The original intention was for the prestigious invitational to return to the Alexandra Palace.
Next week’s 2021 Masters tournament will be staged at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, it has been reported on Sunday.
The increase in COVID-19 numbers throughout the Christmas and New Year period has led to the decision, which isn’t wholly unexpected.
This time last month, the World Snooker Tour was planning to entertain 1,000 fans in London as the sport hoped to welcome crowds for the first time this season.
However, new government guidelines subsequently introduced in December meant that supporters would not be permitted, and with logistical problems in the capital city rising as a result of the ongoing pandemic, the decision has been taken to stage the event away from what has been its home since 2012.
The multi-purpose arena in Milton Keynes, which has hosted every competition on the calendar this term so far, boasts on-site accommodation facilities that make it easier to adhere to guidelines.
At this point, the likelihood is that every event up until the World Championship at the Crucible will be staged in the Buckinghamshire town.
WST Chairman Barry Hearn said: “It’s disappointing for everyone connected with the event not to be heading to its spiritual home at Alexandra Palace.”
“However, our highest priority is always health and safety, and that is the basis of this decision.
“We must take all necessary steps to ensure that the event will go ahead and provide fantastic entertainment for many millions of fans throughout the world.
“Throughout this pandemic we have done all we can to keep our tour going. There have been setbacks along the way, including the decision to stage the Masters without the live fans we have missed so much.
“All assessments are based on data and our regular discussions with the UK Government and public health bodies.
“We staged several events in a strict bubble environment in Milton Keynes last summer and we were delighted that these were run successfully.
“I trust the 16 players to accept this decision, follow the rules carefully and enjoy one of our greatest tournaments.
“The standard of play and entertainment they have provided so far this season has been astonishing.”
The 2021 Masters tournament features the top 16 players from the official world rankings list.
With a rich history dating back to its inaugural edition in 1975, making it the second oldest professional event, the Masters is widely recognised as boasting the biggest trophy on offer – behind only the World Snooker Championship itself.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is a record seven-time winner and is one of the favourites again this year alongside world number one Judd Trump.
Defending champion Stuart Bingham and seven other former winners are in a high-quality draw, with the action getting under way next Sunday.
The Masters is a non-ranking event but carries a champion’s cheque worth a mammoth £250,000.
Featured photo credit: WST