Monday, May 20, 2024

Barry Hearn issues warning over World Championship’s future at Crucible

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Barry Hearn has warned Sheffield City Council its days of staging the World Snooker Championship are numbered unless the Crucible is ripped down and replaced with a bigger capacity venue.

Hearn, the former World Snooker chairman and president of Matchroom, says there is no room for sentiment when the venue’s current deal expires in 2027 – its 50th anniversary of staging the Championships – adding: “It’s all about the money.”

Speculation over the future of the venue was sparked in the build-up to this year’s tournament by seven-time winner Ronnie O’Sullivan, who suggested it should be moved to either Saudi Arabia or China in order to maximise profit potential.

Meanwhile, Hossein Vafaei blasted conditions at the Crucible – calling it “smelly” and comparing practice room facilities to playing in a garage – after losing in the first round to Judd Trump.

Hearn told the BBC: “I am doing absolutely everything I can to stay in Sheffield and it takes two to tango – I’ll stay here while we’re wanted, and I think we’re wanted.

“But they’ve got to be realistic. We’ve said for the last few years we need a new venue that seats 2,500 to 3,000 people.

“I’m looking for Sheffield to come to the party and if they do, we’re staying. If they don’t, they’re really saying that we don’t want to, so it’s not really my call.”

Saudi Arabia’s growing interest in the sport has dramatically changed the landscape for discussions, with the first ranking tournament due to be staged in the kingdom next season, and the second World Masters of Snooker doubling its prize for potting the controversial golden ball to USD1million.

Hearn maintained he would have no qualms about taking the tournament away from the venue where it has staged every World Championship since 1977, and even proposed a scenario where it could be moved around the world on a rotational basis.

“Why should the tournament have one home and why isn’t the Crucible transported around the world to play one year in Saudi Arabia, one year in Beijing, one year in Sheffield?” added Hearn.

“The Crucible has got a fantastic history and it’s been a massive part of my life, but we’ve got to live in the real world. There’s a price for everything, whether we like it or not.

“I’d love to tell you we live in a fairy story, but it’s not that simple. In any professional sport played by professional sportsmen, the first demand is prize money and they want to see it as big as possible, and we have a duty to those players.

“I believe next year we go through the £20million prize money, but you must never get complacent in your life and sit down and enjoy the luxury of saying ‘job done’. There’s never enough. It’s all about the money – get used to it.”

A number of top players have hit back at criticism of the Crucible, with former winner Shaun Murphy calling Vafaei’s comments “sacrilege”, and six-time runner-up Jimmy White describing them as “absolute nonsense”.

Other leading players, including Trump and Mark Allen, have acknowledged the quandary facing the sport’s governors but stopped short of joining O’Sullivan and Vafaei in calling for it for to be moved away.

Sheffield City Council responded by reiterating their commitment to ensuring the future of the World Championship in the city into a second half-century.

Chief executive Kate Josephs said: “Sheffield is the home of snooker. The World Snooker Championships and Sheffield go hand in hand.

“We know what the tournament means to the people of Sheffield, the players that come to compete and all the fans that watch the tournament across the globe. We have created a sporting legacy here in the city and we want that to continue for generations to come.

“We are in regular contact with World Snooker Tour and meet with them before, during and after each tournament and we will continue doing so.”

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