Does Snooker Have a Future?
I honestly hope you have enjoyed what I have been writing about so far this year? The plan is to produce one of these "newsletters" every Wednesday (Thursday on this blog) throughout 2017. The subject matter will vary but if you have something you would like me to write about then please get in touch by replying to this email.
Does snooker have a future?
This question could be seen as a bit doom and gloom, a little bit negative, and of course the first response is yes. However, I want to delve a little bit deeper and give you an indication as to why I have asked the question in the first place.
Snooker, at a professional level, under the tutelage of Barry Hearn has gone from strength-to-strength. He has taken a dying professional Sport that was offering 6 events per season to a tour circuit that is literally crammed full of events and playing opportunities.
If you, like me, are a fan of the game then you would have seen Ronnie O'Sullivan win an historic 7th Masters title at the weekend. By many he is regarded as the greatest player to ever lift a snooker cue.
O'Sullivan lifted his first ranking title with a 10-6 win over Stephen Hendry at the 1993 UK Championship. At the time he was just 17 years old. Like so many players of that era and the era preceding, O'Sullivan lifted his first ranking title in his teenage years.
Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Mark Selby, Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy, Steve Davis and many more players all lifted ranking titles in the very early years of their careers. However, since Hearn has taken over the younger and fresher generation have not faired so well.
Old Guys Rule
In fact, this season, of the 12 major events played so far (11 ranking events and The Masters) only one winner has been of the age of 25 or under and that was Anthony McGill at the Indian Open. The only other under 30s to win a world ranking event this season are Ding Junhui, Judd Trump and a first time winner in Liang Wenbo. Wenbo is another example of the changing face of snooker taking him until the age of 29 to win his first World Ranking title.
At the recent Dafabet Masters the youngest player to reach the semi-finals was Barry Hawkins at the age of 37, the other three players, Joe Perry, Marco Fu and eventual winner Ronnie O'Sullivan were 42, 39 and 41 respectively once again showing this dominance in the sport of the much more established and experienced players.
The last teenage winner of a ranking title was actually China's Ding Junhui.
Back in 2006 he defeated Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Northern Ireland Trophy. Over 10 years without a teenage winner is quite odd considering that snooker was often deemed a young mans game.
Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins both came into snooker in the 'golden era' of the 1990's and both rose through the ranks very quickly. Both are now into their 40s and are still winning major ranking tournaments. Could it just be that the players from this era were just more naturally gifted? Or is there something stopping the current crop of youngsters from making that progression towards the top echelons of the sport?
The Way I See It
There are of course some fantastic young players that have made it onto the professional ranks. They have done this by winning a tour card at Q School or by winning a major amateur championships that comes with a tour spot.
What has happened recently should be seen as a positive, more tournaments mean more chances to hone your respective competitive skills against the best players, and for the most part that is true. However, there are a couple of problems with this in my eyes in order for these players to try and move through the rankings.
- More tournaments is actually far more costly for the players and in reality only those with good sponsorship, great parents or those that are regularly winning events can actually afford to do the continuous travel and accommodation required to compete in these professional events. Of the 146 ranked professionals on the current World Snooker 1 Year List only 47 of them have earned more than the UK average annual salary of £26,500. Whilst the figures look kind of comforting the majority of these professionals do not have the luxury of sponsorship and endorsements so have to pay their expenses out of winnings.
- The cream will always rise to the top and I feel that is very true statement with regards to snooker. For years the top 16 players were protected (wrongly in my eyes) to be in the TV stages of tournaments. Now with flat draws the seeding is more like tennis which means that lower ranked professionals are coming up against the top players earlier in tournaments than they would have done. I am not suggesting that we make it easy for new talent but this would be another reason why we have not seen so many breakthrough players in the last 5 years.
More Work and Dedication
With the more prevalent playing opportunities and the money that can be earned at the business end of tournamernts now have the established players simply used their experience through good solid hard work and dedication to create a kind of monopoly? Instead of considering retirement they are working harder on their game and thus keeping themselves at the top for longer. It could also quite simply be that there is not the top level of talent coming through at amateur level.
That leads nicely onto my next point.
I can only really answer for the UK as that is where I am based but there seems to be a distinct lack of amateur tournaments for younger players to get a taste for competitive snooker. Without this progression there is perhaps a chance that players are trying too soon to reach the pro ranks through Q School, but are at the same time possibly good enough to qualify.
The EASB do a very good job. There are lots of events but they are very gragmented, covering lots of different age groups and also 3 distinct disciplines in; 6 red, snooker and billiards. There does not seem to be a coherent amateur circuit that would give young players the structured development they need to make it in the pro game.
Something that may also be linked to this is the fact that lots of snooker clubs in the UK have gone out of business since the smoking ban, and many of those that are still open don't even allow players under the age of 18 to be members or use the facilities.
Snooker is entertainment for us fans and nobody more than me is delighted with the coverage that we now get via Eurosport and the BBC. It is almost like there is a snooker event on TV every week now. However, there probably are too many professionals. Cutting it to 64 or possibly 96 would mean a more even spread of money so that younger players have the required funding to develop.
World Snooker could do with working with the amateur bodies to part fund the progress of grassroots snooker (if they don't already of course). It is in the interest of the professional game to do this as otherwise once players like Ronnie O'Sullivan do retire there won't be perhaps the same class of star coming through to take his place and snooker then starts to lose its appeal as entertainment.
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There were also a number of you last week that commented about my charity challenge but missed the link to my Just Giving page, you will find the page here >>> Pete's Just Giving Page, the aim is to raise £500 for Macmillan Cancer Care and of course any donation helps towards that target.
Once again I really thank you for reading this weeks newsletter, if you have any comment on any of these points then please get in touch. There are some of you out there that will know more than me so hit me with it, I really want to know what is going on.
Until next week,