The first tournament since the coronavirus-enforced lockdown in the UK gets under way on Monday in Milton Keynes.
June 1st marks the lifting of restrictions that enables professional sport to return to the calendar in the UK – starting with Matchroom’s Championship League.
A total of 64 players are hoping to compete at the Marshall Arena after almost three months of inactivity on the Main Tour.
Snooker will be among the first sports to make a comeback after its 2019/20 campaign was brought to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19.
Its revival has sparked debate about whether it is appropriate or not to return to normality in such a hasty fashion – particularly as there are still thousands of positive coronavirus tests in the UK on a daily basis.
Yet, World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has been single-minded in his approach to getting the circuit going again as soon as possible.
That meant adhering to the government’s guidelines, but whether or not the latter entity is fit for purpose is what leads some to believe that it isn’t quite the right time.
Following the government’s advice is all well and good as long as it’s the right advice being given.
Nevertheless, the coin has been thrown and we’re now in a situation where a lot of weight is being placed on the hope that everything will run smoothly.
To WST and the WPBSA’s credit, they have taken every necessary step in order to make the Championship League as safe as possible for all concerned.
On-site accommodation at the Marshall Arena means that players and staff will remain isolated throughout the competition.
Everyone must test for COVID-19 before entering the venue, and they will be given a wristband to wear in order to prove that they have had a negative result.
Social distancing rules must be rigidly followed, which for snooker will be relatively straightforward compared to other sports, while all the action will of course take place behind closed doors and without fans.
Delighted to have received this wristband, which means I’ve tested negative for coronavirus and can commentate on @CLSnooker for ITV4 from Monday. Very professional set up here. pic.twitter.com/hEXIPl2VuR
— David Hendon (@davehendon) May 30, 2020
It’s not perfect, though, as highlighted by the mostly UK-based field which has left overseas players twiddling their thumbs despite being members of what is supposed to be a global sport.
Switzerland’s Alexander Ursenbacher, for example, was forced to withdraw after failing to guarantee travel arrangements in time, while only two cueists from the 23-strong Chinese contingent will be involved.
This might not be a huge concern for the Championship League as it is a non-ranking event, but it could potentially become a bigger deal next month with the qualifiers for the rescheduled World Championship.
Anthony Hamilton, meanwhile, was among the only competitors from England to opt out of participating, with the former German Masters champion of the opinion that it’s too soon to be returning to action.
“I think we should be in lockdown for another few weeks, a month or two, because obviously we need to get rid of the pandemic as quick as possible,” Hamilton told Metro.co.uk.
“I have got asthma so I’m semi into the danger zone personally, but I think I’d be the same anyway, it’s just too early.”
On the other hand, several players have understandably welcomed the decision to return as it provides them with an opportunity to earn a living again.
Every participant is guaranteed £1,000 while the champion on June 11th will earn £30,000.
Judd Trump, who won the last tournament in March with victory in the Gibraltar Open, heads the Championship League snooker line-up with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Mark Allen, and Stuart Bingham also in the draw.
Bingham is one of just a few players on the circuit who boasts a table in his own home, so the reigning Masters champion won’t be able to utilise the excuse of being rusty.
The tournament, which has been staged annually since 2008, will incorporate a new format for this edition.
There will be three phases of round-robins, with all 64 players taking part in the opening stage of 16 groups of four.
Each player will compete against each other once in their respective groups over the best of four frames, with three points for a win and one point for a draw.
The 16 winners will duly advance to phase two, before four further group winners subsequently contest the Tournament Finals on the last day.
Live coverage is on ITV4 in the UK and Ireland, Eurosport throughout Europe, and on the new Matchroom.Live streaming service across Africa, the Americas, and parts of Asia.