There is a scene in the US drama The West Wing in which C.J. Cregg, the embattled White House press secretary, is reassured by a colleague that they have nothing to worry about if they’d done nothing wrong.
C.J. replies: ‘You don’t get it, do you? It doesn’t matter what the truth is. What matters is how it looks.’
These are words World Snooker might like to reflect on following the curious way in which we finally got to find out the draw for the first round of next month’s 888.com World Championship.
The draw was made yesterday morning by the presenters of BBC One’s Breakfast, Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams.
An interesting draw it is too, pitting O’Sullivan v Ding, Davis v Parrott, Murphy v Trump among the highlights. The 17-day Crucible marathon is shaping up to be a vintage championship and I’m sure all snooker fans are looking forward to it with relish.
This tournament has an 80-year history and means a great deal to a great many people.
This is why it deserved better than what we saw this morning.
It didn’t take long for the general jokiness and faux hilarity of the presenters that they would have to do anything as absurd as conduct a snooker draw to become jarring and this was before the item had even begun.
The draw itself got off to an inauspicious start when sports presenter Chris Hollins linked into it only for film of four teenagers sitting on a wall discussing knife crime to appear instead.
Finally, the first graphic appeared and Hollins made a reference to Stephen Hamilton (who he?) and his match against Marco Fu.
There then followed a series of graphics that flashed up so quickly that viewers could be forgiven for thinking the BBC was indulging in subliminal advertising.
Dennis Taylor was on hand for his comments, but chat soon turned instead to Strictly Come Dancing, on which both he and Turnbull appeared.
The worst thing was that the one element that make these draws compelling viewing was missing, namely the few seconds in between the first name and the second being drawn.
‘Ronnie O’Sullivan…will play…Ding Jun Hui’ would have been exciting. Trying to catch sight of this match before the next graphic flashed up was not.
The draw did not leak out into the public domain on Monday, but more people than intended got to find out after Radio 5 Live and BBCi were tipped off.
Several bookmakers suspended betting amid fears that those in the know may attempt to take advantage before the odds changed.
A spokesman for Ladbrokes told me: “Our decision was taken to avoid any skulduggery. We remain perplexed as to why they did the draw this way.”
Some odds did change yesterday, though this is not to say there was anything untoward going on. It is somewhat fanciful to suggest that the fragrant Ms. Williams hot-footed it down to her local Corals with a roll of used £20 notes.
However, World Snooker have left the sport open to all sorts of allegations for those who wish to see it suffer – and there are plenty such people in the national press – by doing the draw this way.
I sympathise with them in as much as it is hard to persuade broadcasters to carry the draw: Radio 5 Live won’t touch it after last year’s fiasco in which the same name was read out twice and Grandstand has been axed so there is no general sports programme available to show it.
At least this morning the sponsors got plenty of mentions and the sport received some coverage.
But there is a very easy way of doing the draw live in a very short space of time (one of the reasons it was recorded was because there was felt to be insufficient time to do it in full). The top 16 are already seeded into the first round. All that is needed is one bag containing the qualifiers. Then it’s a case of ‘Graeme Dott will play…and so on down the draw.
Surely the draw for such an important event should be conducted in an open, transparent and above all ‘live’ situation.
Anything else just looks bad. And it’s how it looks that matters.