Former world champion Graeme Dott has revealed he fears for the future of the sport if this season is a sign of things to come.
Snooker's top brass did amazingly well to keep the sport going last season during the Covid-19 pandemic. The green-baize game was one of the first sports back with tournaments held behind closed doors in bio-secure bubbles.
Barry Hearn’s mantra was to “keep the show on the road”. The World Snooker Tour introduced new events to make up for big-money tournaments in China, unsurprisingly falling by the wayside. Prize money took a hit in comparison to the riches on offer in the Far East, but players were extremely grateful for the opportunity to earn in unprecedented and uncertain times.
But there was a seven-week break on the calendar during the current campaign, due to the Turkish Masters being postponed. Organisers also resorted to having qualifiers for the Homes Nations events – for the first time – to fill up gaps in the schedule.
Dott, the 2006 world champion, told The Sportsman: “I would fear for snooker if this was the way it would be from now on. If every season was going to be like this one, then I really would fear for the future of snooker.
“We’re kind of back to the days where all we’re playing in is qualifiers. There are some matches where you’re playing a qualifier and you’re not actually playing in the actual event until three months after!
“You’ve got to give Jason Ferguson and people like that a bit of credit because there’s a pandemic we’re going through. It’s not been easy to get tournaments on. But we certainly miss the bigger tournaments we’ve got used to over the years.”
Larkhall’s Pocket Dynamo feels like he’s become a part-time player, like the old days. It’s hard to think of a time when snooker consisted of just six ranking events and The Masters on the threadbare calendar. But that was the way of the world before Hearn was voted in 12 years ago and he well and truly delivered on his promises to save snooker – the game which gave him his greatest memories whilst managing Steve Davis during the 80s.
The sport was in the doldrums, even with all-time greats Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Stephen Hendry at the forefront. But it was promoter Hearn who slowly built the tour back up to becoming a global commodity with the players busier, and more importantly, earning more money than ever.
But the sporting supremo retired at May’s World Championship – handing the reins to long-term right-hand man Steve Dawson and leaving the sport in uncharted territory amidst rebuilding in a pandemic with a new face at the helm.
Dott’s frustrations stem from playing in qualifiers and now not having many events left to compete in after a disappointing run of results. The veteran lost in qualifying for both the Scottish Open and German Masters earlier this season - and was forced to miss the Northern Ireland Open due to catching Covid-19.
And after a slow start to the season, Dott is struggling to qualify for the prestigious 32-man World Grand Prix next month – which is based on this season’s ranking points.
“I feel like a part-time snooker player at the moment,” groaned grumpy Dott. “Because I’ve had such a bad start to the season I don’t have that much to actually play in.
“It kind of feels like my season’s already coming to an end whereas normally heading to the UK the season’s just starting to heat up. I feel like my season’s nearly at the end because I don’t have that much to play in.
“When the Scottish Open comes round I’m not in it, when the Grand Prix comes round I probably won’t be in that unless I do well at the UK. If I’m not in that I won’t be in the Players [16-man] or the Tour [eight-man]. There are so many tournaments I won’t actually be in. If you don’t make the top 32 for the Grand Prix list, which I’m nowhere near. What actually do you have left?
“I’m still in the European Masters, but that’s not a big event. I’m trying to think and other than that I’ve got the Welsh, but what else is there? You end up after the UK for me, maybe only three small tournaments and then the Worlds.”
If Scot Dott fails to qualify for the World Grand Prix then he won’t play a ranking event until January’s one-frame Shoot Out. The rescheduled Turkish Masters in Antalya will take place in March with a potential, as yet unconfirmed, tournament the week after.
The world No 18 needs a deep run at the UK Championship and takes on England’s Jamie O’Neill in the first round on Thursday.