Judd Trump reckons the welcome return of snooker to China has come in the nick of time – and should quell mutinous rumblings among players.
The Juddernaut and other leading lights in action at the World Championships at the Crucible heard on Saturday that the first three major events in mainland China since Covid hit in 2020 will take place next season.
The pandemic saw all events in the country cancelled with a huge hit to overall tour prize money, which came down from around £15million to £10m.
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And ironically one of the tournaments announced will be the Wuhan Open in October – in the city where it is believed the virus originated having leaked from a laboratory.
The first event back in September will be the prestigious Shanghai Masters, with the International Championship also back on the calendar. The three tournaments will boast a total prize fund of around £2million.
The move also comes at a time when Chinese snooker is in the spotlight with 10 players from the country facing match-fixing related charges in a hearing later this month.
But several leading players have started to complain about a lack of activity, tournaments and prize money in the past 18 months.
And former world champion and world No5 Trump, 33, said: “A lot of the players have been more outspoken recently, and have become a bit fed up feeling that there were a lot more tournaments five or 10 years ago to keep you busy.
“China has obviously been a huge miss for a lot of people. Overall prize money on offer in a season has gone down from around £15million to £10million.
“That’s a lot of money taken away from the game, and people are relying on China being back on, being able to travel again and do what you love in other places rather than just in this country.
“You can have too many events in the same place, and there is a lot of events in the UK at the moment. Maybe sometimes that’s why the crowds aren’t so good in the first couple of rounds.
“It will be nice to be in a position again where you are not sticking everything in the UK, you are not having to go to events in small cities and towns that you shouldn’t be if you want to grow the game.
“As well what you get for winning those China events, even if you win a game that can be £5,000 and that is important money for those down the rankings.
“It makes the difference between scraping by on close to minimum wage, and being more comfortable and earning a living.
“And I also think you have maybe seen the standard depreciate without those China tournaments, and people playing regularly in big events.
“This year has been the worst standard of snooker I have seen for a while – top players going out early and not enough breaks or excitement.
“That could be a factor in some lower-ranked players winning, because some venues have not been up to scratch, and people don’t really get up for that.”
Many officials wore full protective suits at last year’s Beijing Olympics – but China has been gradually opening up this year.
Four-time world champion Mark Selby said: “When I saw Wuhan I know that is where apparently Covid all started out – so we will probably all get a Hazmat suit when we turn up.
“But it will be great to be out in China. I hear they are getting back to some form of normality like here.
“We needed China back on the map. It is very big financially for our tour and we have a lot of Chinese players on the tour as well.”
China’s superstar and talisman Ding Junhui, a former Crucible finalist, also pointed to a lost wave of fans in his home country, who have badly missed the chance to see the top players live.
He said: “It is very important. In the past three years because of losing the tournaments I think we lost a lot of snooker fans in China.
“They haven’t been able to come to tournaments live, or even watch online. They couldn’t come to the UK to watch either because of travel and Covid restrictions.
“So we needed that all back, and there will be great crowds and atmosphere for that first tournament back in Shanghai for the Masters event.
“There will be a lot of attention on that event, and that will be really good for the Chinese market. Chinese players haven’t even had a national ranking event.
“We lost four ranking tournaments and a big invitation event in Shanghai from the calendar, that was a lot of prize money. The money at China events is good, and all players on tour will benefit.”