Before politics claimed him, Jason Ferguson was doing pretty well as a snooker player. A three times Crucible qualifier and member of the top 32, he beat Stephen Hendry in the 2000 Welsh Open and had ambitions to rise higher up the ranks.

He joined the WPBSA board with the best of intentions and became chairman but the toxic atmosphere and lack of progress in his areas of interest caused him to resign in 2002.

Now he has been invited back as part of the new era, chairman of the WPBSA again but in markedly different circumstances.

Nobody doubts that snooker is under the control of Barry Hearn, the charismatic chairman of World Snooker Ltd in whose hands the commercial future of the sport lies but the WPBSA exists as a sober, guiding presence.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

“The split of the WPBSA away from the sport’s commercial arm is something I was involved in starting a decade ago but it never really happened properly,” Ferguson told snookersceneblog.

“It’s always made sense to me to take away the governing side of the sport and that part involved in politics from the commercial arm because that gives comfort to sponsors and broadcasters. They know that they can enter into proper commercial agreements with a commercial company. Politics shouldn’t detract from that. We have to maximise our commercial rights.

“The WPBSA now governs the rules and regulations of the sport and can advise as to the playing side. The new arrangement is working better than I could ever have imagined.

“As part of the agreement, if the structure of the tour is to change in any way then the WPBSA has to be consulted on it. Whilst there is a contractual responsibility for World Snooker Ltd to put the tour on, it has to do it in consultation with the WPBSA.

“It’s our job to represent the members and ensure the overall structure doesn’t change too much from what’s fair and responsible as a professional sport.

“We have to be open-minded. Earlier this year we were down to six tournaments and struggling for sponsorship. We’ve got more events now, more sponsors coming on board and new broadcasters interested in our game. Barry’s brought a huge amount of experience to the table but in some changes he wants to make it’s our place to say, hold on, that’s going a little too far, let’s go back a little without detracting too much from what you’re trying to achieve.

“It’s a balance, the governance of the sport against a commercial arm. We have to ensure we can allow changes without damaging snooker’s integrity.”

Ferguson is earnest and has thrown himself into the role but some have dismissed him as Hearn’s ‘yes man,’ merely doing the promoter’s bidding. It’s even been written (anonymously) in the comments section on here. Ferguson rejects this claim.

“I’ve read some of the comments on your blog that I’m Barry’s puppet and all the rest of it,” he said.

“In fact, I’ve been out of the sport completely for six or seven years. I haven’t even hit a snooker ball in six years. When I came back to the boardroom I could not possibly have been more independent.”

So what has he opposed Hearn on?

“The original agreement involved the shares going to the players individually. I was against that. I fought hard for the shares to remain inside the WPBSA. Barry has respected that. We own at least 25% of the shares so have a direct input into the decision making process.

“We’ve got a very good working relationship but we also have a relationship where we’re not frightened to say no to each other. There haven’t been any major disagreements but we’ve had plenty of hard negotiation over what we think is the right structure.

“We’re like-minded in the vision we have for the future of the sport. The WPBSA is right to take a stand on certain issues but doesn’t want to be destructive when it comes to redeveloping the sport.”

Ferguson has to have his position on the WPBSA board ratified at a forthcoming AGM at which a number of other candidates are standing, including some of those who were part of an EGM a few weeks ago to remove him and his colleagues.

It fizzled out before it had got off the ground and Ferguson claims it was not representative of the general feedback he has received from players.

“The EGM came from a certain part of the membership, a small one,” he said.

“In general, the players seem very happy with the way things are going. There’s more money in the sport and more activity. I’m not saying we’ve got everything right. We certainly need to look at some of the facilities and structures and need to continue to grow in terms of prize money. We have to continue growing full stop.”

Before all that they need to be re-elected. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of snooker politics knows this is by no means a certainty.

“I’m keen to get the board re-elected,” he said. “I’ve been careful in putting it together and they are all playing key roles. Dave Douglas, our head of disciplinary, is a great guy. You could not have anybody fairer in dealing with these issues, plus he has the experience we need.

“We’ve got Alan Chamberlain in to look at the rules of the game and how new formats are catered for within the rules. Steve Davis has also played a key role. You couldn’t have a player with more experience in that position and he’s taken a strong interest in coaching and development. To have his name linked to something like that is fantastic because if you mention Steve’s name in any country around the world that likes snooker they know who he is and respect him.

“There’s a lot of work to do, particularly with the grass roots and amateur side of the sport. We need more coaching and more development, which means more players, more tournaments and more growth as a sport. We have to feed the sport from the bottom, working with the amateur bodies.”

