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Withdrawal symptoms: snooker’s “baffling” schedule

News of high-profile withdrawals for next week’s inaugural Wuhan Open should come as a surprise to nobody.

World champion Luca Brecel and last week’s British Open winner Mark Williams are already confirmed to have pulled out of the new ranking event in China.

So far, Graeme Dott and David Gilbert have additionally decided not to travel to the tournament – a lucrative one that boasts a top prize of £140,000.

Why? Well, almost certainly one of the reasons is the lopsided calendar of tournaments that the World Snooker Tour has scheduled.

The venue stages of the Wuhan Open begin at 3am BST in the early hours of Monday morning, just a few hours after this week’s English Open concludes almost 9,000km away in Brentwood.

For those competing for glory and the Steve Davis Trophy this weekend, and especially for the finalists, it means a rapid dash across to the other side of the world.

Why those at the helm of snooker believe this is an effective way to manage the tour is anyone’s guess.

Yet it’s hardly a new thing, and there are examples – in many aspects of how the sport is being run – of a disregard for innovation, forward thinking, and sustainable development.

The constant interchanging of venues – many of them operating to subpar levels – and the ongoing debacle surrounding the live scoring saga immediately spring to mind.

With regard to the scheduling conflict, the same complaints and concerns have fallen on deaf ears for years and years.

Back in the 2016/17 season, the new China Championship in Guangzhou was pencilled in for the days prior to the Champion of Champions in Coventry.

John Higgins defied the odds to win both those tournaments in successive weeks, which in hindsight probably led to the authorities believing they could get away with doing it more often.

During the next campaign, the International Championship, the Champion of Champions, and the Shanghai Masters were locked in for consecutive weeks – China to England and back to China again.

By now, it had become a common talking point that there needed to be an annual Chinese swing.

However, promoters in China have never wanted their tournaments to be staged next to each other.

That has undoubtedly created a headache for snooker’s schedulers, and no right-minded person is questioning the difficulty in organising new events.

Many things need to be considered – not only the dates but the venues, the broadcasters, and the sponsors as well.

But when is the sport going to grow a backbone and dictate rather than being dictated?

There was an opportunity post-pandemic to restructure the calendar in a manner that was more beneficial, particularly for the players but also for the overall image of how the sport is being presented.

Instead, a similar situation has resurfaced with the international events – what’s left of them – and especially those in China being scattered randomly all over the calendar.

Next month, this topic will rear its head again when those involved in the Champion of Champions will have to immediately fly in to Bolton from the preceding International Championship in Tianjin.

“It’s much better than not being busy,” Williams, whose fourth-round match at the English Open started at 11pm on Thursday, told Metro.co.uk.

“But the scheduling, I think they’ll probably have to try and do something about it, because if you have a good run here there’s no way you can make China in time.”

“Even if they push your game back a day it’s not really going to make any difference. All the travelling, you’ve got no chance of doing well.

“Of course you would have to pick and choose events. If they’re back-to-back you’re going to get a bit jaded, you need a few days off to recharge and it’s something you’ll have to look into.”

Williams hasn’t been the only one to voice his unease with the situation, with Neil Robertson labelling the current expectations of players “unacceptable” and “insane”.

Mark Allen queried “how the promoters and sponsors in the UK feel about their events being fine to be back-to-back, but China events are too big and important to be,” calling it “baffling”.

This issue is just one of many that arguably fits into a greater debate surrounding whether or not the current people in charge of the sport are the right ones to maximise its full potential.

Too often decisions are seemingly being made on a whim rather than with any mindful awareness of how it could have a negative, or at least stagnant, impact on the game in the future.

The live scoring fiasco provides another reflection of the sport’s inability to plan well.

A temporary system, which breaks down just about as often as it works, has been in place this season amid ongoing setbacks with the development of a long-promised upgraded one.

WST ended a partnership with its old provider at the end of last season, and the delays with the launch of a new one mean that fans will likely have to wait until at least January for an improved experience when checking scores, results, schedules, and stats.

It culminates in an amateurish look for a sport that strives to be global, and one that Barry Hearn brashly claimed recently could be as big as golf.

It’s hard to take that implausible level of spin seriously when mistakes are being repeated on a long-term basis.

The spate of withdrawals for next week’s Wuhan Open won’t be an isolated occurrence, and the absence of some of the biggest names from these events won’t do the game’s growth any favours.

Featured photo credit: WST

8 Comments

  1. Yes, and there will indeed be many withdrawals from the Northern Ireland Open, not least because some players are staying on in China for lucrative exhibitions in Shanghai, etc.

    The schedule was the main talking point amongst the players I met in Brentwood. Even the Chinese players were torn between doing well this week, and maybe having to withdraw from the Wuhan Open. Some (like Rob Milkins) have exotic travel plans to save money and get around some restrictions (e.g. cue transport).

    OK, this season has been a very difficult one for WST to manage, with the hoped return of the China events – we shouldn’t underestimate the difficulties in putting all that together with a lot of uncertainties. Next season will be the real test of WST’s competence.

