Mark Selby and Ding Junhui were involved in a titanic tussle on the first day of the world championship final and the good news for snooker fans is that a deal is about to be announced that will keep the event at the Crucible Theatre, the game’s spiritual home since 1977.
The contract with The Crucible comes to an end next year and there had been speculation that the world championship – which earns £5m for Sheffield over the 17 days of the competition – could leave the city and even move abroad.
But as Selby and Ding slugged through 17 frames on the first day of the two-day encounter, with the former taking an overnight lead of 10-7 in the best-of-35 final, the 40th at the famous theatre, Jason Ferguson, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, told The Guardian: “I don’t think any of us in the sport have the heart to change. We’ve had substantial offers to move the world championship. But what price do you put on history? What price do you put on heritage? On those wonderful photographs you see when you walk backstage? Taking snooker away from here would be like taking the Wimbledon tennis championships away from Wimbledon.
“I’m hoping for a long-term deal – and I’m hoping an announcement will be made very shortly.”
But Ferguson is still concerned the game is under-selling itself, staging its main championship at a venue that can hold only 986 spectators. He said: “The restriction here is the venue itself. I can’t criticise the venue because it’s the greatest atmosphere on the world snooker tour. It’s drama and it creates everything we want. But if we look at the size and scale of the sport now, we could easily fill 3,000 seats, which would be about right for the world championship. We’re already doing about 2,500 for the German Masters in Berlin and the atmosphere is incredible.”
Beyond the next deal, snooker is looking at the possibility of moving to a new, bespoke venue in the city – or even enlarging the capacity at The Crucible. Ferguson believes Ding’s first appearance in the world championship final has taken the sport to a new level of interest in China. He said: “It’s already huge in China. They’ve got 1,500 snooker clubs in Shanghai alone, 1,200 in Beijing. These are huge numbers. In participation it is big but in media and television it is also very big and if Ding wins, it has the potential to be enormous. I know that a great nation is viewed to the television hoping their man is going to win.”
Viewers in China must have been subdued when Ding went 6-0 down in the opening session, before pulling back to 6-2. He had been the form player in this championship and was up against a man who had not shown his true form until the concluding stages of his semi-final against Marco Fu on Saturday night. But he looked nervous in the opening exchanges as Selby, whose confidence survived the replacement of his cue tip, took control and enjoyed breaks of 120, 91 and 76.
In the second, nine-frame session, however, Ding won three of the first four frames to cut the deficit to 7-5. After the interval the next two frames were shared before an epic, 66-minute frame was eventually won by Ding after Selby had failed to secure the snookers he needed. TV commentator and former world champion John Parrott compared Selby, nicknamed The Torturer, with “a boa constrictor”. Despite winning the frame Ding’s fluency had been broken and Selby won the final two frames of the night.
Ferguson, meanwhile, has his eyes on India as snooker’s next boom nation. He said: “The game was invented there by the British army in 1875 and I it could go back to it’s roots. “This is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We launched the Indian Open there two years ago. It’s been to three different cities. The interest is there, but it needs developing commercially.”
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