As 2018 draws to a close for snooker players and fans alike, it’s time to reflect on what has been another enthralling year in the game.
There have been many talking points over the course of the last twelve months both on and off the table.
On Wednesday, we’ll take a look at a few of the best bits from this calendar year, but today let’s focus on some of the controversial matters that have engulfed the sport.
A Couple of Cheats
Every year there’s an addition to the list of bad eggs who taint the sport’s name and their own through match fixing.
Unfortunately, it was no different in 2018 as a couple of China’s most well-known competitors got banished with lengthy sentences.
Yu Delu and Cao Yupeng had been found guilty of fixing the outcome of several matches and the result of their case sent a huge message to players in Asia, whose crop of competitors had generally escaped punishment up until this point.
Cao, who only twelve months ago was on the cusp of claiming a maiden ranking title when he squandered a four frames lead in the final of the Scottish Open, was given a suspended sentence for finally coming clean and expressing remorse for his actions.
The 28 year-old will be able to return to competitive action in 2020 with a possible hope of salvaging what’s left of his shattered image.
Yu, though, was described as a “scourge to the game of snooker” and his ban until 2029 will effectively end his career.
Next year could well provide more scandal as the outcome of the hearing involving former World Championship quarter-finalist Jamie Jones has yet to be delivered.
Should anyone really have been surprised at snooker’s omission from BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year?
The pretentious end-of-year awards bash has scoffed at the achievements of snooker players for the best part of three decades and 2018 was no different.
Should Andy Murray win Wimbledon again or Rory McIlroy get back on the major podium in golf, they’d probably be a shoo-in for the gong.
Yet, Mark Williams’s third world crown an incredible 15 years after his last triumph goes largely unnoticed.
Worse still is the case of Ronnie O’Sullivan, who by claiming the UK Championship crown a week before SPOTY broke Stephen Hendry’s once seemingly unbreakable record of Triple Crown tallies.
O’Sullivan, who now boasts 19 wins in that department, has never even made the shortlist and it could be another 25 years before he’s recognised by that mob of stiffs.
#bbcspoty opens with ‘Respect’ – something this snobbish parade of self-indulgence has never shown snooker. Ronnie O’Sullivan snubbed AGAIN
— David Hendon (@davehendon) December 16, 2018
Ronnie unquestionably deserved to be at least in the conversation for SPOTY and the reaction online to his omission – and the fact that he was one of the favourites in the betting beforehand – simply underlined that.
The “Rocket” not only represents one of the best snooker players ever, but arguably one of the most talented sportspeople the UK has ever produced to boot.
And whether you like him or not, he certainly boasts a personality.
That said, on occasion the 43 year-old can be a tad too outspoken with some of his outlandish comments generating controversial headlines for the sport.
Last year, O’Sullivan made this list for his reference to lower ranked competitors as “numpties” and he features again after talk of dissatisfaction with the current regime.
Numerous back and forth jibes on Twitter between O’Sullivan and World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn came to a head in York during the UK Championship, when O’Sullivan suggested he could launch a breakaway tour if tweaks weren’t enforced.
O’Sullivan’s primary concern is that there are too many tournaments and he doesn’t want to travel all over the world to keep his place in the top 16.
This despite the fact that he has only entered five events in the 2018/19 campaign so far, won three of them, is third in the world rankings with an eye on securing top spot for the first time since 2010, and could take a year off and still be ranked in the elite bracket of 16.
Takes a numpty to know a numpty.
There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to the attendances at Chinese events.
The size of the venue, the promotion, the ticket prices, the location, and the snooker players in action are to name just a few.
Things are evidently going okay in China because the big promoters continue to churn out these tournaments with prize funds that are rising all the time.
The China Open in 2018 became snooker’s first million-pound event outside of the UK while TV figures and participation levels remain reportedly high.
Despite this, it’s difficult for people to understand why this popularity and success can’t be replicated in the venues in terms of putting bums on seats.
Even though the Chinese events are lucrative for the snooker players, the atmosphere is often akin to something you might expect to find on Sunday morning in your local church.
Surely a quarter-final tie being completed to the backdrop of rows upon rows of empty seats – which occurred when Matthew Stevens beat Martin O’Donnell to reach the last four of the International Championship – is not the ideal image the sport wants to portray globally.
There’s no questioning the importance of these tournaments to snooker’s overall transformation in the last decade.
But improvements can be made and the fact that there appears to be an unwillingness to bother in this discussion is cause for concern.
Going away from @twitter for a while guys. I’ve been on here since 2011 and in that time its become more and more hostile. I’m not talking specifically about my TL, just in general. Im heading to @instagram where things are bit nicer. Take care and thanks for all your support.
— Shaun Murphy (@Magician147) December 5, 2018
There are numerous pros and cons to the existence of social media platforms.
Interaction on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be enjoyable and fulfilling – or it can be downright hateful.
Unfortunately, in the last couple of years there has been more of the latter in relation to the former.
Twitter, in particular, used to house many of the top snooker players and a lot of them were pretty good at enjoying a bit of banter with the fans.
But when discussions turn into full blown arguments and the banter translates to threats, it’s pretty safe to say that things can escalate beyond the point of rationality.
Barry Hawkins and Mark King are two players who have highlighted social media abuse in 2018 and former world champion Shaun Murphy announced in December that he was going to leave Twitter because of the angry atmosphere.
It can be a toxic environment and it isn’t really surprising to see more and more snooker players choose to spend their free time elsewhere.
Part Two is on Wednesday, when we’ll be looking at some of the high points from 2018.