As 2019 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 Friday, 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 disappointing or controversial matters that have engulfed the sport.
Another Year, Another Ban
It seems like a long time ago now but 2019 was another year in which a ban in relation to betting was needed.
In 2018, Cao Yupeng and Yu Delu were handed the book and given suspensions from the sport – a lengthy one for the latter until 2029.
Around the same time, another high-profile case was being brought against David John and former World Championship quarter-finalist Jamie Jones.
In January of this year, Jones was acquitted of match-fixing but he was still given a short-term ban for failing to report knowledge of an incident involving his fellow Welshman.
The result was that Jones was unable to complete the 2018/19 season, which concluded with his ranking plummeting outside the top 64 and a subsequent relegation from the Main Tour.
Jones, who is free to play again after his ban ended in October, insists that he has learned from his mistake and wants to get on with his career – with Q School in May being the most likely time that we’ll next see him in action as he fights to regain his professional status.
John, meanwhile, will be out of the game for a total of five years and seven months after being found guilty at the corruption inquiry.
Paul Hunter Classic
A decision that upset a lot of supporters this year was the downgrading of the Paul Hunter Classic from a ranking event to an invitational.
The tournament, which began as a pro-am 15 years ago with its inaugural staging won by the late Leeds potter, has always been a fan favourite.
Its prestige gradually increased throughout the years and following the introduction of the Barry Hearn era its position on the calendar was secure.
In 2010, it was awarded minor ranking status as part of the now defunct Players Tour Championship series, or European Tour.
Then, three years ago the Paul Hunter Classic was upgraded to a full ranking event with Mark Selby winning the event for a third time.
Indeed, the tournament has a terrific roll of honour with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Allen, and Shaun Murphy etching their names onto the trophy.
Yet, as snooker has become more global and its ability to garner higher prize funds more pronounced, the Paul Hunter Classic has been left behind somewhat.
Funding had been difficult to come by and the champion’s cheque of £20,000 that Kyren Wilson collected in 2018 was dwarfed by practically every other event on the calendar.
It was no surprise then to see a lot the marquee names on the Main Tour opting to skip the week’s action.
In August, the competition was limited to an invitational with just 16 players taking part and Barry Hawkins walking away with the title.
The Paul Hunter Classic’s demise is undoubtedly a pity because the fans in Furth love their snooker and have always lavished the players with appreciative support – something that can’t be said in a lot of other places that the sport visits.
What was worse about the revised Paul Hunter Classic in 2019 was that there were hardly any details about it, a sketchy panel of invites were assembled, the prize fund wasn’t clear, and there was nothing in the way of streaming.
It deserves better.
I realise I’m missing things living in Spain but what’s happened to the Paul Hunter classic it used to be a great tournament which everyone played in crowds were great now only 16 players explain please ???
— Willie Thorne (@TheWillieThorne) August 25, 2019
A Minimum of Maximums
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn’s annual press conferences at the Crucible Theatre during the World Championship have become an event in itself to look forward to each year.
There’s primarily something interesting announced and 2019 was no different, with positive news that next year’s World Championship will revert to a tiered system similar to the good old days.
But what wasn’t generally well-perceived was the revelation that there’d be no guaranteed prize fund available for making a 147 from the 2019/20 campaign.
Instead, a bonus of £1 million would be awarded for the maximum makers to share between them should 20 or more 147 breaks be compiled within the season.
We’re at the midway point of this term and, so far, there have been….four.
It’s worth noting that the jackpots on offer for the highest break in each event have increased, but it still completely belittles what should be one of the best personal achievements in the sport.
While it’s understandable that World Snooker doesn’t want to constantly fork out the big bucks for a feat that has become quite a regular occurrence in general, this new initiative has taken it to the opposite extreme.
To put it into context, the most 147 breaks that have been made in a previous season is only 13.
The figure of twenty doesn’t seem realistic at all and, as time goes on, it becomes clearer that Hearn’s announcement was nothing more than a media-friendly soundbite.
I’m fully aware that I’m opening myself up to a backlash from his followers here, but so be it.
He may be one of the best snooker players ever and a joy to watch when in full flow at the table.
However, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s relentless obsession with abnormality has become utterly tiresome.
The “Rocket” will rightly feature in Part Two of this feature with some of the incredible highs that he has mustered this year.
Unfortunately, though, a lot of O’Sullivan’s other actions can be difficult to tolerate.
Whether it’s ignorantly stereotyping the Australian accent or refusing to shake a player’s hands because of a sudden fear of germs.
From calling out the K2 in Crawley with an out-of-date photo to refusing maximum break opportunities, chastising referees, or pulling out of the Masters.
These are just a few of the seemingly endless contentious things that he has said or done this year.
O’Sullivan, who at times can offer enlightening analysis in his role as a pundit with Eurosport, is an enigma, a genius, and everything in between.
Snooker needs characters and of course is lucky to have one of the personalities in sport.
Yet, O’Sullivan’s egotistical necessity to be seen and heard has become almost compulsive and far from enjoyable to follow.
Hi Ronnie, thanks for your feedback however I think your image may be from last year! As you can see from ours, since we took over, we’ve made lots of improvements to the café, including replacing the furniture. 😀 pic.twitter.com/PrKAv7D7bs
— Everyone Active (@EveryoneActive) October 17, 2019
Cancellation of WSF Championships
In amateur snooker, the last couple of years had been dominated by a rift between the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association and the International Billiards and Snooker Federation.
The end result was a breakaway from the WPBSA and the formation of the World Snooker Federation, a new organisation that would rival the IBSF’s traditional stranglehold on the amateur game.
In 2018, the inaugural WSF Championships was staged with the winner, Luo Honghao, gaining a spot on the Main Tour – a place that was once reserved for the IBSF World Championship but had since been rescinded.
With a lot of national federations backing the WSF, it appeared as though amateur snooker had a fresh future to plan around.
How disappointing then when the 2019 edition of the WSF Championships was cancelled in February after a scheduling calamity that saw the competition move from the UAE to China before being scrapped altogether.
The decision also impacted the World Women’s Snooker Championship, which had to be postponed until the summer.
The WSF Championships will head to Malta in 2020 when it will look to salvage lost ground.
Part Two is on Friday, when we’ll be looking at some of the high points from 2019.