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From the Crucible to Qatar – the World Snooker Championship conundrum

Talk of the World Snooker Championship leaving the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield isn’t especially new.

However, despite vehement dissent from most traditionalist fans of the sport, in recent years the debate seems to have been ratcheted up a level.

Snooker, the Crucible Theatre, and Sheffield are all synonymous with one another – the purportedly perfect partnership in marriage that began 46 years ago.

Promoter Mike Watterson, upon the recommendation of his wife who had seen a play in the theatre, took the World Championship to the Crucible in 1977.

So many of snooker’s most iconic moments have happened at the venue since then.

In 1982, Alex Higgins won the World Championship for the second time, producing one of the breaks of the century in his semi-final victory over Jimmy White before cradling his baby in a flood of tears after beating Ray Reardon in the final.

In 1985 and watched by millions, Dennis Taylor fought back from 8-0 behind in the final to pip defending champion Steve Davis 18-17 on the very last black.

Between 1990 and 1994, Jimmy White’s legion of fans suffered one heartache after another as the Whirlwind was to be denied world glory at the final hurdle for five editions in a row, and six in total.

In 1997, a young Ronnie O’Sullivan produced a stunning quick-fire maximum break in just five minutes and eight seconds.

Two years later, Stephen Hendry triumphed for a seventh time – a two-decade old record that O’Sullivan finally equalled in 2022 to establish himself as the undeniable greatest ever.

In 2005, 22 year-old Shaun Murphy became only the second qualifier ever to raise the trophy aloft amid a bombardment of aggressive, attacking snooker.

Six years later, Judd Trump announced himself to a global audience with his unique brand of “naughty snooker” only to just fall short in an electric title decider against John Higgins.

In 2013, O’Sullivan conjured arguably the greatest feat in the game’s history, winning the world title at a canter having taken an entire year off after his 2012 success.

And five years ago, Class of ’92 stalwarts Mark Williams and John Higgins combined in one of the greatest finals of them all, with the Welshman edging the Scot in an 18-16 thriller.

Of course, there have been many, many more magical memories – it is a list that could go on and on.

Yet, with the current ten-year contract to stage the World Championship at the Crucible Theatre until 2027 creeping nearer to its climax, questions are continuously being raised over the future destination of the sport’s blue-riband showpiece.

While there are still a large number of players and fans in support of keeping it at the Crucible, there is a growing section who are in favour of change.

Twelve months ago, Mark Allen and Neil Robertson were among several high-profile players who indicated their desire for the World Championship to move.

Still, aside from a persistent problem of visibly empty front-row Crucible seats as a result of unsold or unoccupied VIP tickets, all seemed relatively quiet this year on the discussion of relocating.

Quiet, that is, until Barry Hearn was quoted on Thursday as saying that the World Snooker Championship could potentially be off to Qatar.

For his entire tenure as the World Snooker Tour chairman, Hearn was always adamant that the sport’s flagship tournament was definitely going to stay at the Crucible.

But since relinquishing his primary roles at WST to Steve Dawson and at Matchroom Sport to his son Eddie, there has been more than a sliver of a hint from Hearn that the partnership in a long-term sense isn’t unbreakable.

“Take the Crucible, the debate goes on – 980 seats,” Hearn said this week. “Qatar said to me last week, ‘what year does that World Snooker contract run out with Sheffield?'”

“They asked me. I said, ‘It’s 2027-28.’ They replied, ‘can we be in consideration? Can we have a say in it?’”

“They don’t have a snooker background. But it’s (a case of) if you want to do a nice big event, then we will put you in the mix.

“Who knows what is going to happen. I mean I have told (Sheffield) what they have got to do. I haven’t seen too much activity in that way.

“We are part of the Sheffield development plan. But again I need a bit more juice on it. I live in a world of people talking about things.

“In the world I like to operate in, it’s where people do things. They are in that process, I am not criticising them. Let’s hope it comes up.

“We are in 2023, they have four to five years. But I don’t want it to be a decision made in four or five years.

“I am a Sheffield fan. I want to stay here, but it might not be my decision – well, it’s not.

“I am the president non-executive, so I don’t really have any power other than we are still going to do what I tell them to do.”

Whether Qatar is a genuine threat or merely a ruse is largely irrelevant – for the moment at least – in the sense that, either way, it pinpoints where the Hearn dynasty’s true loyalties will ultimately lie – money.

