Barry Hearn, the chairman of World Snooker Ltd, has sent a strongly worded letter to all members of the professional circuit in which he criticises those players who have opted not to play in the new Brazilian Masters.
Hearn takes the unusual step of naming all the players who turned down an invitation for the event, which is due to be held in September.
He writes: “The fact that Mark Williams, John Higgins, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Allen and Matthew Stevens have all declined their invitation to the Brazilian Masters is very, very disappointing.
“A year ago all these players were moaning about lack of tournaments and yet now I am getting excuses ranging from “I think I’m worth a few more bob” to “I do not want to be away from the wife and children!”
“It is time for all players and in particular the top players, who have so much to gain, to understand that snooker is a sport not a hobby and they are professional sportsmen not part timers.
“This tournament could open up the whole of South America and it needed the support of all the top players to get us a major ranking event next year. Frankly, the commitment is just not good enough.
“I know it is a long trip coming so soon after Shanghai but they were the only dates available so we had no alternative. Nevertheless, it is time some players realised their responsibilities to the sport if they want to share in the future success.
“So let us start by behaving like professionals please – there is a massive amount of effort going into revitalising snooker and it is very demotivating to see that the support from the so-called “stars” is not really there.
“On another negative note, I am disappointed to see that Judd Trump is intending to play Ding Junhui in a televised match in China at the same time as the final of the Brazilian Masters.
“I am disappointed that they are not playing in Brazil, but more disappointed that they have not read their players’ contract which prohibits any Pro Tour player playing in a event that is not sanctioned by World Snooker.
“The organisers have now applied for a sanction belatedly and providing they adhere to our terms, we will not unreasonably withhold it, taking into account that they actually agreed to the terms of this match prior to the players’ contracts being signed.
“These exceptional circumstances will not exist in the future and all Pro Tour members are reminded that they cannot play in any televised match, anywhere in the world, without the sanction of World Snooker.”
I can understand Hearn’s frustration. He and his team are trying to build a global circuit and by most measures are doing a good job.
He is genuinely mystified by the attitude of some of the players because he has not encountered it in any other sport and thinks nothing personally of getting up at 5.30am and driving up the motorway to do a deal, or flying around the world for business and flying back the next day.
On the other side, though, players are having to suddenly adjust to playing much more snooker, a lot of it in far away places.
Brazil is only a few days after the Shanghai Masters and does not carry ranking points. Players may feel that it is not worth their while and there is no point exhausting themselves at a relatively early point in the season.
I would agree that in future years, with so much travelling, the calendar should be structured more sensibly.
But this is failing to see the bigger picture. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: ask not what snooker can do for you but what you can do for snooker.
When Hearn promoted an exhibition in Brazil in 1985 between Steve Davis and the national champion, Rui Chapeu, an audience of 40m tuned in to watch on television.
South America is a new, potentially exciting market. There may not be sufficient interest there to sustain a ranking tournament but there’s certainly now less of a chance if the game’s star names don’t pitch in and try to get something going out there.
You’ll notice two players who are going to Brazil – Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, who at their respective peaks barely had a day off with tournaments and exhibitions.
They saw it as what it was: their profession. They also saw promoting snooker, and, yes, making good money from it too, as their responsibility.
I think one sentence of Hearn’s letter is worth repeating, so I will:
“It is time for all players and in particular the top players, who have so much to gain, to understand that snooker is a sport not a hobby and they are professional sportsmen not part timers.”
Most people reading this now who are in full time employment get no more than six weeks holiday a year and earn considerably less than top snooker players.
If snooker had had a calendar such as the one for this season for the last ten years then I would defend the right of players to pick and choose events.
But at this time when the game is being rebuilt, they really need to realise that it is in their hands as to whether it reaches the heights many of us believe is possible.
If it doesn’t, then it won’t be Hearn’s fault.