The best way to expand snooker’s reach and appeal and reinvigorate the professional game would be a complete overhaul of the ranking system.
There are currently just 15 events that count towards a player’s ranking – the seven counting tournaments last season and the eight taking place during this campaign.
This is far more than there used to be. Indeed, when the rankings were first introduced in 1976 the criteria used to decide the placings was the performance of each player in the previous three World Championships. This system remained in place until 1982.
It seems to me, and I’m certainly not alone in this, that there needs to be more counting events but these do not necessarily have to be on the big, costly scale of the current recognisable tournaments.
These are expensive. It’s the reason the WPBSA – braced for a major financial hit if they have to cover a sponsorless World Championship – will not step in to provide prize money for the Malta Cup, even though they were offered a three-year deal by the local promoters.
It’s also the reason the WPBSA are admitting privately that the Bahrain Championship and Northern Ireland Trophy are unlikely to take place next season.
But all it takes is a bit of imagination and the number of tournaments could dramatically increase.
What is needed is a series of different ranking points tariffs for various tournaments.
Tariff A is the World Championship – 10,000 points to the winner as now.
Tariff B is the UK Championship – 7,500 points to the winner.
Tariff C is all the remaining current events – 5,000 points to the winner.
Then, points are awarded to other tournaments, independently staged.
There have been a number of big pro-ams in Europe, notably in Germany, in recent years.
Why not give the Paul Hunter Classic ranking status and award, say, 750 points to the winner?
It doesn’t sound much but could make the difference between a player being in the top 16 or not and – and here’s the other positive – encourage more top players to go and compete, which in turn might attract greater TV and media coverage, thus increasing the appeal of snooker in key markets.
So, Tariff D could include this event, the Belgian, Dutch and Austrian Opens.
Similar pro-ams could be staged in other areas of the world. They would carry prestige as ranking tournaments but not completely skew the ranking list because the points available would be low compared to the established events.
Players would not have to play in every event but, then again, they don’t have to now. If Ronnie O’Sullivan only wanted to play in the World Championship there is nothing in the rules to stop him (although if he entered the other tournaments he would have to provide a reason for his non-appearances).
So what’s the problem with this plan?
Basically, the WPBSA has a monopoly on the ranking system and is unlikely to want to give it up, even if it would help the development of the game.
However, the distribution of ranking points could still be in their gift. Someone, after all, has to administer the list.
I concede all this is not quite as simple as I’ve made out. For instance, there would need to be guarantees about tables meeting official standard and other considerations such as supplying referees and so on.
But there could be 20 ranking tournaments a year and players not on the 96-man main tour, particularly from outside the UK, would have their chance to get some points and get on the list.
Snooker should be opened up, not closed down. The circuit has shrunk in recent years while the global interest has grown.
This can’t be right and the rankings would be a good starting point for turning things round.