Saudi Arabia World Snooker Championship
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Saudi Arabia partners with World Snooker Championship

Saudi Arabia has increased its ties with snooker after a new partnership with the World Championship was announced.

A statement was released on Tuesday outlining an agreement between state-backed Riyadh Season and the World Snooker Tour “which will promise to bring the sport to more fans across the Middle East.”

As part of the agreement, Riyadh Season will become an official partner of snooker’s most prestigious tournament, with the 2024 World Championship to commence on Saturday in Sheffield.

World number one Ronnie O’Sullivan has also signed a three-year deal to act as an ambassador for snooker in Saudi Arabia.

The agreement guarantees that O’Sullivan will play in all WST events in the country, while he will also make special trips there to coach and foster aspiring talent.

Saudi Arabia hosted its first WST event last month with the inaugural Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker won by O’Sullivan.

The tournament is confirmed to return next season and will feature the world’s top ten players in addition to two wild cards.

A ranking event will also be staged in Saudi Arabia this summer, with a prize fund of £2 million almost matching the purse currently on offer at the World Championship.

Recent developments including this week’s announcement have led many to believe that the World Snooker Championship is destined to move to Saudi Arabia in the future.

The sport’s blue-riband event is currently contracted to stay at the Crucible Theatre until 2027, which would mark its 50th anniversary in Sheffield.

Beyond that, the World Championship’s future is uncertain, with supremo Barry Hearn frequently suggesting in the past that the event could move if funding isn’t provided to develop a bigger venue in Sheffield.

General Entertainment Authority chairman Turki Alalshikh, meanwhile, stated that these new initiatives will help to drive the development of snooker in Saudi Arabia.

“Riyadh Season is delighted to be a partner of the World Snooker Championship, which will start next Saturday and continues until May 6th at Crucible in Sheffield,” Alalshikh said.

WST Chairman Steve Dawson said: “We are honoured to work with HE Turki Alalshikh on his visionary plans for progress.”

“We share his ambition of bringing snooker to many more fans across the Middle East, and to foster new talent and develop grassroots structures.

“We share a dream that one day Saudi Arabia will produce a world snooker champion, and each of the three initiatives announced today are steps towards that dream.

“We are thrilled to be working with His Excellency and to deepen our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“The inaugural Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker was a fabulous event and many of the players enjoyed the atmosphere created by the local fans.

“We look forward to returning to the Kingdom in the summer for the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters, which will be the first ever world ranking event in the region.

“These tournaments grow the sport and provide fantastic opportunities for the players to compete for outstanding prize money.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan said: “Playing in Riyadh last month was an amazing experience, I love the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the fans.”

“We can make snooker huge in Saudi Arabia. So I am excited by this chance to work to grow the sport there and the opportunity to coach the best young talent and pass on my experience.

“I’m also relishing the chance to play in more big events in the Kingdom, and to work alongside HE Turki Alalshikh on his ambitions.”

Featured photo credit: WST

4 Comments

  1. Jay Brannon

    Hearn might find something bigger, though time is running out, but he won’t find anything better than the hallowed ground of the Crucible.

    Congratulations to Dominic Dale on qualifying for the World Championship at the age of 53. It’s an inspiration to other veterans who thought that highs like this were beyond them.

  2. Ruth Stainton

    I hope this is not the start of snooker being taken over by foreign investors and having more tournaments abroad and less in Britain. We need investors to put more money into more smaller venues in Britain where a lot more people who can’t get to Manchester/Sheffield/London etc or snooker will go down the pan in Britain.

    • We shouldn’t forget that with the exception of the Shanghai Masters and the World Masters (Riyadh) all professional tournaments are played partly of wholly in the UK. Of the 1672 professional matches this season (not counting Shoot-outs and Championship Leagues), 1285 (77%) of them were played in the UK, mostly England. That’s a very heavy UK bias, for a sport with ‘global ambitions’. Wherever they come from, professional players are virtually forced to spend 10 months of the year in the UK. That’s not fair competition, and very costly for them. I can think of several good players who have quit, or are close to quitting.

      But I do agree that more could be done to spread tournaments (including qualifiers) a bit more evenly. I have been to Leicester and Sheffield countless times. Unfortunately the attendance hasn’t been great when they’ve tried.

      In general I support a more deregulated tournament landscape. I don’t think the 128-player model is flexible enough. But unfortunately WST are going in the opposite direction.

  3. Another sport going the way of ‘sport-washing’. Does anybody actually play snooker in Saudi Arabia? Don’t imagine women do. O’Sullivan should be ashamed of himself.

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