It’s time for the annual highs and lows review on SnookerHQ, and there are many talking points over the course of 2021 in snooker to recall.
On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at a few of the best bits from the 2021 calendar year, but today let’s focus on some of the low talking points that have engulfed snooker in that period.
Just over a decade ago, there was a shift toward staging tournaments that utilised the sprint best-of-seven frame format.
It was ridiculed by traditionalists of the sport at the time, so just imagine what the response was when even shorter guises began to crop up on a regular basis during 2021.
In truth, it’s difficult to weigh up exactly which was worse – the umpteenth version of the Championship League, the inaugural hosting of the WST Pro Series, or the returning British Open.
All three incorporated terrible and uninspiring formats, each a little different from the other but all sharing the same sense of dreary dreadfulness.
The WST Pro Series and the ranking event edition of the Championship League both included group stages, with the former boasting matches of a mere three frames in length, and the latter competition dragging on for a monotonous four-week spell during the summer.
The British Open, meanwhile, which was once one of the most prestigious titles sought after on the calendar, had best-of-five ties in the early rounds before an eleven-frame final that carried a hefty £100,000 champion’s cheque.
On the one hand, snooker’s powers deserve at least some credit for staging these events in an otherwise difficult period of the pandemic, offering players with extra opportunities to compete and earn.
But the imagination was lacking, to put it mildly, and it’s worrying if there is going to be a lasting transition to these kinds of formats.
A Global Game
For the first time in decades, the schedule featured zero tournaments outside the United Kingdom as the pandemic continued to wreak havoc with the snooker calendar.
The German Masters, which usually takes place at the magnificent Tempodrom in Berlin, was staged at the Marshall Arena instead, while every Chinese event was cancelled for the second successive year.
Again, the WST and WPBSA are in a tight spot in this regard as it’s difficult to organise international events and trips abroad when many countries are failing to control COVID-19 outbreaks.
However, there’s no doubt that this is having a damaging impact on the sport, and one can only hope that it doesn’t undo a lot of the heavy lifting that was achieved in the previous decade when snooker approached many new destinations.
The Turkish Masters in March of 2022 offers hope of a return to normality in that regard, although with the ongoing troubles related to the Omicron variant it does seem a tad optimistic that will go ahead as planned.
The Marshall Arena has already come to the rescue for the European Masters, which was due be held in Furth in February but will instead see snooker return to its makeshift home of the COVID era in Milton Keynes.
Separately, albeit somewhat related, more and more people have begun criticising the structure of the Main Tour, notably the prize money on offer and the overall size of the professional circuit.
While some arguments indeed have merit, in particular the current situation that leaves first-round losers effectively out of pocket, others show the depths at which some players and fans misunderstand the concept of a growing global sport.
The noisy party in favour of reducing the tour – some audaciously suggesting that the circuit should consist of just 64 professionals – are in need of a visit to the nearest opticians for shortsightedness.
Barry Hearn Retires
Okay, so he hasn’t really retired, has he? As much as he’d like to have you believe that he has left the reigns to other people, it still seems likely that Hearn will continue to have significant input going forward – in the short term at least.
Hearn announced his intention to leave his roles as chairman of both Matchroom Sport and the World Snooker Tour during the World Championship in April, albeit the legendary promoter will remain in the fold thanks to his new advisory role as President.
Despite this, it definitely does point to the fact that there will be a genuine post-Hearn era on the horizon, and how the sport will cope with that remains the multi million-pound question.
Businessman Hearn, now 73, was instrumental in dragging snooker up off its knees when he took control of the sinking ship in 2010, transforming a dying professional entity into a respected and profitable sport again.
There were of course certain things that he didn’t do right during his tenure at the helm, but overall snooker owes him an immense debt of gratitude for his service.
Hearn’s charisma and enthusiasm will be missed, and new WST chairman Steve Dawson has an unenviable pair of big shoes to fill.
On Tuesday, we’ll follow up the lows by having a look at three high talking points of 2021 in snooker.
Featured photo credit: WST