Sunday, 14 August 2011

Hearn hits out at top stars

You don't get to Barry Hearn's position without being able to pack a punch.

That's why his harshly-worded letter addressed to the sport's top stars on Friday was right on the money.

Never scared to shy away from his responsibilities, he openly criticised the game's leading names and said bluntly: "let us start by behaving like professionals please." 

Hearn named Mark Williams, John Higgins, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Allen and Matthew Stevens as he expressed his dissatisfaction after they all rejected an invitation to the new Brazilian Masters tournament.

It's no secret that Hearn is striving to open up the world market for snooker. A major event in Brazil is set to be another big milestone in that effort, but he feels let down by a lack of enthusiasm from the players he needs as ambassadors.

While the list of players competing still includes Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis, to make snooker truly global, he needs everyone behind him. I have to empathise with his frustrations.

We've said it time and time again, but just two years ago the same players and more were moaning because of a lack of tournaments. Snooker is very luck to have Barry Hearn. He has bent over backwards to enlarge the the snooker calendar. He works tirelessly to secure new competitions at venues across the world.

His efforts to rebuild the game can never be questioned, but his work alone is not enough to push snooker on. He needs the backing of all the players to achieve it. 

Snooker is in a far better place than it's ever been, so I sit firmly on Barry's side of the fence on this one.

But this doesn't mean I can't sympathise with the players. The game has exploded at a rate no-one could ever have anticipated. The globetrotting-style of the sport today means extra economic burden for the top stars. But on the other side, the prize money available is off the scale too.

For the sport's top players, I don't see a problem in balancing the financial books if they get right behind all the tournaments. With so much to gain, the top players should accept they are full-time sportsmen now, and not part-timers. I can't see anything other than cause for celebration from a money perspective.

The new-look state of snooker also means the players must spend more time away from their families than perhaps they ever have before. But like many other hardworking people across the country, this is the unfortunate reality of a career. I should point out here that the sport's top stars still enjoy more time away from competitive action than your average worker does away from the office, and stand to earn much more money.

Specific to the Brazilian Masters, the timing of the event isn't exactly great with the Shanghai Masters falling straight before. With no easy flight path and the preceding ranking event obviously of greater importance, players may think something has to give in a packed schedule, but as Hearn stated in his letter, the timing was non-negotiable.

Right now, snooker needs to take what it can to open up new exciting parts of the world. That said, I'll have less sympathy for Hearn in the future if the calendar continues to be skewed in years to come. Right now, with the game still in transition, it's to be expected.

Adapting to the greater demands of the sport under Hearn must without doubt be a tough juggling act for the players, but surely this is far better than the dark days, when they would be waiting months between playing each tournament. 

Snooker has grown off the scale. For this to be sustainable, the players need to throw their weight behind it, just like Hearn.  

What I will say before signing off on this blog post is that the current state of the game for the lower-ranked professionals and amateur players is completely different. I don't think they have it so lucky. But that's another debate for another day...


  1. Ok, Gary, let me take the players side then. Someone has to and get the stick for it innit?
    1. The prize money over the season has increased that's true. However with players now paying for their own travel and accommodations expenses and the explosion of "abroad" tournaments, the incomes for the players have not, quite the opposite unless one of them wins most of the season's major events. So they now have to face the globetrotting lifestyle without the kind of financial reward other sports offer. The WTA Rogers Cup that just ended in Toronto for instance has prize money of 2 000 000 US$, ten times what is on offer for the Brazil Masters and it's only a premier 5 women competition and not mandatory.
    2. The players now just finished PTC2 in Gloucester. Next week-end they will be in Sheffield, the week-end after in Germany, next 2 in China if the reach the latter stages in Shanghai, then comes Brazil, then PTC5 and 6. That's 8 weekends straights away from home if they do it all. For those who have a family, children going to school, it means nearly 2 full months without quality time with them. I personally think that sacrificing your children for any amount of money is not on, it's certainly not on for what is a mere pittance in sporting terms. So don't be surprised they chose to skip the only event that is not carrying ranking points.

