In a nutshell I think there are too many players out here at the moment.
When I first picked up a cue, taking an interest in what it meant to be a professional player, I always thought that achieving the title of tour player should count for something. My earliest memories of my confusion about things started when I was 10 and the resident professional Mukesh Parmar used to go off for a couple of months at a time to the Qualifiers. What were these qualifiers I used to ask, and why did he have to go? Surely, I thought as an innocent 10 year old, he’s already on the tour, that’s enough isn’t it?
In my previous blog I mentioned that I think there should be 64 on the ‘main’ circuit and another 64 on a challenge tour. Now I've had chance to refine my thoughts on this a bit more, the numbers are different but this reflects what happens in other sports quite accurately. If we had a main tour of 64 then those elite professionals would be able to claim that they were truly world tour players, and benefit accordingly.
Tour players shouldn’t have to qualify, they should be at the main venues, in arenas, thrilling crowds with their play all around the world. A tour of 64 would also bring the dream of having all players starting in the first round of EVERY tournament much nearer. In fact I think it would ensure it. No longer would we have mammoth World qualifiers, UK Championships with the first few rounds being played out in the back somewhere away from the lights and the action. We wouldn’t have to wait a ridiculous amount of time for draws and formats to come out. Being on tour would mean something, it would be aspirational. And that’s what we need more of in snooker. As we look forward to the next generation of players and those following in their footsteps, what’s going to attract them to becoming a snooker player instead of a golfer or tennis player?
So how would it work? Well I think you start with the current 64 top players at the end of this season. They go ahead and make up the new World Snooker Tour. All other players comprise the new Challenge Tour. Both tours have tournaments of their own and a few co-sanctioned events and at the end of the season, let’s say for the sake of discussion, 16 are relegated and promoted respectively.
On the World Snooker Tour the top 48 survive and are joined each year by 16 newbies from the Challenge Tour. Each year WPBSA gives out a certain number of tour cards to global players and winners of competitions such as the World Amateur Championship, World Under 21s and so on. This can stay the same, except that rather than go straight onto the World Tour, new professionals have to start on the Challenge Tour and work their way up, as they do in most other sports.
I guess that the real message of what I’m trying to say is that reaching the World Snooker Tour should be like reaching the promised land. It should be glamorous, lucrative, life changing and as I said earlier, aspirational. We need youngsters of the future to look at the World Snooker Tour and say, “that’s where I want to be…up there, competing for wins, trophies, money, in big arenas around the world and in front of thousands of fans.”
No one ever looked at the qualifiers of years ago in Blackpool, Plymouth, Burton-on-Trent and said they wanted to be there. Likewise qualifying in the UK for overseas events just doesn’t get the juices flowing. The tour is simply too big now and cannot support itself. It cannot provide that dream, that hope to all as there simply isn’t enough money to fund it all. We’re not golf, we’re not tennis and so we should stop trying to run a tour that is the same as theirs. Being on the World Snooker Tour should be something special and elite. It isn’t available to all, and neither should it be. If you’re good enough, you’ll come through the amateur ranks, through the Challenge Tour and onto the main circuit where you’ll deserve all the benefits that being there will give you.
Of Course I'm sure that there are some holes somewhere in my ideas, as nothing is perfect, and I welcome any feedback you might have on Twitter but it's good to get the debate going on this. Having just played last night in the first round of the International Championship, a tournament recently moved to Daqing, it was so strange playing in Barnsley. What we're currently doing isn't ticking all the boxes and I think my proposals potentially help make things better.
Anyway it was great to win through as the International is a massive tournament and to miss it would have been a nightmare. I can now get on with my travel plans and start organising the coming weeks. My next snooker outing will be the Ruhr Open in Mulheim, where I played some really nice stuff last year and won so I can't wait to go back and see everyone again. The Euro Tour has been a truly wonderful place to play snooker these last few years and it's great to see everyone at all these events. It's become a bit like a family reunion six times a year where we all pitch in. Players, promotors, referees, table fitters, MC's, caterers, cameramen, photographers and commentators all helping to put on a good show for the crowds that turn up in their thousands most weeks to support this fabulous game of ours. But before my trip to Mulheim we'll be moving house so its all hands on deck now to pack up our current home, load the vans and ship everything to our new home. It's not that far from where we currently live, but like any move, I'm sure it'll have it's stresses.
Until next time,