June 21, 2024
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News Pool Snooker Sports

Billiard Sports in Turmoil as 4 players Rally Against WST

The rising profile of professional Billiards sports is facing a major challenge.  The last few weeks have been a trying period for players, promoters and administrators in the various sports billiards, snooker and pool. 

The World Pool Association (WPA), governing body for Pool Billiards proposed to wade the big stick against professional players that participate in non-sanctioned events come March, 2024 in response to the perceived competition that promoters who organised non-sanctioned events poses to the organisation. 

In Snooker, the World Snooker Tour (WST) owned by Matchroom Multi Sports, wrote a sternly worded letter to their players who preferred playing in exhibition events intend of honoring their contractual obligation. 

Unfortunately, all the controversy is connected to the very important name “Matchroom”, the biggest promoter of Billiards sports in the world. Matchroom Sport was founded in 1982 as a sporting event Promotions Company by English entrepreneur Barry Hearns now retired and is currently ran by his son Eddie Hearns. It first came to attention in the sports of snooker and boxing and is also involved in pool, bowling, golf, fishing, darts, table tennis, poker and gymnastics. 

Matchroom may be best known for its promotion of boxing and Darts, but its sporting portfolio extends far broader than that. Netball, gymnastics, fishing, Snooker and Pool are other niche sports that has witnessed the Matchroom Sports magical touch that was performed in darts through the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) 

“When I first started with the nine ball pool, there were three events a year. Now in 2023, we are doing ten. It’s getting similar to what the PDC has done in Darts, and with World Snooker, where the sport has world rankings and full tours.

Creating that full tour with Nine-ball is a big focus for us. Previously there hasn’t been any funding or investment in pool. We have now launched the rankings and since then it’s been a whirlwind says Emily Fraser, CEO Matchroom Multi Sports as published on https://www.sportindustry.biz/ 

The Billiards sport properties now owned by Matchroom pool include US Open 9 Ball Championship, World Nine Pool Tour (WNT) and the World Snooker Tour (WST) which has made it a very influential player in the industry. In collaboration with its very extensive media partners, the company has effectively deplored it expertise in organizing very attractive and television friendly events thereby attracting huge followership and capital in sponsorship and advertisement. 

It is important to note that this success has trickled down into the sports itself, as players now have the opportunity to earn more from their skill as athletes. People are also now more willing to pay to watch the keenly contested matches so we have experienced tremendous global growth and acceptance of Pool as a major sport. In the past, Snooker and Pool have been considered mere games or regional fringe sports with different versions commonly played locally or in-country.

In 2020 Matchroom Pool acquired the rights in perpetuity to host the World 9- Ball Championship in a ground-breaking agreement with the WPA. Here is what Barry Hearns, the then Chairman of Matchroom said during the event as published on the Matchroom website.

“We are making a big push on 9 ball pool and we’ve had a lot of success over the last 12 months, particularly with the US Open which was sensational in Las Vegas, But this will be even bigger for the world of pool.”

“We’ll have 128 players, prize money will go up, the event will be open to men and women and it will be televised all over the world. This is a major addition to Matchroom Pool and I think a real huge benefit to pool players and pool fans all around the world”.

The partnership led to the successful organization of the maiden edition of the World Nine Ball Championship in 2021 that offered a mouth watery prize fund of $300,000.00 with the winner walking away with $50,000 and a trophy. The event featured the top ranked licensed WPA Nine Ball Pool players and a list of Matchroom invitees from around the world.

What must have gone wrong between both parties is one very important question begging for an answer? Did the success of the events open the eyes of Matchroom to the huge potential and financial benefits in Nine Ball Pool, that it choose to go solo by directly signing its own contractual agreement with the players which has led to the birth of the WNT; and the introduction of a separate ranking ladder for the players? Was there a dis-agreement between Matchroom and the WPA that was not obvious to players and other observers including the media?

