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Barry Hearn warns World Snooker Championship will leave The Crucible and addresses Saudi speculation

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Hearn speaks out (Photo via Alamy Stock)

Barry Hearn has issued an ultimatum to Sheffield City Council – find a bigger venue or the World Snooker Championship will be taken elsewhere.

Hearn, president of Matchroom Sport, says he wants the World Championship to remain in Sheffield, but only on the basis that a bigger venue can be provided.

The city has hosted the sport’s annual showpiece at The Crucible Theatre since 1977, but with the current contract expiring in 2027, time is running out for the event to remain in Yorkshire.

Despite the 980-seat Crucible failing to fully sell out each year, Hearn insists a new venue with more than double the capacity is required in order to keep the tournament in Sheffield.

Hearn told BBC Sport: “I am absolutely doing everything to stay in Sheffield, but it takes two to tango.

“I’ll stay here while we’re wanted. And I think we’re wanted, I know we’re wanted by the BBC, I think we’re wanted by Sheffield, but they’ve got to be realistic.

“We’ve said for the last few years we need a new venue that seats 2,500-3000 people because I’m fed up with getting letters from people all over the world asking how I get a ticket.

“I’m looking for Sheffield to come to the party. If they do, we’re staying. If they don’t they’re really saying that we don’t want you, so it’s not really my call.”

When grilled by 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty – who asked if the history and prestige of the venue outweighs money – Hearn responded: “Trust me, money has the edge every time.

“We live in the real world. If there are deals out there that’s going to change people’s lives and increase profitability. There’s not really a choice to make.

“Let’s be perfectly honest. Snooker is a professional sport played by professional sportsmen. Their first demand across any sport is prize money and they want to see it as big as possible and we as custodians of the sport have a fiduciary duty to those players.

“You must never ever get complacent in your life and sit down and enjoy the luxury of saying “job done”. It’s never done, there’s never enough.

“It’s all about money, get used to it, the world is changing and I’m not going to be a dinosaur and not change with the world.”

The idea of a new venue being built from scratch to cater for snooker appears wholly unrealistic and is not currently being entertained by Sheffield City Council.

“The silence is deafening,” Hearn added. “I want to stay in Sheffield fundamentally, completely and utterly. But if they don’t want me, I’m not going to kick up a fuss. I’ll just quietly disappear to somewhere else, another country.

“If someone comes in with 10 times, a hundred times more money, what do you think the players would say if you had the ability to multiply the prize money by 10 or you decided to be loyal and rely on the history of The Crucible? I don’t think I’d be very popular.

“We’ve got to live in the real world, but here’s the opportunity for Sheffield to say, show me you do want me. The silence is deafening equals: do they care?

“I want the question mark answered. We’ve got three years, I want a new venue. I would like to stay here, but if I’m not rewarded with some message of hope, then sooner rather than later plans have got to be made.”

The rumour mill has been rife over a future home for the World Championship, with the riches of Saudi Arabia and China making them the frontrunners.

Hearn has suggested the tournament could be moved around on a regular basis and that WST will follow the money in order to secure the best outcome for its players.

The 75-year-old commented: “There may be a plan of saying, well we are the World Championships, we’ll take this tournament round the world, so we’ll go to Saudi Arabia for one year, then we’ll go to Beijing the next and then we’ll come back to Sheffield and then we’ll go to Vegas and you know what I mean?’

“There’s a whole different way of looking at it. So we are never actually going to be bogged down with a binding decision. We’re going to control our own destiny for the benefit of the sport and the players that play it.”

During his annual press conference at The Crucible, Hearn also addressed rumours of a ‘breakaway tour’, with a number of players having been approached to compete in lucrative ‘non-sanctioned’ events.

After the fallout surrounding a number of high-profile ‘exhibition’ events in Asia this season, WST have come to a new agreement with players which enables them to compete in events outside of the tour, providing they do not clash with WST events.

Hearn shrugged off a threat of a rebellion from the top players and revealed plans for a new event in Qatar next year, as well as increased prize money across the tour.

“The players under the new agreement have freedom to do what they want to do when there isn’t a World Snooker Tour event and that will open up 10-12 weeks of the year,” said Hearn.

“What’s important is to build tournaments with history and obviously really big prize money, we are going to again increase prize money across the board.

“In particular things like the Masters, which has been stuck on £725,000-a-year – that will go to a £1m next year. The long-term plan, of course, is to get the World Championship first prize past a million, and I think that’s very achievable.

“There will be an event in Qatar sometime after January, but before the end of June next year.

“I’ve heard figures of £200,000-£300,000 guaranteed [to compete in non-sanctioned events]. Well if you’re in the top 16 next year, you’re going to be guaranteed £200,000 before you take your cue out. And if you win them all, you’re going to take £5-£6m home.

“Collectively we are very strong, but every other little thing that happens outside of the strong body weakens the collective bargaining power that the main tour has to the detriment of the 128.

“It may well please a certain few players who are perhaps coming towards the end of their career and they’ve got to do what’s right for their family.

“But frankly, commercially, I know the market, those sort of breakaway thoughts don’t really have a great deal of commercial value.

“So I’m quite comfortable letting people do what they want because I believe in the brand of World Snooker and what we’ve built up over the years.”

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