“Sorry it took so long to climb those steps, this burnout’s a killer,” was Barry Hearn’s opening gambit in his speech at the World Snooker Awards in London last week.
It was a good line and got a big laugh. It also underlined Hearn’s attitude to players complaining that their workload is too arduous since the circuit rapidly expanded under his chairmanship.
Hearn has previously suggested players “go and tell the working man on the street they are burnt out,” the assumption being that the working man on the street would give them short shrift.
Jason Ferguson, the WPBSA chairman, appears to agree. He told prosnookerblog: “my father worked down the mines all his life, he did 12 hour shifts digging coal out, he did it year-in, year-out and I never heard him complain once.”
To be fair to Ferguson, he takes a more nuanced view than Hearn. He also said: “Some people might say, oh poor things, they are doing something that they love, they are out there, in front of an audience, everybody likes them, they have become celebrities, what are they moaning about? But we have to face it, it is a gruelling schedule, and it is tough. You have got to be fit, you have got to be ready for it, you’ve got to be mentally strong for it, it’s not just mentally strong in terms of fitness and playing the game, you have got to be mentally strong to deal with all of the different countries that you are going to, different foods you are going to. It’s hard going. I think that some of the players have suffered from burnout this year, but others are relishing it. I’m fortunate, I’m a very good traveller, I travel to Asia, I get off the plane, put my tie on in the toilets in the aeroplane and go to the first meeting as soon as we land and that’s how it is. I can do it, but some people don’t travel so well.”
The fact that players themselves can’t agree on whether burnout was a significant factor in results we saw at the World Championship is revealing.
But this is the point Ferguson was making: burnout affects some players but not others.
Hearn’s point about how hard other people work is valid but snooker players are not merely turning up for work: to be successful, they have to produce a high level of performance. This requires a mental toughness which will be eroded the more snooker is played.
There are some jobs you can do where you turn up not at your best but can get through the day and go home having been paid the same as if you had been firing on all cylinders. Snooker is not one of them.
I spoke to a well respected senior player about all this recently. He said what he found tiring was not so much the snooker as the travelling, but that the travelling naturally affected performance.
Do the players deserve sympathy? Not really. They are in a privileged position. They are playing professional sport for a living with the opportunity to earn big money.
Nobody is forcing them to do it. If they don’t like the travelling or being away from home they are free to get other jobs and live more conventional lives.
It is up to them to better organise their schedules. I don’t criticise any player for choosing not to enter a particular tournament. That is up to them. They have to balance their lives and careers.
They didn’t used to have this problem because there weren’t anywhere near as many tournaments. They used to complain that they wanted more.
Some would say there is too much snooker. I disagree. Eurosport’s figures have risen significantly since the increase in tournaments because people become used to watching snooker regularly.
It’s our old friend supply and demand: if there is a demand for a product then it is met by supply. This is the reason Coronation Street is shown five times a week not six times a year.
The packed calendar has benefited snooker financially because promoters from around the world who wish to stage tournaments – and World Snooker have met with several of late – know they can’t get them on the cheap with space in the schedule at a premium.
It’s all a bit different to the 2002/03 season. The players, who used to run the game, voted in their wisdom at an EGM to reject two proposals to put money into the sport and appoint the only bidder for commercial rights investing nothing.
The ten year contract these chancers were awarded was broken after ten months. One of the tournaments they put on was the European Open in a hotel in Torquay, untelevised. This was actually a great event but nobody saw it outside the few hundred people who came along.
Now, snooker is a major television business and is being taken to places where people want to watch it. Expansion on the continent of Europe is particularly important over coming years. Those who treat the European Tour events with disdain are ignoring the potential to grow snooker in these regions. It is starting from a relatively small base because of squandered opportunities in the past.
If players, most of whom still are British, want a proper professional sport then they will have to be prepared to travel. That may bring with it tiredness and burnout so they will need to give real thought not just to their schedules but how they live their lives.
It’s a profession, not a hobby, so treat it professionally.
And with that I’m taking some time off. All this snooker takes its toll, you know.