By Fin Ruane
There is a saying that a year is a long time in politics.
Yet, the fact is it took me just six short months to realise that working for an organisation that represents and acts in such an appalling manner towards the game of snooker and its members could not continue.
My association with Irish snooker’s governing body RIBSA began over two years ago when my club CrossGuns was selected as one of four nationwide venues to host and promote junior snooker in Ireland. To say I was delighted is a complete understatement as junior snooker has always been very close to my heart. I always believed that the junior scene had lacked direction in recent times and I applauded this move by RIBSA.
The tournaments were a huge success with several new exciting players from across Ireland becoming regular winners in these junior ranking events.
Personally I was delighted with how the junior game was progressing and I took it upon myself last May to write an email to RIBSA to offer my continued support and services to the governing body to keep the momentum in the junior scene going.
I attended the RIBSA AGM that same month and was somewhat surprised and obviously delighted when I was proposed and subsequently elected onto the RIBSA council.
Driving home I felt very proud as I was now following my late father Fin Snr. and my mother Gloria onto an association that they had served on for many years.
It was also an exciting time as RIBSA had a newly elected chairman in John Doherty and several new council members, most notably top Irish women’s referee Breda Doherty and Masters player Anthony Bonnar. A mixture of old and new members working together genuinely gave me great cause for an exciting forthcoming season for Irish snooker.
My first task as a committee member was to update the list of clubs currently registered to RIBSA whilst at the same time approaching non-registered clubs and getting them on board.
The first signs of disorganisation in RIBSA and disharmony towards the association began to surface and appear to me while I worked on the list. Several club owners contacted me asking me to follow-up on previous promises made to them by the association. A promise for their clubs to be used for both senior and junior ranking events seemed to be a common complaint whilst other clubs just informed me that they wouldn’t be bothering to register again such was their displeasure towards what their registration fee actually got them.
I found myself apologising regularly to clubs but I found that, with some persuasion, I did manage to change a few minds and get them on board.
With the new season about to begin a serious issue arose. The Masters series, which was by far the most popular tour on the RIBSA calendar, found itself in turmoil due to a ruling that was brought in at the AGM allowing masters players to carry points earned in senior events onto their masters ranking. This threatened to scupper the tour before the season even began.
The masters players certainly made their views known but, even after a compassionate plea by two of their players at a council meeting to revoke the rule, it wasn’t enough as several council members stood their ground.
The masters were not to be denied and, with a paltry entry list a week before the first event, an EGM was granted to them to vote on removing the ruling. This EGM was for me one of the brighter moments in my short time on council as it showed that RIBSA was willing to listen to the players, albeit via a close ballot.
Letterkenny was the venue for the next RIBSA meeting which would be held at the same weekend as the first senior and masters events of the season.
The EGM was held and within minutes the motion was carried. Common sense had prevailed but the fact that it took an EGM to change the ruling left a sour taste at the venue. So much so that several masters players who travelled to attend the EGM left straight after and did not play in the event.
One major matter seemed to be averted but a more serious issue was about to dominate the game both on and off the table.
A ruling passed at the AGM in May that would see RIBSA deduct fifty per cent of the entry fees from senior and masters tournaments to put towards a players pool towards international events was met with unanimous discontent among the players.
It soon transpired that the players were beginning to vote with their feet as entry numbers to the first three senior and masters events were down on the previous season.
Surely common sense would prevail and RIBSA would listen to the players and revoke yet another ridiculous decision? An email from one of Ireland’s greatest amateur players and current national champion Martin McCrudden was read out at a meeting but was dismissed as quick as it was read.
As I write this, a big regret of mine is that I was not more vocal at meetings regarding the rule and for the players who had asked me to speak out I do apologise that I did not.
It was after the meeting in October that I emailed the RIBSA council to express my wish to become their official Public Relations Officer. I outlined many ideas I had and of the plan to approach several potential sponsors to see if they would come on board. Along with myself, my fellow council members Breda Doherty and Anthony Bonnar were also given the task of looking at fundraising ideas that would help not only generate revenue but to make RIBSA more appealing to future members.