All of which will require a great deal of patience, as the alphabet soup of amateur organisations, each with their own proprietorial turf wars and internecine struggles, are not always willing to embrace change.

Ferguson seems a suitably patient sort, but why come back at all? After all, his last dalliance with snooker politics left him battered and bruised and effectively ended his playing career.

During the last few years he has pursued a successful career in local government, rising to the role of mayor of his town, Ollerton.

“It was a hard decision to return,” he said. “Since I resigned the first time I’ve built a life outside snooker. I was very busy when I was first approached about coming back on the board. I had to think twice and think back to the reason I left in 2002. I have a young family and responsibilities in my town but the passion for snooker is still there and I’ve missed the game.

“I’ve had regrets about ever getting involved in snooker politics. I was a top 32 player when I became a director and there’s no doubt that it took its toll on my playing career. I was 33 years old and chairman of a large company. It was a big responsibility and my time spent practising dwindled to next to nothing, as did the results.

“I don’t regret it now, though. I look at what’s happened in my life since and I’ve enjoyed my new roles, and spent time with my family.

“I’ve had a public role the last few years. As mayor I’ve held public meetings in front of hundreds of people. If you can defend council tax levels it’s a good start. It’s toughened me up and definitely helped in terms of coming back to the WPBSA.

“So I don’t regret coming back. I love this sport with a passion and this role suits me as a person. I’m enjoying being back and seeing the players I grew up with once again.

“I hope I can make a real difference and that the players can see that the changes being made are for the greater good.”


Anonymous said...

Sorry, but it is difficult to imagine that he is not Barry's boy. After all, that is who installed him by co-opting him. In fact, most of the others were put there by Barry.

Seems to me that a lot of the funds are being spent on directors salaries. Do they REALLY need them all? What are they all REALLY going to do for their £15 thousand pounds each?

John McBride said...

Good read that.

The point I've taken out of this is that the 2 most important & influential people in our game are talking & listening to each other & have a good working relationship with one another. Which for me, is a good solid foundation to build on. I like it anyway. :-)

ex-player said...

Who else was supposed to co-opt him other than the chairman of the time? Also far less money is being spenty on salaries than on the previous board, none of whom did anything for the game

I like Jason. I used to play myself and he was always a decent chap who clearly takes things seriously in a quiet, determined way

Anonymous said...

... "It fizzled out before it had got off the ground and Ferguson claims it was not representative of the general feedback he has received from players.

“The EGM came from a certain part of the membership, a small one,” he said."

Except it wasn't a certain part of the membership - it was small people trying to tip the ship over again. If they couldn't be captain, then no-one else was going to sail it - especially Captain Barry

IQ Electrical said...

I have a feeling that the game is in safe hands, I haven't had that feeling for a long long time!

Anonymous said...

Talking about him being Barry's boy is not really fair. He likes what he sees and if he agrees with Barry's major decisions and is genuinely pleased, he shouldn't put on a frowny face.

I like the cooperation between Hearn and the board. Imagine if was all bitching and complaining... I am thankful for what we got.

Anonymous said...

"I have a feeling that the game is in safe hands, I haven't had that feeling for a long long time!"

well said

Anonymous said...

I remember Jason when he was a junior player in the 80's but seeing him in pictures nowadays with his suit on he looks all grown up.
He is doing really, really well.

TazMania said...

It doesnt matter if he is Barrys boy or Mummys Boy. As long as snooker is progressing thats all we need. I think people have to understand that. If 110sport took over ther will be major infighting and were back to square one.

Anonymous said...

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Anonymous said...

Don't miss out an interview with Jason Francis.

Anonymous said...

Good interview, a shame that there was no word on billiards.

Mignon said...

@ 11:55 AM

Only one of them (well, maybe two) were small people. The rest just (wait, what's the most 'fashionable' word these day? Yes, I know >).... naive! lol

Fully agree with TazMania

Good interview, Dave. Better, I think, than the one with Neil.

jamie brannon said...

I remember Jason Ferguson, nearly beating Stephen Hendry at the Crucible in 1996, he went down 10-8.
Hendry said in his press conference that it was the first time he had felt vunerable at the Sheffield venue.

David Blagg said...

Great to see snooker beginning to take off once more. I'm sure Barry, Jason and the boys will continue to do a fantastic job. Lovely to see Jason's career prosper, not only in the past as a snooker player but now chairman and also mayor, dad and husband. Where do you find all the time. Good to see you don't spend so much time brushing your hair now mate. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Nice hair joke blaggy hope you're welll