Ever the strategic businessman, Hearn knows that comments like these will put pressure on both the Crucible and Sheffield to come up with a plan, and the clock is ticking.

The fact is that snooker is losing out financially while staging its main event at a venue that is undeniably too small.

The Crucible can accommodate just shy of 1,000 people, but a tournament as big as the World Championship could, and arguably should, attract significantly more.

Taking the World Championship to somewhere like Qatar would be a dreadful turn of events, although one suspects that if it were to eventually leave the UK it would end up in China.

Yet there is a reason why this conversation about moving resurfaces time and time again – what was a perfect home for the sport’s biggest tournament in 1977 simply isn’t any more.

Those empty front-row seats, a stab in the back to loyal fans who for years occupied them but have since been priced out, have only become an issue because the Crucible isn’t fit for purpose in the modern sporting environment.

Several other possible alternatives have been mooted in recent times.

Robertson suggested last year that there could be a second Crucible, much in the same manner as how there is a Centre Court and a No.1 Court at Wimbledon.

Leaving the Crucible but staying in Sheffield is another choice, with an interesting idea on a purpose-built snooker venue already having been proposed.

A third option, if the World Snooker Championship does in fact leave the Crucible and Sheffield but stays in the UK, is a move to the Alexandra Palace in London.

Over the course of the last decade, the Ally Pally has hosted the prestigious Masters invitational to great success.

The Ally Pally may not be able to compete with the Crucible Theatre in terms of romance and history, but in terms of tickets and revenue it would be a winner.

Snooker is a niche sport but like any other has an aspiration of extending its reach, becoming global, and being as successful as it possibly can be.

To achieve that, the unfortunate truth is that the Crucible Theatre does not tick enough boxes, not the way it is in its current form at least.

It’s a special place with momentous memories, and with a contract that runs until 2027 snooker’s bond with the venue will reach the poignant half-century mark.

Whether that will symbolise the Crucible Theatre’s final act for the World Snooker Championship is this sport’s soul-searching conundrum that remains unsolved.

This article was first written and published in April, 2022 and was updated in April, 2023.

Featured photo credit: WST


  1. Very Good Love Read snooker Lyndon from Carmarthen west Wales.

  2. Perhaps swap locations, Alexandra Palace for WC, Crucible for the Masters. The crucible is perfect for one table tournaments!

  3. Marc Morrissey

    The World Championship must leave the Crucible 100% or become a part of a second new purpose built venue adjacent to or close buy. Sentimentality must never get in the way of doing what’s right for the future, for snooker, for our massively growing sport. Sheffield must stay as the home of snooker so let’s get these plans rolling and get it done so Sheffield can move proudly into the future with a brand new Crucible complex with World class facilities and a World class atmosphere that even rivals or surpasses the Alexander Palace and the old Wembley conference centre!

  4. A vital requirement for the World Championship should be the best possible playing conditions. Unfortunately the Crucible cannot offer that. We all know this, but somehow people are swayed by the ‘nostalgia’ argument: including of course all the commentators, former players and indeed Barry Hearn who all have their special memories. That’s why rational debate tends to be strangled. Is the future of snooker their priority?

    I am approaching 50 years old, and have played and watched snooker since the 1980’s. I remember all those matches vividly, but I want to see snooker develop to the next level – to become a major global sport. This requires an upgrade to a venue with suitable media and corporate hospitality, and probably a larger crowd with decent facilities for them. The idea that ‘only the Crucible’ can provide a special atmosphere is nonsense. This season I have travelled to Alexandra Palace and the Tempodrom and witnessed great atmospheres there. What’s special is that it is the World Championship, with the highest stakes. It’s not so much that the building itself is ‘special’.

    The biggest threat to snooker’s precious history is that it will be forgotten… That nearly happened in the 1960’s, and certainly happened to billiards. Snooker could be in real trouble when most of today’s star players are no longer there, with 9-ball pool anxious to take over. Mike Watterson, the WPBSA and the BBC showed courage, ambition and imagination when they made their ‘historic’ decisions in the late 1970’s. We desperately need some of that now.

    • Jamie Brannon

      I don’t agree that the conditions are poor at the Crucible as the standard in recent years has been exceptional. The century count is evidence of this.

