World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn has hit back at criticism over the sport’s tournament structure, insisting it operates a “fair system”.
Hearn has come under fire from a number of players in recent weeks who believe there should be more time between events and more protection for top 16 players.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has led the backlash on social media, claiming top players should not be forced to enter qualifiers at “lousy venues” which are “de-motivating”.
Kyren Wilson released a statement on Twitter after losing in the First Round of the Northern Ireland Open just 24 hours ater his defeat in the final of the Champion of Champions in Coventry, while Neil Robertson also had his say on the matter.
Hearn has responded by releasing his own statement following the exit of more than half of of the top-16 ranked players in the opening round of the Northern Ireland Open.
Hearn said: “This amazing set of results justifies the format for this event and highlights the unprecedented quality of players throughout our tour.
“The players ranked among the top 16 are rewarded in the fact that they are seeded in the draw so that they can’t meet another top-16 player until the third round, but it’s a level playing field which is what top level sport should be.
“And they are vulnerable in the first round because there are so many good players throughout the rankings. The standard this season and the number of centuries and 147s being made has never been higher.
“Snooker is a land of opportunity and only the cream will rise to the top. All sport is about chasing dreams, but new players need the opportunity to chase that dream, and we have that now.
“We have a progressive system which is based on talent rather than reputation.
“The top 16 have huge benefits because they are invited to the Masters, the Shanghai Masters, the Championship League, seeded into the final stages of the World Championship, and seeded in the draw for every tournament.
“But in most ranking events they start in the same round as all 128 players and that is a fair system.
“Our overall prize money has grown from £3.5 million to £15 million within the past decade, and there are more and more players earning a good wage.
“In our current rankings there are 56 players who have earned £100,000 or more from ranking events within the past two years, whereas at the end of the 2015/16 season that figure was just 33.
“We are extremely ambitious in our plans to grow the sport further and create more opportunities for every player on our tour.”
O’Sullivan also hinted on Twitter that he would set up a separate tour “like a shot” if he could guarantee ten top players to break their player’s contract which does not allow them from competing in any non-sanctioned televised events.
Ronnie O’Sullivan (@ronnieo147) November 14, 2018