To my delight I was officially appointed RIBSA PRO and I immediately set about contacting friends in the media both in press and online. I set up a Twitter account as I believed the more we got the name of RIBSA out there the more contact we could have with players and fellow national associations alike. I also wanted to run the RIBSA Facebook page, although it was decided that Peter O’Brien would continue to manage that himself.
Similarly, I felt that the RIBSA website needed to be updated and made more accessible to the public and players alike. I contacted the website manager and outlined my ideas before leaving it in his hands. Up to the time I stepped down hardly any of these changes were made.
With mentions online from the World Snooker Association, and several of the games top players and journalists, I couldn’t have asked for a better start. I approached the people I knew who would be interested in becoming sponsors and had three names lined up.
I met my first sponsor The Billiard Company and the meeting with owners Darren Lennox and John Benton could not have gone better. I outlined my plan for the upcoming season and how I envisaged them as sponsors of the Masters tour.
The two agreed and after a handshake they were on-board. The Masters series was now to become The Billiard Company Masters Series. A link on the RIBSA website for The Billiard Company was one of the my main selling points to them.
My other two sponsors, Des Kelly Carpets for the Senior tour and a cosmetics firm for the Ladies tour, were approached and they both agreed to join RIBSA as sponsors. I took it upon myself to hold back announcing that I had secured their sponsorship to RIBSA as I was curious to see how the deal with The Billiard Co. would go, so at meetings I only told council that I was quietly confident of securing both sponsors.
It was towards the end of January that things began to take a turn and the shocking realisation that this was an association that was unable to control the game started to become apparent to me. It dawned on me that RIBSA is really made up of two separate councils – firstly the executive council with its officers of President, Secretary, Chairman, Treasurer and Vice Chairman, and the second council comprising the committee members.
A phone call from the owner of The Billiard Co. in relation to their logo on the RIBSA website gave me questions that needed to be answered. The owners put it in writing to RIBSA with their accusations that something underhand appeared to be happening regarding their logo. It seemed that another cue sports company was also running an ad on the RIBSA site with no payment made. When this was put to RIBSA I received no answer but no doubt it was discussed at length among the executives.
Within days The Billiard Co. logo issue was resolved and the other firm’s ad vanished almost immediately from the website.
By now I was still trying my best to get more clubs on board with RIBSA but, even with the lure of a day’s coaching by our national coach thrown in, the numbers were still down. Several emails were returned to me with questions of why should we bother? “What has RIBSA ever done for my club” was a message often attached to the replies. I grew frustrated at having to apologise to these club owners.
However, I could understand their frustration as I myself at times questioned what exactly RIBSA had done for my club.
In January an opportunity suddenly presented itself to RIBSA that the association could host an upcoming international billiards event. The cost was sizeable but surprisingly our executive council was willing to spend the money on this tournament. With absolutely no disrespect towards the sport of billiards, its players and the excellent standard seen at our billiards events, I thought it ridiculous to spend money on this tournament when our funds, time and energy were needed elsewhere.
My exact wording in an email to RIBSA was, “if we have money shouldn’t we spend it on getting our own house in order first before we spend it elsewhere. If our national association is successful then the international events will come.”
I even thought, well, if we do have this type of money to spend why don’t we approach our sponsor, The Billiard Co., and buy several sets of snooker balls to present to registered clubs as a gesture of appreciation towards their commitment to RIBSA.
Anthony Bonnar touted the idea of a presentation night at the end of the season. A chance for all the players to get together and enjoy an informal night and look back on the season. I suggested a series of awards, from player of the season to achievement of the season, to a RIBSA Hall of Fame award where we could perhaps honour players from yesteryear. Again these ideas fell on deaf ears. As did Breda Doherty’s suggestion of an online shop and PayPal button on the RIBSA site to pay for entry fees and so on.
