Mark Selby has challenged Sport England to start funding snooker properly – or risk seeing a trail of wasted talent while Chinese youngsters collect all the silverware.
Zhao Xintong claimed a sensational breakthrough UK Championship success at the weekend beating Belgium’s Luca Brecel 10-5 in the final.
That means China now hold two of the game’s big three titles, with Yan Bingtao defending his Masters crown in January.
But it also highlighted the dearth of 18-24-year-old players in the UK that exhibit the same skill levels and have already shown themselves to be proven winners on the big stage.
Governing body the WPBSA have for many years been aggrieved at the near-total lack of funding for grass-roots compared to huge sums invested in youth in Asia.
And after beating Sean Maddocks 4-1 on Monday at a Scottish Open oddly being staged in Llandudno, Selby said: “I would ask Sport England to invest as much as they can.
“Snooker is a sport, one of many I know. But a lot of kids out there like snooker, they just can’t progress if they don’t have access – and then talent goes to waste. Even if support creates just one young champion coming through, that must be worth it.
“I just don’t know what the reason is that they give snooker hardly any funding, it’s beyond me. They clearly have the money to support so many other sports. It’s a real shame.
“I am sure there are talented young British kids out there not getting a real chance for that reason, be it access or other things.
“When I was a kid my dad didn’t have much money, and there was no other help – I was just very lucky that Malcolm Thorne looked after me in Leicester and gave me free table time. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.
“Snooker has great viewing figures, great participation – but something is up out there. Ronnie O’Sullivan took decades to get on the Sports Personality shortlist. It feels like there is a reason we get overlooked for these things.
“And there are benefits to the whole community at every age and level. But you are just not seeing young players any more at my club, that is really disappointing.
“It feels like currently at the elite level it has never been better, but at the grass-roots level there is a real problem in the UK. We don’t have talented young pros that are already proven event winners in that 18-24 age range.
“Fergal O’Brien said to me the other day if there was a choice between playing a Chinese 17-year-old or a British 17-year-old you hadn’t heard of, you’d choose the British one without seeing them. You’d assume the Chinese one was better. But we shouldn’t be thinking like that.”
WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson also believes the latest major success for a Chinese youngster needs to be a big wake-up call in the UK.
He said: “I would never like to say that we won’t produce any champions without some proper funding from Sport England – but there will be less of them.
“With 128 players on tour there will inevitably be more players from all over the world where that investment is happening. We risk having far fewer UK players on tour.
“There is a direct link between the huge investment of public money into grass-roots snooker in China, and the current success and standard of players produced.
“It is no coincidence at all, and you see that in all sport all over the world. There is a huge age gap between some of the older UK players and the new talent coming through.
“And that is directly linked to the lack of funding coming through in the UK, relative to China and Asia more generally. It shows, in access to facilities and many other ways.
“I look down the high street and I see lots of empty shops and office buildings. Some of these would be ideal for cuesports for young and old alike.
“We have two young Chinese champions of our main three tournaments currently, and both were students of a government-funded academy in China of which we are a partner.
“That system has grown much faster in China than anywhere else in the world. And it is because of the investment in grass roots.
“We put small tables in schools or other projects, but it is not a bottomless pit for a small organisation.
“And we want to do more, but we want access to funding as other sports get and it will pay huge dividends if we can get it right
“Without any significant funding we are giving ourselves in global terms huge hurdles to overcome.
“The new English Partnership for Snooker and Billiards was recently formed in a restructure to be the single representing body to apply for funding from Sport England, and approved as such.
“If we are going to look for funding that comes with a lot of work and rightly a lot of scrutiny you need a strong, well-managed body.”