutrition, and cooking. Sport has its role in this, but it’s far from being the highest priority. Art, for instance, is just as important. Sciences and engineering are MORE important.
In this crisis, when I see people not understanding why they should stay home for now, when I read that people have died after following Donald Trump “suggestions”, when statistics show that in some “civilized” countries – yes the UK as well – as much as one child in three lives in poverty and needs to rely on food banks and government-funded free meals, my feeling is that we are very far from what a true “civilized” society should be. In that context, sport can be a tool to achieve the goal, but it’s not the main tool.
Also when I see someone like Donald Trump being elected as the president of the biggest military power on the planet, I can only despair. This is the failure of democracy because so many people aren’t ready for democracy: they are too gullible, too irresponsible and too selfish. It’s the result of education failure, and again it’s not about grades, there is no such thing as a “Ph.D. in true humanity”. Then, of course, dictatorship is worse… so much worse.
When I read that “it unifies the nation”, I cringe. There is so much tribalism in sport. So much of “us against them” spirit when it comes to supporters. Think hooliganism, think about how much aggression you witness in pubs every time England plays Wales or Scotland at rugby for instance. Sport SHOULD be a unifying factor – that was part of Pierre de Coubertin Olympic dream – but let’s be honest, only too often sport is just the opposite.
Of course, it can only go ahead if restrictions are lifted – at least partially – and if it’s safe. The main issue, in my view, remains the qualifiers, that need to happen earlier and involve a lot more players and officials.
Also, if travel restrictions are not lifted globally, players based outside the UK may find it difficult or even impossible to attend. That’s a serious issue because the World Championship qualifiers are essential for so many players when it comes to their tour survival and it would be completely unfair if they were unable to compete, by no fault of theirs, and lost their tour card as a result.
Interestingly, the Championship is due to start on a Friday and end on a Sunday. That is a very welcome change for a lot of fans around the world. WST stands for “World Snooker Tour”, and having the climax of the final of the biggest event of the season played on a Monday, meaning on a normal working day for everyone except the UK fans was just another example of the persistent UK centric view of the governing body of the sport. I hope this particular change in the schedule is there to stay and not just a “one-off” thing.
Eurosport delivered two interesting vodcasts.
Andy Goldstein spoke to Neil Robertson, about his career, video games addiction, and supporting a partner suffering mental health illness. Neil is truly a great, positive person and this chat is really worth listening to.
He also spoke to Ronnie about his best wins, lockdown life, 146s, and that streaker.
At the time of writing, the vodcast isn’t available on youtube yet, but here is the audio:
And here are some of the key points (source Eurosport)
Ronnie O’Sullivan on his best wins, lockdown life and that streaker
Ronnie O’Sullivan | Snooker | ESP Player Feature Image credit: Getty Images
Ronnie O’Sullivan joins us for the latest episode of the Snooker Vodcast to discuss, amongst other things, the matches that shaped his career.
O’SULLIVAN ON LOCKDOWN
It’s actually been alright really – it’s a bit tough for us at the moment because we haven’t actually got a kitchen so we’re just making do with what we can; we’ve got our doors getting delivered in five days and then hopefully our floors will be delivered in another three weeks, and then our kitchen another four/five weeks after that. So, it’s not ideal but it’s alright.
ON WINNING THE UK CHAMPIONSHIP AT 17
In some ways I wasn’t surprised [by winning it that young]
When I first turned pro I didn’t really know how good the top pros were. You only watch it on TV and sometimes you only get the highlights, and they only show you the best bits. I think my first real insight into playing someone like Stephen Hendry was the tournament before the UK Championship and that was in Dubai – and he beat me 6-2.
And basically the reason why I didn’t win or just get a bit closer was because I showed him too much respect. But he gave me chances, and I just didn’t take them. I think when I went into the next match I had a bit more belief that if I got those chances, there should be no reason why I couldn’t compete with him. Obviously, the pressure was all on Stephen and no one knew me at the time, so that also helped.
ON THE FEARLESSNESS OF YOUTH
It’s so much harder when you’re playing someone that’s younger than you because Stephen was the one to be shot at. So from that moment onwards [the UK Championship win], me, [Mark] Williams and [John] Higgins were trying to just keeping coming at him and every time he beat us it only made us stronger, but every time we would beat him it would make him a bit weaker, you know? Like for me, now if I was to play someone like Higgins, it probably wouldn’t put as much of a dent in him [if I beat him], but for him to get beaten by a younger player, it would really like maybe put more of a dent in him. So, it was harder for Hendry than it was for me in many ways.
