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