      Neil Robertson’s suggestion is the only palatable alternative to leaving the Crucible. Playing the two biggest events at Alexandra Palace would actually demean the excitement around both tournaments. Another reason the Crucible is so special is that snooker is basically the only sport played there. London is already staging a high volume of big sporting events that I’m quite opposed to seeing Sheffield lose an event that is great for the city. It’s important the UK’s biggest sporting competitions are spread around the country.

      I also believe it’s overplayed just how significant a larger venue would be in generating extra revenue. Tossing away so much history for the sake of an extra 1,000 ticket sales doesn’t seem justifiable.

      • But that’s my point about history: it can’t be ‘tossed away’! Cliff Thorburn will still have made his 147, Dennis Taylor will still have potted the black! The danger is that the progression of history is suffocated, or history is forgotten by newer generations who view snooker as dated, hidebound, obsolete.

        I do agree the Sheffield is the best place, with two arenas (or parallel venues) the ideal set-up. This ‘curtain’ coming down between two tables, with clearly inadequate space, is an embarrassment.

  5. Jay Brannon

    The theatre itself is still a wonderful venue for snooker as it suits the intimacy and slow burning tension of snooker. The most important sources of revenue are TV and sponsorship so this need for more ticket sales is not as important as they make out.

    When events start losing their identity the prestige and popularity could potentially suffer. Wimbledon is not the biggest venue in tennis but the history and aura attached to the All England Club add to the event’s lustre.

    It would be a sad day for snooker if future champions didn’t come through the Crucible cauldron. I had been hoping we were going to have a year off from this tiresome debate!

    • Sorry Jay, but the reason why the debate won’t go away is that it is really inevitable that snooker will have to change. In the 21st century, all sports and entertainments have to constantly upgrade and compete for attention. Wimbledon completely rebuilt its corporate and media facilities and even some of the courts. Many top-level football teams moved to new stadiums. New cricket grounds were built and even Lords built a massive new media centre. After settling in, these new venues are always considered ‘wonderful’. The TV pictures to the millions of viewers would scarcely look any different: to them, ‘Crucible’ is just a word…

      I agree it’s not necessarily about audience sizes, although 980 is a derisory number. But there are no special corporate facilities, and even the Eurosport commentary team aren’t actually in Sheffield (until the one-table set-up). This year, we saw a security breach which led to the postponement of a match – the audience are simply too close to the table and the players. Could Prince William come and watch a match? No, he couldn’t. The table conditions (especially Table 1) have again been poor this year, but the pockets have helped the scoring. I’m afraid, the best facilities are an absolute prerequisite.

  6. Jay brannon

    A lot of these football teams have moved to grounds lacking soul and character. If the World Championship moves to say Qatar you’re not going to be able to replace that soul and aura the Crucible has established over 45 years.

    The standard issue is nonsense. We see snooker of the highest order most years at the Crucible, matching up with any other tournament on the calendar. I’ve not heard a single player or commentator question the table conditions this year.

    What new cricket grounds were built? The 18 first class counties all play at long established homes.

    The corporate argument adds nothing to the prestige of the event. Adding the Century Club to the Crucible this year has actually been a mistake as we’re seeing the irrirating absence of spectators in a number of front row seats.

    • The Riverside Ground and Rose Bowl stadiums were built, and Sophia Gardens was expanded. They all host international cricket matches now.

      The problems of the ‘Century Club’ at the Crucible were caused precisely because of the lack of facilities. They could only offer ‘front row seats’ because they didn’t have boxes, bars, etc. As for the ‘soulless’ Premiership stadiums, that’s a cliché that wears off after a couple of seasons. The ‘soul’ is provided by people, not by bricks.

      But I do agree that moving to Qatar (or China) would be a terrible mistake. I actually favour a new auditorium, hopefully in Sheffield, which has a lot of (current-day) connections with snooker.

  7. Jay brannon

    I agree the soul is mainly provided by people but where you take something is important as going to Qatar is often a great moneyspinner for sport but their sporting events often lack atmosphere. A second venue in addition to the Crucible is something I can accept but the climax should be in that hallowed theatre that is part of snooker folklore.

    I know football fans turned off by moving to new stadia. The Emirates is not a patch on Highbury for atmosphere.

    The other issue with leaving Sheffield is too many snooker tournaments constantly switch venues and then lack an identity. I fear leaving would see the World Championship lead a nomadic existence.

  8. Duncan Birss

    Qatar talk is nonsense , is everything just about money?

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