ON HIS FIRST MASTERS TITLE
I remember that I was lucky to get through the first round. I was playing John Parrott who was a bit of bogeyman for me, as the first seven times I’d played him he’d beaten me. So, every time I had to play him I just thought, he was the one guy I could never get near. He had a straight blue in the middle to beat me 5-4, but he missed it and I cleared up and then went on to win the tournament. And to play John Higgins, who is probably my biggest rival out of all of them, was fantastic.
WHY IT TOOK ‘SO LONG’ TO CLAIM WORLD TITLE AND THE RELIEF
Because I just started partying really. So, when the tournament season started, I kind of thought, it started in September and finished in May, so I had to kind of curb my drinking, my partying from September to May.
If I had a bad session I felt the sooner this is over, the sooner I can have some fun with my friends.
When it came off, it was the most unbelievable feeling. If you win it once, it doesn’t matter if you don’t win it again because you’ve got your name on the trophy. The monkey off your back is huge, it allows you to go and play and then it’s just a case of clocking up as many titles as you can get. I’m sure Judd [Trump] will go and win it a few more times [now he has won it once].
ON WINNING HIS FIFTH WORLD TITLE AFTER TAKING A YEAR OUT
never thought I’d win it [after the sabbatical], because I’d never won the World Championship back to back. However, when I got on the practice table I felt great immediately. But practise and matches are totally different and I had no match practise and you can only get that by playing matches. But I did feel that after each match [at the Crucible], parts of my game got stronger. And by the final I kind of hit my true, the highest point, you know, I was playing at a very, very high level. Come the final, I just went out there and played as aggressively as I could.
I think my three best victories were the 2012 World Champs, 2013 World Champs and I enjoyed the 2014 Masters when I beat Mark Selby in the final – to beat Selby as convincingly as I did shows that I must have been playing some really good stuff.
ON THAT FASTEST-EVER 147
I was a lot faster then, a lot younger, and played much more on instinct. I still play on instinct but that was youth and enthusiasm and all that sort of stuff. I probably know I wouldn’t be able to do that now because I’m a different player. It’s still one of the fantastic moments in snooker I suppose.
ON THE 146 AGAINST BARRY PINCHES
I was always going to get a 146 [against Barry Pinches]. Yeah, there was no way I was going to get a 147. No chance. I didn’t even need to go round the table [to complete the 147], I’d have just screwed it in with a little bit of side and been on the black. I think I’ve had three 146s now, which could have been maxes.
ON THE 140 AGAINST MARK KING AT THE 2010 WORLD OPEN
I knew it wasn’t a big prize [for a 147], but then I also knew that if I was to say there should be a bigger prize for a 147, you get people going, ‘Oh, you know, you’re ungrateful, you’re this, you’re that.’ So, I just thought, ‘What’s the best way to illuminate it? I thought, just go for the 147 and ask the ref what the prize is. Once he tells me it’s that, I go, ‘Oh, alright, I’ve made a 140, that’ll do’. It just makes it much more of an interesting talking point.
ON HIS 1000TH TON AND THE CROWD REACTION
It was a great moment; especially to do it at the Guild Hall where I won my first UK Championship. To win the title and then make the century in the last frame, against Neil Robertson, who’s a fantastic player, for me it was the perfect place to do it. Yeah, I was buzzing, the crowd were excited, and once they [started clapping] I didn’t know whether to carry on playing or let them carry on clapping so I kept potting the balls. It was a good moment.
THE STREAKER IN THE FINAL OF THE MASTERS IN ‘97 AGAINST DAVIS
It was quite bizarre really. The weird thing was, I was sitting opposite her, so I saw her taking her clothes off and I was thinking ‘what she’s doing now?’ And then she ran down and did a couple laps round the table – I think she was waiting for somebody to take her away, but no-one did. But yeah, it was quite funny.
ON HANDING HIS CUE OVER TO A SPECTATOR AT THE ENGLISH OPEN
You could just tell she was no threat and all the security guards come running out, and I thought, oh I hope they don’t grab her to the floor. So, I went, ‘Hold on, let her have a shot.’ So, I gave her a shot, she tried, she was happy, took her shot and off she went.
So, Ronnie admitted to having been naughty about the 146s … in protest against the dwarfing, then the disappearance, of the reward offered for a maximum. One can look at this in many ways, and argue that players are out there to entertain, which is true but only in part. They are there to win, first and foremost, and to earn a living. How they play, and the shot they chose to take is their decision and theirs only. Usually, going for a 147 involves taking risks at some point. It may not be worth it, even if the frame is safe: after all, there is a reward for the highest break, and the 146 – or less – might do the trick just as fine. For years, before the media became centuries obsessed, and before snooker was as reliant as it is today on the betting industry, Mark Williams was known for pushing balls safe as soon as he was confident that his opponent wouldn’t come back to the table. I can’t remember him being blamed for it back then. He was just eager to go on with the matches (*)
Update: the vodcast is now available although it’s “shorter” than the audio.
