Ronnie O’Sullivan has remarkably hit out at World Snooker bosses, claiming the sport is in “the worst place it has ever been”.
O’Sullivan, the reigning World Champion and world number one, has questioned the credentials of snooker’s hierarchy and believes players are afraid to speak out in fear of being fined, encouraging them to go on strike.
The 47-year-old will return to The Crucible in less than four weeks to launch his quest for a record eighth world title but will do so in the backdrop of unrest behind the scenes.
Snooker has been rocked by a match-fixing crisis in recent months which has seen 11 players suspended from competition pending an investigation, including two recent Triple Crown event winners.
In addition, a financial crisis has resulted in the cancellation of the Turkish Masters and reduced prize money as WST continue to await the green light to return to China – a hotbed of the sport which had hosted a number of lucrative tournaments prior to the global pandemic.
A players’ meeting was held with WST representatives in Leicester last Wednesday prior to the WST Classic, however O’Sullivan was not present and players were prevented from discussing vital aspects of the agenda in public.
O’Sullivan has since had his say on the current state of the snooker and has pulled no punches on those in charge of taking the sport forward.
He said: “Listen, snooker is in a bad place. It’s in trouble. Forget Turkey [Turkish Masters]. This needs at least another £50 million a year just to make it a proper tour.
“When you look at the number, it’s bad. When you look at £10 million prize money for 25 events across the year for 128 players, it’s never going to be good.
“It needs at least to triple that to make it work. Maybe you do need some proper people like Liberty [in F1] or someone with the vision to bring it up to date.
“You look at the people actually managing the game, they are not the brightest sparks either. So you can’t see them digging themselves out of it.
“But you don’t have to be Einstein. It is probably in the worst place it has ever been. The image of the sport, it’s a bit like a pub sport now.
“Look at some of the tournaments. The Shootout. Some of the venues we play at. It’s lost its charm of what it used to be. It’s cheap.
“If they can be honest enough with themselves, maybe the people that run the game need to say: ‘We have taken it as far as we can’.
“If they really have the love of the sport they would hand it over to somebody else that had higher ambitions.
“It is probably as bad as it has ever been also because of the betting scandal.
“There are a lot of players I know who are really unhappy and frightened to speak out because they will get fined. They are told that.”
Barry Hearn stepped aside as World Snooker Chairman in 2021, with Steve Dawson now at the helm, and O’Sullivan believes snooker is lagging far behind other sports such as tennis and golf in terms of its finances.
He added: “The game is struggling, if you look at the numbers it is in a bad way. But we all want good for the game.
“I can’t do more. I have carried the sport pretty much for the last 20-30 years. It’s not one player. It’s the sport, it’s not a massive sport.
“At Wimbledon it is probably £50 million for the one event. You look at golf, minimum first prize of £1.2million and the top players don’t even turn up for that.
“We are playing for the winner gets £80,000 most weeks and the runner-up gets £35,000. It’s bang in trouble.
“Mark Allen has done well this year, Judd Trump did well a couple of years before that. A few others do alright. But for the rest, there is nothing there.
“A lot of these players are tempted by crumbs. If you give them a few crumbs, and they say, I will play, keep them quiet, keep them on board.
“But the only way to get change is for the players to say, we are not playing until you listen to us.
“If you want us to play in this tournament for six days then this is what we expect. This amount of prize money. Two weeks for this amount of prize money.
“Nothing will change until the majority of the players go, you know what, we are not playing.”
O’Sullivan pulled out of the ongoing WST Classic due to an elbow injury, meaning he is unable to qualify for the upcoming Tour Championship – the dress rehearsal for the World Championship starting on April 15.
WST have issued a response to The Rocket’s remarks, offering reassurance over prize money and the global growth of the game.
A WST spokesperson said: “Last week we held a constructive meeting with the players, unfortunately Ronnie chose not to attend, where we set out our vision for the future of snooker and addressed issues which are important to the players.
“The outcomes were positive, and players were encouraged by the progressive strategy set out by WST.
“WST is working diligently across many of the areas Ronnie has raised and is achieving considerable success as a result. We have smashed records on ticket sales for the majority of our events this season, and our global TV and digital audience is bigger than ever.
“Prize money for our UK events has increased since the start of the pandemic. Post COVID we are committed to returning to China in 2023 and optimistic about that prospect, which would put our tour in the strongest position it has ever been.
“We are working with the leading agencies in sports, whose clients include the Premier League, FIFA, Ryder Cup and The Masters. Our long-term strategy is based upon best-in-class analysis and driven by data.
“We would always welcome Ronnie to share his ideas and discuss our plans and strategy directly with WST.”
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