World Snooker this evening issued a statement so coded I wondered at first if it was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth.
As with so many things, it is really all about Ronnie O’Sullivan, even though he isn’t mentioned anywhere.
O’Sullivan apparently wrote on Weibo (a sort of Chinese twitter) that he would like to play at the Shanghai Masters as a wildcard.
World Snooker responded: “World Snooker allows for wild cards in certain events outside of the UK in order to give local players opportunity and experience in world class events and to develop talent in important markets. Wild cards are only available to amateur players from the host country or region, and they are selected in conjunction with World Snooker, the WPBSA, the National Governing Body and the Promoter of the event.”
In short, O’Sullivan will not be a wildcard for the Shanghai Masters. Did anyone genuinely think he would be? It would have been an absurd situation.
Speaking of absurd, I was always told that wildcards were a strictly commercial idea, designed to attract money and interest locally. The World Snooker statement somewhat contradicts this.
In my opinion – and I’m sure many players would agree – wildcards should not be used to provide training opportunities for amateurs. They should be to produce a commercial gain for snooker. If there is no commercial gain, they should be scrapped.
Here is the answer to what has been gained commercially from the wildcards this week: nothing.
The crowds have been miniscule for wildcard matches, compared to the legions who turned out to watch Ding Junhui (and went home disappointed).
It is an outrage that Ali Carter, who just last month reached the World Championship final, was shunted round the back out of range of the TV cameras so that Zhou Yuelong could play Michael White on TV.
This is nothing against Zhou, a fine prospect at just 14. I thought his century break was marvellous and a clear sign of his potential.
But world ranking events should not be used to train Chinese players. Qualifiers have sweated blood to get through to China and are being penalised by having to play talented wildcards under far less pressure for no additional financial reward.
All this in an era we are told is supposed to be a meritocracy.
The problem is one of precedent. World Snooker was so badly run in the past that when the China Open returned to the schedule in 2005, the only way it could be paid for was to agree to wildcards.
The Chinese wanted 16. They got 16. World Snooker has since got them down to eight.
Now that the tournaments are financially underwritten by the Chinese, they can continue to call the shots.
But there is no evidence the Chinese public is interested in these matches so their worth to the tournament surely now has to be questioned.
As for O’Sullivan, he once again raised the prospect of appearance money, payable by local promoters to players such as himself.
As I’ve said before, I would have no problem with this. An independent promoter should be free to pay any player whatever he wants to play in his own tournament, as happens in sports such as tennis and golf.
World Snooker, however, were correct to turn down O’Sullivan’s request for appearance money. A governing body should treat all players equally.