The first ranking event held outside the UK was the 1988 Canadian Masters.

(Actually, the 1975 World Championship in Australia was given ranking status in retrospect, but let’s not enter that world of hurt).

Snooker had long been popular in Canada and of course produced such fine players as Cliff Thorburn, Kirk Stevens and Bill Werbeniuk.

Jimmy White beat Steve Davis to win the title but such are the costs involved in staging ranking tournaments that it was never held again.

Later the same season, the European Open was inaugurated and staged in Deauville, a town in France best known for its casino.

It certainly wasn’t known for snooker. Crowds were sparse and confusion reigned as to what precisely was going on, as evidenced when one player, Eugene Hughes, was mistaken for a waiter during an interval.

Hotel prices were so steep that one player ordered a beer and a sandwich and was charged the equivalent of £42.

One day, the MC did his introductions in French to the few spectators who had rolled in only to be asked to repeat them in English as they had come over from Portsmouth.

It was a disaster. And so, inevitably, the tournament returned to France the next year.

This time it was held in Lyon, which again failed to embrace snooker. This was in the days before blanket coverage on Eurosport.

In 1989, the Australian Open was announced. There was, however, one snag: it would be played in Hong Kong.

Certain assurances were made by the local promoter in Melbourne. However, the address he gave for his ‘business’ turned out to be a local bus shelter.

Mike Hallett would win what was, surprisingly, his only ranking title in Hong Kong before the first really significant step for the WPBSA outside British shores was made: the Asian Open in Bangkok.

Thailand had a young player called James Wattana who everyone recognised as being a great prospect.

But he exceeded all expectations by going all the way to the final before losing 9-6 to Stephen Hendry. His run sparked a snooker boom in his native land that lasted for the next decade.

Thailand became a regular stopping off point for the circuit and for a couple of years staged two ranking events in the same season.

Booms don’t last forever (China beware) and as Wattana’s form dipped, so did the interest. But when he won his home title in 1994 and 1995, the excitement and enthusiasm was a match for anything snooker has ever seen.

Dubai, like Thailand, had been a territory where Barry Hearn’s Matchroom organisation had staged invitation events in the 1980s, building up the interest.

The WPBSA took over the tournament in 1989 and Hearn was so angry that he instructed his players not to compete.

From these difficult beginnings, the event became established as one of the most popular destinations for snooker, played in luxurious, sun drenched surroundings.

There were ranking events too in the 1990s in Belgium, Holland and Germany. Malta staged eight in total between 1996 and 2007, thanks to the commitment of local promoters Richard Balani and Joe Zammit.

China is not, as some seem to believe, a recent convert to the game. It staged its first ranking event in 1990.

From 1999 to 2002 it hosted four more before financial problems led to the China Open disappearing from the calendar.

The then commercial team of the WPBSA took a chance in 2005 by putting it back on in Beijing. It proved to be an inspired decision. Ding Junhui won the title and the new boom sparked.

There are now two fully funded ranking tournaments in China, with possibilities of more to come.

Of course, travelling so far from home has, at times, caused problems for the players, never more so than for Graeme Dott in 2002 when he missed a series of connecting flights, slept through his alarm call, was taken the wrong way in a taxi to the venue, got there late, was docked two frames and lost.

Mark Selby also famously tried to get to the venue in the middle of the night, disorientated to the extent that he thought it was the afternoon, despite it being pitch black outside.

China is the biggest country in the world and the progress made there represents a step forward for snooker.

But Europe, too, is a huge market and Eurosport has brought the game to legions of new fans.

More than ever, the future of snooker belongs outside the UK.

The sport’s had a chequered history when it’s travelled away from British shores but there are many lands still to conquer.

Let’s hope they are conquered in the years to come.


Anonymous said...

Nice article Dave. The sooner we can get some more events staged away from the UK the better - and that includes the World Championships.

Anonymous said...

Good article, Dave.

Holding events in casinos sounds like it could work. It certainly works for boxing.

The gambling aspect of the sport is certainly an area that should be exploited. There's no amount of bets that can be placed on a game/frame of snooker.

Ladbrokes used to do a roaring trade at the Masters.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people who don't have Eurosport are in the dark as to how good and how massive it really is. It's easily the best sports channel in the UK and puts all the Sky sports channels to shame.

It's also massive on the continent and it shows a hell of a lot of snooker. It's an absolute no brainer that the foreseeable future of snooker lies in continental Europe and China. I suggest that those who think it belongs in the UK don't watch Eurosport and also don't care enough about the future of snooker.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Eurosport.

What is broadcast on Eurosport in the UK doesn't necessary mean that the same broadcast is shown in other areas of Europe. I was in Portugal when the WC's were on and the Portuguese Eurosport were showing Diving and snooker didn't get a mention.

I think you'll find that snooker is just broadcast to UK subscribers with Europe watching other sports.

Anonymous said...

In Germany we saw nearly all sessions of the world championship on Eurosport. I think there are differences between the countries. Also all the other tournaments of the Main Tour (more than the BBC ;-)) we can watch on Eurosport.

Anonymous said...

id like more and more tournaments outside the UK.

but i actually think moving the World Championship for the sake of just a bigger building and country would be suicidal.

if you going to move the 1 snooker tournament that trully works without the need for advertising it almost it has to be for the right reasons but more importantly to the right venue....any old venue will not do.

Anonymous said...

World Champs moving, "suicidal" agreed.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Unfortunately, the only bugbear I have with Eurosport is they don't actually invest in the broadcast side of the game, like SKY or the BBC do.

If they do take on more events - if snooker ever gain any - they they seriously have to think outside the box, and actually be on site.

Instead of just taking the live feed with a delayed commentary/sound. It's terrible!

Don't get me wrong, they are doing a fantastic job, but you have to ask yourself this: If they actually had to take on the responsibility of hosting coverage of a live tournament one day, could they do it? I bet they couldn't, because they spend all the resources on tennis (who do actually commentate on site; and presenters nearby...could snooker get that?) and other sports.

Lazy broadcasting me thinks.

Thanks, Joe

Anonymous said...

The Worlds at the Crucible is so established it would be blasphemy to move it.

Dave H said...

Joe - it isn't 'lazy broadcasting' at all. Eurosport is not primarily a sports producer like Sky. It takes feeds from over 100 sports and provides coverage of them.

That said, Eurosport do produce coverage of the World Series and produced the 2004 British Open at Brighton.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

You've answered the question - they can do it, with regards the British Open.

They will have to step up, because the content isn't polished at all.

Unfortunately all they do is host but, like I say, take the Queens tennis tournament. They were taking the feed from the BBC, but the commentators were on site. How many times are you guys there?

But, on the other other side of the coin, they do show it.

Although, I did hear a rumour this week that ESPN are looking at other sports as well as football to take on...Snooker? That would be excellent news.

Thanks, Joe

Dave H said...

The BBC and Sky do sports where the commentators aren't on site - the recent Confederations Cup on the BBC for instance and quite a bit of tennis on Sky.

It comes down to cost.

Anonymous said...

Cheers, Dave, point taken!

Maybe, you should move into tennis commentating! Ha.

Thanks, Joe

Anonymous said...

I'd like to watch snooker on Eurosport, but I can't get it on Freeview.
Would I have to buy a load of "lifestyle" channels that I would never watch, just in order to get Eurosport?