All talk it seemed was on the upcoming European Championship in Malta this month. When the number of players that we were sending was read out at a council meeting in January both myself and some of the other high-profile members were flabbergasted. Fifteen players will travel to Malta along with two referees, our national coach and our chairman John Doherty. I find this absolutely ridiculous that a party of nineteen will travel to this event. What’s more is that funds for this trip come out of the much despised 50% cut at RIBSA events.
It’s baffling to think that Ireland will have a total of 15 players making up the junior and senior events. With the exception of Josh Boileau, as he is invited on merit of his wonderful achievements last season in reaching both the final of the World and European U-21 Championships, the number going is madness.
When this country was awash with snooker talent in the eighties and nineties it was always the national champion and number one in the rankings that went. Even with the introduction of the Masters discipline the number should realistically be only four at each international championship.
I can truly understand the frustration felt by those that pay their entry fee only to see 50% of it go to fund these trips.
RIBSA does receive a grant from the National Sports Council and, contrary to what some may say, RIBSA does have to account for this. But how much longer can this grant be given if the very association that represents Irish snooker is failing the very people it should be supporting.
Even our national coach is not utilised enough in this country. PJ Nolan is one of the best in the game but it sometimes seems that other countries are benefiting more from his skills than Ireland.
The final nail in my RIBSA coffin was two weeks ago. I had decided that I did not want to attend the latest meeting as I was becoming disillusioned with what the actual point of meetings were if the executives were really calling all the shots.
That night a piece on the RIBSA site advertising a draw for two Strachan 6811 cloths to all clubs registered by March infuriated me no end. Here was our association offering two cloths manufactured by Strachan, a direct competitor to Hainsworth who, believe it or not, are franchised in Ireland by, yes, our sponsor The Billiard Company.
I know how hard the owners of The Billiard Co. worked to get that franchise and for the association they sponsor to offer and advertise two of its fiercest rival’s cloths on its website was quite simply unforgivable.
I immediately emailed RIBSA to bring this to their attention and, without receiving a reply that night on what I thought was a pretty serious matter, I stepped down the following morning.
How can an association alienate people so much to the point that it becomes a common occurrence without them realising it?
To date I have received no reply to my email informing council that I was stepping down, only a recent email asking did I think The Billiard Co. wanted to continue their sponsorship. It’s farcical and appalling behaviour by RIBSA. For me it’s a great disappointment. I really wanted to work with RIBSA to better the game in Ireland but instead I’m left with a sour taste and a feeling of betrayal and resentment.
My only thanks is that I did not confirm my two other sponsors. As embarrassed enough as I was with the debacle that surrounded The Billiard Co. deal, thankfully I didn’t have to apologise personally to two more sponsors. I have never claimed to be anything I’m not. I’m a normal person with the game’s best interest at heart. I’ve been involved in snooker for the best part of 35 years and hopefully will be for many more. I will continue to support the junior players who I believe are the best bunch of kids out there with an incredible hunger and determination to play snooker.
The amateur game in Ireland is on its knees and someone must be held accountable for its shortcomings and failings.
I fully expect at this year’s AGM that a motion to dismiss the ruling for the 50% prize fund deduction be proposed and carried. Perhaps then the entries will return to the events. There are some who may be critical of players who it seems are only interested in prize money and therefore it is the only reason they have refused to play in RIBSA events but, honestly, are RIBSA ranking events better or worse off without the likes of Martin McCrudden, TJ Dowling, Joe Delaney and David Hogan entering them?
RIBSA certainly does have a nucleus to build on. Committee members Breda Doherty, Anthony Bonnar, Tom O’Driscoll and Brendan O’Donoghue have nothing but the game’s interest at heart but, like me before them, I’m sure they too feel completely irrelevant at meetings.
I did say in my email to RIBSA, and by no means is this a personal observation on people who I know only too well give up a lot of their free time to travel to attend meetings and events, that I believed the only way forward for snooker in Ireland was for there to be a complete change in the officers in RIBSA and, specifically, the executive council.
I stand by that for it’s what I personally believe is the best and only way forward.
Follow Fin on Twitter @Fin_Ruane and visit the CrossGuns website here.