Snooker’s powers face uncertainty as the pressure to decide the status of its flagship event heightens amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Following a couple of important announcements on Monday, the staging of this year’s World Snooker Championship looks increasingly in doubt.
Up until Tuesday, the World Snooker Tour had so far continued with its 2019/20 season, but the decision has in the last few hours been taken to postpone this week’s Tour Championship in Wales.
With increasing influence from the UK government and the decision by the UK Theatre group to close its doors as well, the signs are looking a bit more ominous.
Let’s take a look at some of things that might happen, and the decisions that could be made in the upcoming days, weeks, and even months.
Go Ahead as Planned
The ideal scenario would obviously be for the 2020 World Snooker Championship to take place on the already scheduled dates.
As a reminder, the 17-day main event is due to take place between April 18th and May 4th, therefore commencing a little over a month from now.
However, as only the top 16 in the world rankings gain automatic qualification, a preliminary event needs to also take place to determine the additional 16 spots at the venue.
This is pencilled in for between April 8th and 15th at the English Institute of Sport.
There is the possibility that the entire month-long World Snooker Championship could be contested behind closed doors, as was the case at the end of the Gibraltar Open at the weekend.
However, should there be any formal restrictions on mass gatherings in the UK, such as a limit being set to the amount of people who can be in the same place at a given time, the undertaking of the qualifiers in particular could be a major problem.
That’s because more than 100 players are set to compete at the EIS, not to forget all the officials and organisers who need to be in attendance in order to make the competition run smoothly.
At any rate, the UK Theatre group has already instructed its members, including the Crucible, to close its doors with immediate effect.
Whether this refers to only theatrical productions or any event that the venue stages remains unknown.
Johnson just said he is recommending that theatres close. RIP World Snooker Championship.
— snookerbacker 🗣️ (@snookerbacker) March 16, 2020
Several other sports, including football, rugby, and golf, have already taken steps to postpone many of their most significant leagues and events.
Snooker could eventually follow this trend, and there then may be the option of staging the World Snooker Championship at a later date.
Yet, there are numerous issues that would inevitably arise should this be attempted.
First, there’s no guarantee that the Crucible Theatre – already a popular venue in Sheffield for the arts – will be available again this year for the required lengthy period of 17 days.
Second, there’s a good chance that the rescheduled event would take place much later in the year, which could have implications on when next season begins and all the ranking permutations that go along with tour survival and promotion.
Expensive broadcasting contracts would have to be renegotiated too, further complicating the situation.
If the Crucible is only available for a shorter spell, for example a week, there could be an option of shortening the marathon format to have it in line with many of the other tournaments on the calendar that last around seven days.
On the other hand, if the Crucible is unavailable entirely, would the World Snooker Tour consider hosting the sport’s blue-riband tournament elsewhere?
Both of the last two options could have major implications on the sport in general as the World Snooker Championship is synonymous with the Crucible Theatre having been staged at the iconic venue every year since 1977.
But any change in format or venue, regardless of how small, could sew the seeds that lead to a more permanent alteration in future years.
The most sobering solution, but arguably the most likely, is that the 2020 World Snooker Championship will be cancelled altogether.
If postponed, there is no guarantee that the WST will be able to rearrange it to suit the demands of all concerned.
Regardless of that, the coronavirus outbreak could still be something that affects all sport for many months to come.
WST supremo Barry Hearn has consistently insisted that the World Snooker Championship will proceed as planned, but that decision could eventually be taken out of his hands.
— Barry Hearn (@BarryHearn) March 13, 2020