There’s an iconic shot of Alex Higgins facing the press after his six-tournament ban for headbutting an official at the 1986 UK Championship.
Higgins takes a call from a ludicrously over-sized mobile phone – and early model – and is then asked if he can survive without snooker. Quick as a flash, he responds: “can snooker survive without me?”
It was typical Higgins: bold, brash and biting. However, we soon found out the answer: yes. Snooker did survive because snooker is bigger than any one player.
Even so, it is a blow to the sport that Ronnie O’Sullivan has today announced that he will not be entering the Premier League and forthcoming WPBSA tournaments. He has described the players’ contract as ‘onerous.’
He said after winning a fourth world title that he would be taking a six-month break. I suspect that actually deciding to follow through with this will not have been easy for a player who has played professionally now for 20 years.
I think World Snooker’s attitude is that O’Sullivan is no different to any other player, that they all have a choice whether to play or not.
There are two points here, though:
1) O’Sullivan, as world champion, is seeded second for all tournaments other than those in which he is defending champion. His world ranking – this season at least – therefore doesn’t really matter so he can afford to be more choosy.
2) He is the game’s leading box office attraction. He is the player who has done more than any other in the last 10 years to attract people to snooker.
However, I don’t believe World Snooker should pay the players appearance money. If individual sponsors want to do so then that is within their right.
The Premier League is a long established tournament but is not regarded as one of snooker’s majors.
However, it is an event O’Sullivan has dominated in recent times, winning it on ten occasions. It is a competition which seems to suit his temperament: short, one night matches rather than long weeks away from home.
I’ve never seen a players’ contract so am in no position to comment on them, although a few players have expressed concerns about some of the stipulations.
Stephen Hendry retired in part because the crowded schedule did not allow him to pursue promotional engagements. To lose one legend from the circuit may be seen as unfortunate, to lose two perhaps is more serious.
But professional snooker should not be arranged around a couple of superstars. World Snooker exists to promote the game, to provide playing opportunities and to reward players who are successful.
I hope Ronnie enjoys his break. I hope we see him back playing his seductive style of the game later in the season.
In the meantime, snooker continues.