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'Billionaires could save game'

By HARVEY MORRIS | China Daily UK | Updated: 2016-11-30 18:27

'Billionaires could save game'

Ding Junhui plays against Ross Muir from Scotland at the UK Championship in York on Sunday. Ding won the game 6-2. [Photo/Xinhua]

Snooker needs the intervention of Chinese billionaires if the sport is to be lifted out of its second-class status, according to England's five-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Speaking in York, where he cruised to a fourth-round win on Monday in the UK Snooker Championship, O'Sullivan said the sport was like a "car boot sale" compared with the luxury department store image of tennis and Formula One.

Lamenting the lack of big-spending sponsors and top prize money, O'Sullivan said: "If it went to China and found some billionaires that want to take this sport on and put up 1 million pounds ($1.25 million) first prizes, then you could maybe start looking at snooker as a core sport again."

Barry Hearn, the chairman of World Snooker, the sport's international governing body, retorted that the mercurial 40-year-old champion should know better than to be so critical.

Hearn told the BBC: "Ronnie's a massive name. He lives on another planet sometimes ... His latest comments are of the scale, even for him."

According to the World Snooker boss: "The game has rebuilt and is going from strength to strength, particularly in China, Europe, and obviously within the UK."

In April, Hearn predicted that half of the world's top 16 players would one day come from China.

"Over the next 10-15 years, China will dominate most sports," Hearn said at the time. "The government are pouring money in."

Ding Junhui, who is competing in the York event, is currently number 5 in the world rankings and six other Chinese players are in the top 64.

In O'Sullivan's critique of the present state of the sport, he said: "It's all about media, money and business, and snooker is nothing compared to Formula One, tennis and the Olympics.

"They've got corporate people involved who have a massive say in who is big and who is not big. Snooker is unable to attract those kind of sponsors or compete in that league."

As part of Hearn's project to revitalize the sport, total prize money this year reached 10 million pounds for the first time. The winner of the UK Championship will receive 170,000 pounds and the next championship prize will be more than double that.

The writer is a senior media consultant for China Daily UK.

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