Barry Hearn claims ‘snooker has never been in a better place’ as the fall-out from Ronnie O’Sullivan’s breakaway tour threat continued to dominate the headlines at the Betway UK Championship,
The five-time world champion caused shock waves at the York Barbican on Sunday when he claimed he was “ready to go” and kick-off a Champions League-style tour for the elite players.
Unhappy with playing conditions at venues he considers remote, along with a 128-player flat draw, O’Sullivan reckoned he was “just waiting for four or five unhappy players” to join him.
World No 5 Judd Trump said O’Sullivan was “living on a different planet” but Hearn, World Snooker’s chairman, was more scathing.
While acknowledging the 42-year-old, who beat Zhou Yuelong 6-0 on Monday to ensure he will celebrate his birthday in the last 16 on Wednesday, was a “genius” with a cue, Hearn told 5 Live: “(I am) incredulous as usual with Ronnie. He gets headlines, I will give him that, but it’s a nonsensical thought.
“Ronnie needs someone to play and it’s quite clear there is not one single player on the 128-member pro tour that will ever trust Mr O’Sullivan and his rather cranky schemes.
“He’s a genius and a fabulous player, but off the table he gets carried away and should be a little more mature with his comments.
“He is on another planet when it comes to his brilliance on the table, and when he talks about the business of snooker.
“Snooker has never been in a better place. Prize money has quadrupled in the past few years and players are happy. That’s not to say we can’t get better but we will do it as a group.
“I will certainly be speaking to him but will not be talking to him while in action in a major tournament. I want to him to play at his best.”
Hearn’s comments came during O’Sullivan’s routine third-round win at the sport’s second-biggest title, which he has won six times and pays £170,000 to its winner.
Shortly after that, O’Sullivan went into the BBC studio where he was interviewed by six-time world champion Steve Davis.
The pair, along with presenter Hazel Irvine and former world champion Ken Doherty, had an animated exchange, with O’Sullivan conceding he did not want to breakaway and would rather World Snooker made changes.
“There are some simple things to be done to make it fairer for the top players,” he said.
“I don’t want to go nowhere, but I’m not going to wait. I’m not a entrepreneur, but if tweaks don’t happen, I’m not going to sit here and not do myself justice.”
Put to him by Davis that he could retire if he is unhappy, O’Sullivan said: “I don’t want to retire. I love playing. I haven’t had enough. I like to perform, it’s nice to play in front of packed crowds.”
O’Sullivan wants World Snooker to make it simpler for “top” players to qualify for events and not have to travel from country to country chasing ranking points.
He said Roger Federer would not be asked to “qualify for Wimbledon at Richmond Park” and says breakaway talk came about because “I want to be No 1 and make the live TV events”.
Later, O’Sullivan said: “He (Hearn) can ban me. If he wants to ban me tomorrow then I have already accepted that decision. I would rather walk away than live in fear about what I say. It doesn’t worry me what he says any more. He is on mute on Twitter and I don’t really have him in my thinking.
“I haven’t got too much time so either make the tweaks which will benefit everybody or don’t make the tweaks. I still have to be pro-active. But my gut feeling is nothing will change.
“It is simple, we need a few tweaks. Either do it or don’t do it. But if you don’t do it, I will look for alternatives because I still want to play.”
Trump, who beat O’Sullivan in a thrilling Northern Ireland Open final a fortnight ago, thinks he may be waiting a long time for a breakaway tour.
“I think he’s living on a different planet to the rest of us,” he said. “Money’s not an issue to him, he can take chances, he’s got such a strong following he’s always going to be able to earn money in the game, he’s got absolutely no worries. I think he’s a bit on his own there.
“Personally, I think what (World Snooker boss) Barry Hearn has done is amazing for us, the money is going up every year, conditions have been a lot better recently, tables are playing well. I’m more than happy with what’s going on and how I’m playing.
“Obviously you’d always be happy to have another tour on the side, earning extra money, but for most of the players I think we’re all pretty happy.”