The obvious benefit which this has created is that it has jolted the WPA, who is a member of the World Confederation of Billiard Sports (WCBS), to its responsibilities to the sport and players as within a span of three to four months they have organized 3 major events that offered better prize fund to the players.

In July, the World Confederation of Billiard Sports (WCBS) organized the maiden edition of the WCBS Championship that was held in Ankara, Turkey. Following this event the WPA organized the 2023 WPA China Opens that offered the total prize money distributed amongst all the participants with the men’s tournament as a different individual tournaments.  the winner of the men’s tournament collect

This event has now witnessed a tremendous increase in the prize fund as $134,000 was awarded in 2010, $195,200 in 2014. The winner of the women’s tournament received the following since 2011 $30,000 US dollars, previously it was initially $25,000, then $26,000. Overall, the women’s 2014 prize money of $138,000 US dollars was distributed, in 2009, 

The recently concluded maiden edition of Qatar Open 9-Ball Championship that offered a $50,000 to the winner and $25,000 to the runner-up was another event organized by the WPA.

The forth coming Puerto Rico Billiard Expo with a $500,000 total prize fund comprising the Predator Pro Billiard Series with a $300,000 prize fund and the Puerto Rico 10 Ball Open offering $200,000.00.

Unfortunately, the much publicized 2023 China 9 Ball Open which attracted a good number of WPA ranked players witnessed a near total media blackout as the international Pool community were not able to televise the event proceeding live. This was a major failure on the part of the organizer when compares to events organized by Matchroom Pool.

Then came the shocking news where through a Media release the WPA announced the decision taken at the last general assembly that licensed players that participate in non WPA sanctioned events would face a suspension or ban effective March 2024.

What potential benefit does this draconian type of decision offer the players and Billiard sports? Was Matchroom the target of the decision? I think the Pool community deserves an explanation as it will help calm frail nerves. The WPA should not create a situation that places the players in a difficult and uncomfortable position where they have to take sides. We need an adult in the room who can negotiate a compromise between all parties or the players may be forced to form a union that will protect their interest who can take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)

There is a misconception about the role of sports governing body or regulator. Yes, FIFA has successfully become the alpha and omega of football both as regulator and organizer. But, this has not been the same story in many other sports. There has been the cat and mouse race for governing bodies and promoters of many sports. We have witnessed many governing bodies becoming event organizers which have placed them in competition with independent promoters of the various sports. This challenge is not restricted to the world stage, even at the local level we have witnessed the rise of this ugly predicament where the Federations are in continuous competition with local promoters.

Let us get wisdom from the events that happened in the UK between the then British Darts Organisation (BDO) affiliate of the WDF and the then World Darts Council WDC that was formed by Tommy Cox, Dick Allix and John Markovic when they broke away from the BDO. At that time the BDO tried to stifle the growth of the WDC by banning players who joined the WDC. At the judgement of CAS and the rebranding of the WDC by changing its name to the PDC and registering it as a sports promotion company, history has proved it benefits. 

Meanwhile another Tsunami is brewing in Snooker because some players have refused to honour their contractual obligation to that WST which led them to send a sternly worded letter to these players who choose to play in an exhibition tournament. It was published in the US Sun, an online publication that SNOOKER is facing another crisis with top stars choosing Far East exhibition cash over playing in a traditional UK event. Mark Selby, John Higgins and Luca Brecel are leading a player mutiny by handing an embarrassing snub to snooker bosses.

Despite threats of legal action from World Snooker Tour, the five opted instead for a lucrative exhibition in Macau.

WST bosses sent emails and strongly worded letters claiming if the players took part in Macau they would be breaching contracts, harming the game and facing disciplinary action. But lawyers representing the furious players, unhappy with heavy-handed tactics, believe the threats are baseless since they did not enter the Northern Ireland event and are just doing what they want in their own time.

Success at times attracts some unwelcome visitors. Is that what we are witnessing in Billiards Sport?

IDADA Joachim
President, Snooker and Pool Players Alliance

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