    But actually, WST organisational problems are a symptom if a wider problem in snooker: a lack of vision, foresight and imagination. We all contribute to this, with our unwillingness to transform the game. These scheduling difficulties arise from the rigid tour structure, coupled with the 4-table limit which leads to spread-out qualifiers and logistic issues at the event: you can’t play 8 matches on 4 tables starting at 7pm. I had to leave the Liu-Williams match early, and some top players practically gave up due to exhaustion.

    It’s always easy to criticise, but what is needed is a flow of ideas. Specifically, a couple of years ago (http://www.snookerlewis.com/tournament_ideas) I proposed playing 3 events in China back-to-back: a best-of-7 tournament, a variant event (such as a Shoot-out or 6-Reds), and a best-of-11 event. This would take 3 weeks, but many players would be able to return after 2. There would be 3 contrasting events to provide some variety, and 3 opportunities for the players to earn prize-money. No qualifiers.

    Nodoubt other people could think of something even better than that, and I look forward to hearing a debate. WST might come up with answers themselves, or they might need ‘help’.

    • Jay Brannon

      Are you the Lewis Pirnie that comments regularly on Snooker.org?

      • Yes, and sometimes on other forums as well. Jay, I’d be very happy to meet up with you if you’re going to any tournaments.

        • Jay Brannon

          I’d be up for that if I’m able to attend any. I live in the West Midlands so toying with a trip to Telford or Leicester before the season is over.

          I’m a regular contributor to this site and have just signed up to Snooker.org. I also occasionally email the Snooker Scene and Talking Snooker podcasts.

  2. Daniel White

    The snooker tour is unlike any other professional sport that I can think of. It’s an individual sport played professionally in two widely spaced hotspots: the British isles and East Asia, specifically China due to the size and value of the game there. Players are jumping across the entire Eurasian landmass to compete in the full professional tour rosta of events, which amounts to ‘just doing their job as professionals in their sport’. It’s surely unsustainable for players if that is done in this manner where UK then East Asia tournaments keep occurring consecutively let alone back to back per week. If tournaments do start growing on mainland Europe or Turkey and Tunisia then having the season in segments: West then East, then West, and again East with a few tournaments in each segment/area at a time has to be better. This would mitigate players being away from home for too long a stretch of time but also stop the complete clustering of a given countries tournaments into one block and also completely stop this back and forth, back and forth, across Eurasia.

    • This is all because of snooker history, which since the 1980’s was a British-based tour, with the occasional excursion overseas. That model has burst its bounds now, clearly. What’s remarkable is that rather than want to keep the game in the UK, for convenience, many UK players actually want to play more in China and possibly other places as well. At long last, there is aspiration to become a truly global game, and yet the resistance is from ‘World Snooker Tour’ themselves?!

  3. Considering how small is the pot for winners and all participants in snooker, I would start by choosing to participate in tournaments solely on the basis of their monetary worth. A Wuhan win is worth twice an English Open or just about. To heck with the prestige. If prestige wants to keep its prestige, it had better dish out the money and the premises. Compared to what other sport pay, I would not even bother with snooker to start with. You see ladies playing abysmal finals in tennis, with hardly any thrills and they make millions, undeservedly as much as the men who provide far more thrills and fierceness and whose money is won over the best of 5 sets not like the ladies, just best of 3. So in that sense, the ladies are being paid as much as the men for playing just a bit more than half the sets that men do – luvly, how fair. Considering how ugly boring is most ladies’ tennis, I reckon the girls are getting 4 times what the men make at the very least. They get paid millions winning these things. In snooker, the World Champion gets paid half a million and the chance to make that money is just once a year. So yeah, snooker got it all wrong and the ones at the help are mediocre amateurs who should be unceremoniously booted off by a common vote. So I am with Ronnie when he says he would not recommend snooker as a sport to his own, but rather tennis and golf, where at least one has a chance to win even more than one is worth – vide most ladies’ tennis, with both players spending the majority of time at the baseline and sending the ball over the net to the other end until one of them shoots it back into the net or out over the lines. Wow how exciting. It’s so exciting that a half drunken male tennis player rated 200+ smacked Serena Williams when she was at her best – the supposed doyen of modern lady tennis, 6-0, 6-0 in no time at all. In snooker they would rate somewhere where the snooker ladies champion rates with men, that is, way behind the last one amongst the men, and possibly make 20 grand a year, if that, not all those millions. So, a huge down down for snooker management. This could easily be fixed. All snooker players got to do is walk out of the present arrangement and form their own association. They don’t even need to have all the multi coloured balls to do it, just white, brown and black and yeah, yellow perhaps to accommodate the Chinese, though, do not expect much support from those, as they normally follow guidelines laid out in Beijing.

  4. Jay brannon

    I want to see a global tour but oppose any direct involvement with Salman’s barbaric regime in Saudi Arabia.

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