Should Paul Hunter have his ranking frozen at 34th so that he doesn’t have to play during the 2006/07 campaign?
That is the unprecedented conundrum facing World Snooker while Paul continues his treatment for cancer.
Everyone has an opinion on this, so here’s mine: yes, it should be without a shadow of a doubt.
Firstly, because none of the other players would complain. The governing body of snooker is, for good or bad, a member’s club so the views of the players would need to be canvassed. There genuinely aren’t any players who dislike Paul. Everyone wishes him well in his treatment; everyone wants his back playing soon. There will not be uproar if his ranking is frozen; there will not be a revolt against the World Snooker board.
Secondly, there is nothing in the constitution specifically outlawing such a course of action. I’ve heard people argue that Chris Small – who suffered from a degenerative disease of the spine – or Anthony Hamilton – who missed two tournaments after breaking his wrist when he intervened in a mugging – were not considered for such special action. No, they weren’t, for one very good reason: neither of them asked to be.
Before he became ill, Paul Hunter was one of the game’s most reliable players when it came to promoting the sport. He gave loads of interviews, made dozens of media appearances and was always amenable with the paying public.
At the 2005 China Open in Beijing, he’d won a match and the press wanted to speak to him. Some 20 minutes passed and he hadn’t come in to the pressroom. We were told he was still in the arena so went in to see what was going on. And there he was, signing autograph after autograph for delighted Chinese fans. He signed every one, hundreds in total. This was only a couple of weeks after he discovered he had cancer.
If this, and his many other positive contributions to promoting snooker, aren’t taken into account then it will be a very sad day indeed.
Thirdly, nobody is greatly inconvenienced if his ranking is frozen. Being 34th in the world isn’t like being 16th, with special privileges such as entry into the Masters or automatic qualification for the 888.com World Championship. Assuming Paul returned for the 2007/08 season, he would still have to pre-qualify for all major events.
Fourthly, failure to give Paul some kind of protection would effectively end his career. Even if he played next season, little could be expected of him because his game has been obviously affected by his illness. Last season, he won just one match. He is down to 45th in the provisional rankings. Another campaign like this would see him relegated from the circuit.
One idea I’ve heard mooted is not to freeze his ranking position but give him a wildcard for the 2007/08 season. However, if this happened he would have to start in the very first qualifying round of every event and climbing back up the ladder would be a hugely draining, difficult business.
Is it really good enough simply to say: ‘sorry you’re ill, but bad luck’
This is a special case, just as when Monica Seles was forced out of women’s tennis after being stabbed on court. She had her ranking position frozen and the game did not implode.
Paul’s illness has taken a heavy physical toll on him. We hear some encouraging news about his latest treatment and continue to wish him well.
He loves snooker and loves playing, but he was in pain at the table last season and can’t seriously compete at the moment.
World Snooker has a chance to help alleviate his suffering by giving him the time off he needs.
They should take it.