  2. 3. The Brazil Masters carries a mere 200 000 US$ prize fund according to the infos on the website. Do the maths. If you suppose that prize money doubles with each round then it means that first round losers will get little over 1500 US$. A direct flight, with BA, non flexible, economy, costs about 1125 Euros. Add accommodations, food etc. What's in there for them. They are doing a job, they have family to feed, bills to pay. Is this right? Would YOU do it? Especially as this is not the only tournament where they are exposed to be off their pockets. In PTCs in Europe, players need to win 2 matches before simply covering their expenses if they don't go for any luxury at all. You will tell me they should look at the bigger picture. Yes, maybe. But then they have been dragged to Bahrain before with promises of big crowds and and development area for the game. Brazil may be one; however the tournament was initially planned in a big city, Sao Paulo, but is now taking place in a posh holiday resort, in the winter, with tickets three time as expensive as they are in UK (so I read from a british poster living in Brazil) in a country where poverty is the rule rather than the exception. Maybe the players have some reasons to be wary?
    3. It will be a very long season. They don't want to burn out early. Having this on the back of Shanghai, with huge time differences in both cases is not something that will enthrall those who want to manage their form over the full season.

  3. I don't doubt Barry's intentions and I fully appreciate the tremendous amount of work he puts in there. But the players are his most valuable asset. I think he should listen to their needs, work with them, rather than impose his views to them. Convince them rather than punishing them. This might imply a change of communications. This might imply a slowing down a bit of the expansion to privilege quality over quantity and give better resources to individual tournaments (and no, I'm not wanting to go back to 6, but there is space for flexibility between 6 and 25!). I am of the opinion that Barry needs to do that and quick. LISTEN.
    Because in March they will face 4 back to back tournaments: Indian Masters in India, World Open in Hainan, China, PTC Grand Final in Europe and China Open in Beijing, all in 5 weeks, 8 times to cope with time difference and long haul flights and less than a month from the WC, with the WC qualifiers straight after for those who will need to qualify. If Barry wants the players to give those events their best, well ... he will have to work with them on it from now on. They are human beings, not robots you roll to the table to play. They are snooker players, not business entrepreneurs. They are for most of them down to earth ordinary blokes, not high wired workaholic. But THEY make the game and he should not forget it.

  4. For years and years and years and years snooker has done what players wanted they was running the sport they were voting in the board they owned the sport and where did it get us ?

    absalutly nowhere.

    you are talking like snooker is massive again its far from massive and unless players walk the walk and help now it will never get there.

  5. Great response Monique! As a mother of a potential future professional player, I am watching the changes with a mixture of relief and great concern. Your points cover my concerns completely. All of these international events are going to cause a huge financial pressure to those who are starting out, and not likely to win much. It would be a shame if they in fact shut out new players, instead of opening up opportunities.
    And again, I agree with you about the physical strain and lack of family time. I have heard about this side of Barry before, regarding how he treated the players he managed. These are meant to be creative, talented people, not a product to be sold. They can't keep producing top quality performances if they are exhausted, stressed, jet lagged, lonely and full of guilt for not being there for their children.

  6. Exactly wild. It's massive now compared to the recent past but it needs players to walk the walk to grow further.

    I have massive concerns for new players and finances but my post only talks about the top players. Players who have already won tournaments. I think they're key to events like this.

  7. other sports manage all that pressure.

    this is pathetic atitute.

    if your child cant manage it just find something else he wants to do..we can not pamper to what players want or snooker is finished.

  8. The calendar is skewed at the moment but I expect this to change moving forward. My understanding is that Barry had very little choice with dates for Brazil.

    I think the qualifiers being on home soil helps new players on tour, but unfortunately you can't pick and choose what events you qualify for (i.e. not abroad)

  9. Cheers for all the comments people. Glad it's created debate

  10. look players have asked for more tournaments we cant start crying and making a fuss now for christ sake its only been 18 months.

    sorry but this makes me boiling mad.

    what did players expect tournaments played in their living room. no it goes global either you go with it or you dont but if you want a future you better go with it.