Barry Hearn responds to Ronnie O’Sullivan’s tournament calendar criticism

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O’Sullivan shakes hands with Hearn (credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn has defended the demanding snooker schedule and says players have “freedom of choice” to compete in whichever events they desire.

Hearn has implemented a number of new tournaments in this season’s calendar, including the Ladbrokes Tour Championship, which will feature the top eight players from the one-year ranking list, after the seeding cut off point, competing for a top prize of ¬£150,000.

This follows the series incorporating the World Grand Prix, which is for the leading 32 players on the one-year list, and the Players Championship, which is for the top 16.

O’Sullivan commented after his Group Four victory at the Champion of Champions on Tuesday that he “can’t bear” some of tournaments on the circuit and that he is “not bothered” about being in the world’s top 16.

Speaking to ITV Sport, Hearn said: “I wish I had six Ronnie O’Sullivan’s, not one!

“Snooker’s a very unique sport in lots of different ways.

“Apart from the fact players in their mid 40s are winning regularly, we’re one of the few sports that players under no restrictions, it’s freedom of choice.

“If you’re playing on the golf or tennis circuit you have to commit to a certain number of events this year.

“We view that as being restrictive so we say to players – ‘your choice’.

“As much as I want to see Ronnie in every event, I want him also to be happy with his life.

“I heard John Higgins saying the other day that he fell out of love with the game and he was tired, I’m not surprised, he’s in his mid 40s and he’s competitive.

“There’s your diary, pick and choose where you want to play.

“We want to make our tournaments attractive to 128 players on the tour, we are not led by one but we listen to everyone’s complaints and we try to educate them to the proper way of moving forward.”

O’Sullivan is currently ranked number three on the main list but is down at 49 on the one-year ranking table, jeopardising his place in the World Grand Prix and Players Championship next spring.

Hearn, however, fully expects ‘The Rocket’ to acquire enough ranking points to qualify for those events and is keen to avoid the top players becoming complacent.

He added: “He’ll make them, don’t worry about that.

“I guess Ronnie’s going to play the Home Nations events and I’m pretty certain he’ll play in the UK Championship and with Ronnie’s ability that should be more than enough to get in at least the first stage of it then it’s up to him.

“There’s a few other top players like Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui who, as yet, haven’t qualified.

“Top players are told, you deserve respect for being in the top 16 but you don’t deserve a massive advantage, you’ve got to keep justifying your top 16 status.

“What I like about it is that it’s got people talking about snooker and players asking ‘where am I?

“I think there’s 13 players outside of the top 32 in the two-year list who are in the one-year list top 32 and there’s nine players outside the top 16 that are in the top 16 on the one-year list.

“It’s about making the sport more innovative, more exciting, but creating more opportunities for media stories when a kid comes through from nowhere to achieve his dreams and that really is the essence of the sport in its entirety.”