The continual willingness of snooker to indulge Ronnie O’Sullivan is no great surprise. It is, nonetheless, a recurring disappointment.
This is a sport grasping desperately for relevance and finance. Which is a shame, with arguably the greatest depth of talent at the top level in history now in place. A combination of circumstances have impacted negatively on snooker, from the ban on tobacco sponsorship to investigations into match-fixing, with the former world No5 Stephen Lee banned for 12 years as a result. The game’s profile has suffered.
With O’Sullivan as the most talented performer and most instantly recognisable participant, the desire – or desperation – to keep him as a part of the narrative is logical. The problem is, the Englishman continues to act in a manner which you cannot imagine being tolerated in other environments. It has long since become tiresome.
O’Sullivan’s refusal to complete a maximum break in the Welsh Open is the latest act of arrogance. It was a protest, O’Sullivan claimed, at the mere £10,000 on offer for a competitive 147 at that juncture. He has previous for an identical move, back in 2010, when £4,000 was available. Among those sold short were the paying spectators, who will care little about the seeking of attention but would have relished the witnessing of a maximum break by one of snooker’s most successful players.
O’Sullivan will claim, of course, that his actions are for a wider good, to highlight a financial disparity that should be resolved. Instead, what the 40-year-old did should be seen as the latest insult from a rich sportsperson, who can afford to turn his nose up at sums others would be delighted to claim. This is hardly the crime of the century from O’Sullivan but nor is it anywhere near impressive behaviour.
He had contradicted what should be the epitome of sport, where a competitor tries their utmost at all times. Other players wouldn’t be treated favourably for doing the same thing as O’Sullivan; epic talent shouldn’t override acceptable standards of behaviour, including towards those who work so hard to make snooker purses as high as possible. It is ridiculous to suggest those organising tournaments wouldn’t want those figures to be as high as they could be.
Nothing was to stop O’Sullivan from making the 147, taking the cheque and handing it to charity or a similarly worthwhile cause. He would be rightly applauded for that. His approach was of the opposite vein, scoffing at £10,000 and offering the bizarre added logic of: “It’s like going into a Mercedes garage and when they say that you can have the car for £3,000, you reply: ‘No way, that’s too cheap. I’m not buying it for that.’”
In the real world, where money has appropriate value, that Mercedes seeker would be delighted to have sourced such a bargain. In fact, the public would be queueing around the block for more of the same. O’Sullivan’s comments make him appear out of touch with reality.
O’Sullivan has become the boy who cried wolf over retirement, time and again threatening to leave snooker and occasionally doing so for prolonged periods. Immediately after defeating Mark Williams by the odd frame in 11 at last month’s Masters – an exciting match for the television audience – O’Sullivan offered a shoulder-shrugging, negative analysis to the point where it was impossible not to feel sorry for poor Hazel Irvine.
Other commentators – the BBC is particularly bad for the lauding of all things Ronnie – laugh off these predictable cries for attention. Such pandering to the five-times world champion does snooker and its other talented participants no favours at all. Stephen Hendry, when winning seven world titles and displaying regular strands of genius, was almost overlooked at times because he lacked this supposed “character” as offered by O’Sullivan. And yet, who would you argue is the superior ambassador for snooker?
If this sport is such a constant source of nuisance to O’Sullivan, in terms of what he regards as dismal prize pots or otherwise, he should depart for good and leave others to it. After the 147 stunt, snooker has been afforded levels of attention it would cherish on a regular basis; that doesn’t make what O’Sullivan did right, and certainly doesn’t mean we should regard him as beyond reproach. Respect should be mutual.
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