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
Of course there are no guarantees about anything, but I would expect there to be a World Championship sometime this year – it is a major showcase for the sport, and the fincancial benefits are substantial, if not vital. Despite what people say about ‘tradition’, money is the bottom line. The main scheduling issue is actually TV, with huge amount of coverage on the BBC. The Crucible is much less relevant – most viewers won’t even notice. The success of the event will depend on the quality of the snooker and the drama. It’s much more important to keep the long-match format. It’s also good you mention the qualifiers (which many online seem only vaguely aware of), and the tour-card situation. For these reasons, the only efficient way to repair the fractures caused by coronavirus would be to play the WC in August (if safe by then), followed by Q School and the new season. Wherever possible, existing bookings need to be maintained because of the consequential losses.
The Tour Championship has provisionally been rescheduled for July, so it is possible. But there are a lot more logistics to overcome for a tournament the size of the World Championship. It’s all speculation at the minute.
One other major issue, that a lot of people forget when focussing on the final stages in Sheffield, is that the players who are due to play the qualifiers must have a ‘legal’ and a feasible way to travel to Sheffield.
Imagine Britain closing its borders. Or other countries – such as Poland at his moment – making international travel impossible.
It would be unfair to have the qualifiers when players from let’s say Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Iran, Thailand, China (though most of them live in Sheffield) are forced to withdraw from this tournament because they simply can not get to the venue.
I’m afraid this could be the deciding factor in the whole process.
As these qualifiers start on the 8th of April, it leaves WST 10 days less to make this big decision. That makes April 8th extremely important, if not more important than April 18th.
Can u plz phone me to tell me the chances on the world championship taken place this year.many thanx justin saunders 07773492379
What I DO think is important is that WST is, some would say “for once”, decisive. What a shambles cancelling LLandudno with only hours to go. Other sports are getting their heads together, reaching a decision, announcing it. Why can’t we? The website comment by Crucible does not require much ability to read between the lines, does it?
Despite Hearn’s words to the contrary I think we can safely say there is no chance the tournament will go ahead in April, not even behind closed doors.
I looked on the Crucible website a few days ago (before theatres closed) and there was nothing listed between July and November apart from the World Seniors Championship in mid-August. Of course, that doesn’t mean nothing is in the Crucible’s diary, but it’s not as if tickets have been sold for other events, which is one less hurdle to overcome.
I think if there is a postponement a possible date is 15-31 August, ending on Bank Holiday Monday (just the wrong one). Qualifiers may have to be compressed (perhaps best of 11 before the final round could get them done in five or six days).
But the situation is changing fast and even if the situation is improved by the summer it may be too late to get the get the WC back on its feet. Cancellation is still the most likely option, but there are things more important than snooker right now.
But one Saturday morning, even if it doesn’t come until April 2021, Judd will walk out to defend his title, the snooker will be back and the wait will make us appreciate it even more.
Pingback: Top 10 Most Read Snooker Stories of 2020 – Bouncing Bill