Also, WST looked back at Ding Junhui’s Crucible career and significance in the context of snooker in China. But I find those Crucible Golds a bit disappointing. To much emphasise on big breaks, and not much on the “stories” behind some matches, or “runs” in the championship.
(*) Willo also frequently conceded frames whilst still being mathematically able to win, when he felt that his chances to actually win were very slim. He did this mainly in qualifiers, not on television. Again, the idea was to not spend a lot of energy on a lost cause and get on with the next frame.
When Olivier Marteel was asked to put his own health at risk in order to play a vital role in the fight against coronavirus in Belgium, he didn’t hesitate.
Marteel would have been at the Crucible this week for the Betfred World Championship – where he refereed the final in 2015 – had the tournament not been postponed until later in the year. Instead his full time job as a nurse at the AZ West hospital in Veurne has taken precedence.
He usually works in radiology but, as the pandemic took hold, he was asked to play a different role.
“When the virus because widespread, each hospital created an extra Accident and Emergency department, so there was one for Covid patients and one for everything else,” explains the 50-year-old from Ghent. “My head nurse asked me if I could work on the Covid A&E department. Otherwise I would have been in Sheffield so this fortnight was clear in my diary.
“I am working on triage so I am the first person that patients see when they come in. My job is to assess them , check their symptoms, find out if others in their family have been ill, and then I decide whether they need to be tested for Covid or to see a doctor. So I am seeing a lot of patients every day.
“To some extent it is basic nursing because I am judging the symptoms. And I am used to being on the front line because in radiology I do X-Rays and CT scans which show whether cancer is growing, so I see that information first and pass it to the oncologist. But of course I have never worked in an A&E situation like this before.
“When I was asked to take on this role, I didn’t even have one second of doubt. Ever since I was a young child I wanted to work in medicine. I trained for three years and I have been working for 28 years. So when this came up, I jumped at it, even if there are some risks.
“It is tough of course. Just as you do in the UK, we have problems here getting enough personal protective equipment. This weekend we started using scuba diver masks which were bought in a sports shop, because we don’t have enough of the correct masks.
“The worst thing is the heat. The body produces a lot of heat but it can’t escape from the costume. I am often wearing two pairs of gloves – one for the whole day and another pair when I am treating patients. By the end of the day my hands feel like gum.
“Most people in Belgium are supportive, we have clapping or music every day at 8pm, and that helps the medical staff mentally. But some people are the opposite – I had one man shouting at me on the phone because his wife was on the ward but the result of her test hadn’t come through yet. I was gobsmacked, but thankfully it was a one-off.”
Marteel has refereed on the World Snooker Tour since 2006 and has taken charge of the finals of all three Triple Crown events, among many other tournaments. He is also an assessor, helping the younger referees to improve their skills. But while making tricky decisions with millions of people watching around the world may bring its own pressure, that hardly compares with the crucial choices he makes every day in the medical field.
“I have always said that refereeing is a piece of cake compared to my main job,” he added. “I treat snooker like a job as well of course, but for me it is a holiday. And that will never feel more true than when I’m back at a tournament – before long I hope.”
Olivier will never see himself as a hero. He’s a nurse. He cares for people and saves lives. It’s what he does, no matter how difficult it. Olivier is a partner and a father. He puts his own health, and possibly his life, at risk to help others.
If you ever are tempted to break the lockdown, to visit friends, to do something daft, think about people like Olivier. Stay home, stay safe. That’s the best thing you can do to support them and help them. They are overworked as it is. Stay home, stay safe.
Eurosport delivers two-week celebration of snooker – and brand new vodcast
16 hours ago
From April 18 – May 4, Eurosport, the Home of Snooker, will screen a variety of snooker programming including brand new content and formats ensuring fans don’t miss out despite the postponement of the World Championship season finale.
Using its expert pundits, including five-time World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, and depth of archive footage, passionate fans are sure to receive their snooker fix.
Launching on April 18, The Snooker Vodcast is a brand new series hosted by Eurosport snooker presenter Andy Goldstein. Broadcast daily at 2pm, it will feature a selection of debates covering some of the hottest snooker topics as well as player specials with some of the biggest names on the Tour, including Ronnie O’Sullivan, Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson. Early episodes see legend Jimmy White and Neal Foulds discuss some of the greatest performances in Triple Crown history, as well as Eurosport expert Ronnie O’Sullivan looking back at his idols, rivals and legacy spanning across a career filled with accolades and records.
