By Fin Ruane
As this summer’s Games nears its end, the discussion has once again arisen as to whether snooker should be included in the Olympics.
The list of sports that make up the Games range from the obvious which are track and field and gymnastics to the more obscure sports such as the trampoline and BMX cycling. Agreed, there may be a certain skill and years of training attached to winning gold at trampoline but surely snooker and indeed billiards must now be included in the games.
Snooker, under the chairmanship and guidance of Barry Hearn, has truly become a global sport with ranking and invitation events now held in Australia and China and even last season in South America, not to mention the colossal following the sport enjoys across mainland Europe.
The support is there, the players are there and so are the governing bodies – what needs to be done now is a push to the IOC to somehow convince them of the need for a cue sport in the biggest sporting bonanza on earth.
There is no one more experienced in selling a sport to the Olympic body than the current messiah of professional snooker Barry Hearn. He has the charisma, the know how and certainly the business acumen to persuade the IOC of the value of having snooker on its lists of sports but personally I can never see Barry Hearn or anyone involved with World Snooker chasing after the IOC for a meeting to discuss the inclusion in the near future. They already have their hands full promoting the professional game globally and securing the all important sponsorships and television deals for the many ranking events each season.
But surely the viewing figures alone and the growth of the sport especially in China can support the claim that snooker should at least be considered?
The question is with the snooker calendar as full as it is and with more events planned each season, will players skip ranking events to compete in an Olympic Games every four years? In my opinion , yes they will. The Olympics is the pinnacle of a sportsman or woman’s career. Just ask seven times world champion Stephen Hendry would he have liked an Olympic gold medal to add to his illustrious CV and I have no doubt he would have jumped at the chance to be on the top podium.
The arguments for and against snooker’s inclusion are there. Some will argue if snooker is included, then why not billiards? And if billiards is included then why not three-cushion billiards? Why not pool? And if pool is included surely there must be American Pool, then English Pool? Because it’s an Olympics then all variations of cue sports should be included will be one certain argument made.
Then there is the argument of what format should be used, certainly best of 19s will be out of the question but surely round robin groups with the winners then going into the knockout rounds as in the recent Six-Reds World Championship in Bangkok would be a more suitable and popular choice for both players and spectators alike.
I think the main argument for snooker’s inclusion, though, is that snooker is now a global sport. More countries are sending players to the World Amateur Championship each year, more children are being encouraged to play the game now whereas years ago they were frowned upon if they were spotted in snooker clubs. In fact, snooker is now on the school curriculum in China such is the explosion of the sport in Asia. Another added bonus is that where before playing snooker in late July and early August was unheard of, this time of year now sees the season two months old so players will be well into their rhythm and ready to compete at the Games.
Most importantly snooker is already included in the Asian Games where tour professionals Marco Fu and Ding Juhui have gold medal wins to their credit and in the World Games of 2009 in Taiwan snooker was included with Ricky Walden and Nigel Bond amongst the competitors.
With the next Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 maybe it’s too soon to think of the sport’s inclusion but if the game continues to grow then just maybe in 2020 we may see the likes of Luca Brecel standing on the podium picking up a gold medal for Belgium.