Reanne Evans will today attempt to win her first match on the main tour when she plays Ben Woollaston in the qualifiers for the China Open.
Evans, the women’s world champion, was given a discretionary wildcard by the WPBSA to play on the circuit this season. She has played 16 matches thus far and lost them all.
Today also marks Allison Fisher’s 43rd birthday. Fisher is regarded as the best women’s player of them all. As well as dominating the ladies game she beat Mike Hallett, Neal Foulds and Tony Drago in the Matchroom League and was respected by the top male players of the day as a genuine talent.
Fisher turned pro when the game went open but failed to climb above a ranking of 192nd. Given that there were 700 professionals this was respectable but not high enough to convince her that she could make serious waves on the circuit.
Instead, she headed to the USA to play on their lucrative pool circuit, where she has been a revelation.
The ‘Duchess of Doom’ has won scores of titles and is making a very good living.
Karen Corr and Kelly Fisher, two other women’s world snooker champions, have also followed Fisher to the states, although this does not appeal to Evans, for whom snooker is a passion. Her family also play and she was steeped in the game since birth.
Women’s snooker has a long history. Earlier this month, Agnes Davies died at the age of 90.
Agnes won the Welsh women’s title at the age of 17 in 1937 and the world title in 1949. She was still playing into her 70s.
But women players are inevitably compared to the men, usually in uncomplimentary fashion or by those who don’t actually understand that snooker is one of the least sexist sports around.
Around the time of the recent Richard Keys/Andy Gray/Sky Sports sexism row, BBC Radio 5 Live conducted a discussion in which some pundit whose name I forget stated that women are not allowed to play professional snooker and speculated that “perhaps the men are scared of losing to them.”
What patronising twaddle: for women and men. As far as I know the BBC is yet to correct this inaccuracy.
Firstly, there is no bar whatsoever to a woman playing on the professional circuit. If they are good enough, they can play – end of story.
Michaela Tabb is a well respected referee and Hazel Irvine presents the BBC coverage. Neither has encountered prejudice backstage because of their gender.
What is true is that fewer girls have traditionally played snooker in clubs than boys in the UK. Women have even been banned from working men’s clubs and perhaps too many feel that the environment in which the game is played is not for them, even though snooker is watched by large numbers of women.
Young Hannah Jones looks likely to be the next big thing in the women’s game and, outside Britain, other girls are taking up the sport.
But sponsorship and TV coverage will only follow if the standard is sufficient to make women’s tournaments a popular spectacle.
As for Evans, she is stuck in a kind of snooker limbo: too good for the women, not good enough for the men.
The women’s circuit keeps going because of the hard work of those who organise it but it is not hugely competitive and it is hard to see how Evans can improve playing the same women in every tournament.
She will be relegated from the pro circuit at the end of this season but I hope she keeps playing in the PTCs because that is the best way to bring her game on.
Oddly, her best performance this season was running Neil Robertson to 4-3 in EPTC6. Had she won it would undoubtedly have been put down to a bad day at the office for the (professional) world champion but Robertson himself commended the way she played.
Snooker is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on an equal footing, it’s just that it has rarely happened.
There’s no immediate sign that it will but, then again, forever is a long time.