Shortform highlights will be available on eurosport.co.uk and across Eurosport’s social platforms – with the Snooker Vodcasts also adapted for a brand new audio format, The Break, available on all major podcast platforms including Apple, Android and Spotify.
Eurosport will also introduce You Say, We Play, a format designed to engage fans as they enjoy memorable matches from recent history. Fans will be invited to cast their vote from a selection of matches they want to watch via a daily Twitter poll hosted on @Eurosport_UK. The winning choice will be broadcast each evening at 7pm.
Eurosport will also delve into its archives where viewers can relive classic matches. This includes memorable finals as well as stand-out individual performances across the whole snooker calendar – broadcast daily at 10.00am and 2.30pm.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed on Eurosport’s new snooker vodcast why John Higgins is the player who “kept me on my toes more than anybody” and how a conversation with his dad caused him to model his game on Steve Davis over Jimmy White.
O’Sullivan and Higgins have met 69 times since both turning professional in 1992. While The Rocket has won 37 of the encounters, he told Eurosport’s new snooker vodcast that his rivalry with Higgins helped elevate him to the top of the game.
Following the postponement of the World Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic, Eurosport has announced a two-week celebration of snooker in its place, including a new vodcast, which first airs on Saturday at 2pm on Eurosport 1. Snooker fans will also be able to enjoy all nine episodes in full in audio form on a new podcast, The Break, and Sunday’s second episode will feature O’Sullivan discussing his icons, and his rivals.
“He’s kept me on my toes more than anybody,” he said of Higgins. “We’ve had some great battles. I’ve taken some really bad beatings from John, they’ve hurt, but like I said when you’re younger the ones that hurt make you stronger.
“If I was taking those beatings now, I’d run a mile. I’d be like ‘I’m not up for this’ but when you’re younger you’ve got no fear. You just want to improve, you’re single, you’ve got nothing else going on in your life and it’s all part of making you a better player.
“But as you get older, you don’t want to be taking those beatings, so you don’t learn so much when you’re older. John and I have had some fantastic matches.”
‘Class of ’92 took our business seriously’
O’Sullivan, Higgins and Mark Williams formed the ‘Class of 92’ when they all turned pro together in the same year. While O’Sullivan and Williams used to play against each other as youngsters, it wasn’t until Higgins was 14 that word got round about his talents.
“The first I’d heard was that this Scottish kid had nearly had a 147 in the home internationals,” said O’Sullivan. “I didn’t even know what John Higgins looked like but after we heard that we had to watch him play and watching him play I thought this kid looks super, super good. Then from that moment on, I knew John Higgins was going to be a class, class player.
“So that was my first encounter with John Higgins but the rivalry from that day really has been on between the three of us. There was a lot of good players around, but we were hungry, we had the desire. We loved it, we wanted it. For a lot of snooker players, it was just a bit of a lifestyle, they used to go round there and have a bit of a laugh and a joke. But we took our business seriously.
“I think it helped that the three of us came through together because I think we all motivated each other to try and do better. If one of us was doing well it would always spur the other one on to do well. So, it was a healthy rivalry really.”
‘How my dad helped me emulate Davis instead of White’
Reflecting on his own game, O’Sullivan says his father talked him into trying to learn from Steve Davis, even though he saw Jimmy White as a “snooker god”.
“There was a period when I was growing up where I wanted to play like Jimmy. I’d spin the cue around and I’d do all that sort of stuff.
“But then my dad sat me down and was quite forward thinking in that was and said ‘look, I know you want to be like Jimmy White, it’s great – he’s a fantastic player, but if you really want to start being the greatest player of all time and winning World Championships who’s the guy winning the tournaments?’
” And I was like ‘Oh, Steve Davis’ and he said ‘OK, so he’s your role model, he’s who you should be copying’. So, a lot of where I am today is probably down to my dad because he kept me on the right track really.”
Although O’Sullivan idolised Davis and White, it’s another player who he credits with taking snooker to a new level.
“It would be hard to say that anyone has taken the game on further than [Stephen] Hendry. Hendry I still think if he was in his prime, we were all in our prime, he would still be winning many, many titles.
“You look at Davis and Jimmy, yeah fantastic players, but probably not good enough to stay with the current breed of players.”
Watch the first vodcast episode on Eurosport 1 and Eurosport Player at 2pm on Saturday – with the first of three Ronnie interviews airing on Sunday.