Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, has hit back at Ronnie O’Sullivan’s claims that snooker is ‘dying.’
Walker does not mention O’Sullivan by name in the latest issue of One Four Seven, the WPBSA’s in house newsletter for the players, but it is obvious he is responding to the world champion’s Wembley outburst when he writes of “recent unhelpful statements” and “inaccuracies which are being discussed in the media.”
As chairman of the governing body, it is entirely correct that Walker should stand up for the sport.
However, while some of the ‘facts’ he presents are true, others are either slightly dubious or, to put it kindly, more than slightly dubious.
For example: “We have increased prize money by nearly £1m over the past two years,” he says.
This may be true, but what he doesn’t mention is that it went down prior to this and is still lower than it was a decade ago.
Mark Williams pocketed £60,000 for winning the Welsh Open ten years ago. This year’s champion will receive £35,000.
Walker goes on to say that all sports are struggling and that Manchester United and Tiger Woods are looking for new sponsors.
Obviously, the current economic climate makes sponsorship hard to come by but is there anyone reading this who seriously believes that Man UTD and Woods will not pick up replacements?
One sport Walker doesn’t mention is darts, in particular the PDC circuit which is worth over a £1m more in prize money than the WPBSA circuit this year and which is adding new tournaments, all sponsored, because of interest from broadcasters, particularly ITV.
Walker then, with some predictability, blames the media as well.
Referring to the ‘facts’ he has outlined, he writes: “These positive statistics are relayed to the media on the various occasions that World Snooker is contacted for comment, but they are seldom used and the focus remains on the controversial and the negative.”
None of these ‘positive statistics’ have ever been relayed to me. My colleagues tell me they’ve never been relayed to them either.
What normally happens when we contact the WPBSA for comment on something controversial is, at best, “no comment”.
The relationship between the media and WPBSA is lower than I’ve ever known it. There is less snooker in UK newspapers than there has been for 30 years.
Could the two just possibly be related?
Walker continues: “Controversy and disharmony are not appealing to potential sponsors. It is essential, now more than ever, that we portray snooker in a positive light.”
Actually, Peter Dyke of Embassy and Jim Elkins of Benson and Hedges – the two biggest sponsors snooker has ever had – both loved controversial stories because it ensured their brands would be mentioned in newspaper coverage.
Walker is quite correct when he points out the various ways players have a say in the running of the game. I would not disagree that they should use these channels to make complaints.
Also, they elect the board and have consistently voted Walker and his colleagues back into office.
But his suggestion that they should not voice criticisms in the media goes against the principle of free speech.
Sometimes, players can go overboard but I know of one who, without any agenda, recently gave an opinion that the table he played on had cushions that produced over-springy bounces and he received not one but two letters from the WPBSA threatening him with disciplinary action.
Walker continues: “I would ask all players to bear in mind the importance of portraying your sport in a positive light when dealing with all aspects of the media.”
I don’t agree with everything O’Sullivan says and have at times disapproved of the way he has behaved.
But all that is a sideshow. Here’s what O’Sullivan does for snooker: he plays it, to an extraordinarily high standard. And in doing so he has created millions of snooker fans who love watching him play.
I’d have thought that would count as a ‘positive.’
And O’Sullivan’s contribution to snooker will be remembered long after Walker’s chairmanship of the WPBSA is forgotten.