Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Allen threaten walkouts in dispute with World Snooker Tour

'Don’t be surprised if I miss the World Championships.'

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Allen threaten walkouts in dispute with World Snooker Tour
2023 Wuhan Open - Day 2
Ronnie O’Sullivan is unhappy with the promotion of snooker in the UK (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan says he could skip the World Championship this season, while Mark Allen has suggested top players boycott an event as the dispute between World Snooker Tour and some of the sport’s biggest stars rumbles on.

Conflict has arisen between players and the powers that be over big-money exhibitions in China that are being staged while ranking events are running elsewhere.

This week some top players are playing in Shanghai while the Northern Ireland Open qualifiers are staged in Sheffield, while there was due to be an exhibition in Macau next week while the main stages of the Northern Ireland Open are played in Belfast.

Five players – John Higgins, Mark Selby, Luca Brecel, Ali Carter and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh – were due to play in Macau and withdrew their entries from Northern Ireland, but were warned by WST that playing in the exhibition during the ranking event was in breach of their players contracts and they would face sanctions if they did so.

The exhibition has since been moved to December, but the five players in question had already withdrawn from Belfast, so they will not be playing in anything next week.

O’Sullivan will be in Belfast and is playing in Shanghai this week, but is unhappy with players not being able to act freely, with reports that even during this week’s event a social media blackout has been imposed on those involved.

‘It was almost blackmail to those playing in the Shanghai exhibition – to say you have to do this and do that,’ said O’Sullivan. ‘It would make most players just not want to play there so much. Most players would take these letters as a threat. These days I’d just say, “I’m not playing – what are you going to do about it?” And I will always pay attention to my tennis elbow and my mental health.

‘Get a decent promoter on board in the UK and stop treating the players like a piece of s**t. Do it properly. Or don’t get upset when players complain. WST will try and change the player’s contract and clamp down. But the more they do, the worse they might make it for themselves. They’ll say, “You can’t play in anything, you can’t have a cue in your hand, anywhere, whether it’s streamed or not, if it’s not a tour event.”

‘But I’m doing my own thing, I’ve a lot going on in China – don’t be surprised if I miss the World Championships. What has happened with these exhibitions in Shanghai and Macau and the fallout – it’s going to happen again. The model is f****d up – they’ve got it wrong. It doesn’t support 128 players.’

World Snooker Tour responded to the Rocket, saying they are working with players and promoters of exhibitions to try and make sure all needs are catered for.

A statement read: ‘Last month, Ronnie won £220,000 at the invitational Shanghai Masters we brought back to the calendar. To some extent we’re victims of our own success as we’ve developed a thriving market now creating extra opportunities for players.

‘We understand certain players may want to compete in exhibition events and will continue to discuss this with them in a respectful and constructive manner, as we have done this month in agreeing dates for the Macau event.’

World Snooker Shanghai Masters 2023 - Day 7
Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Luca Brecel in the final of the Shanghai Masters last month (Picture: Getty Images)

Allen is not involved in Shanghai, nor was he due to play in Macau as Northern Ireland is his home event and he has won the last two editions of the Belfast tournament.

He agrees with O’Sullivan that restrictions on players are too onerous and has called on his fellow elite stars of the game to consider boycotting an event to bring about change.

‘I think the game is in disarray, it’s gone nowhere in recent years,’ Allen told the Irish Mirror. ‘I do not think that anything will change until the players revolt and in my view we need to boycott collectively as top players missing an event, that’s the only way things will ever change.

‘The statements WST have been putting out are amateurish. To say that they’ve treated the players with respect is laughable. There’s a lot of guaranteed money for these exhibitions. Whereas the prize money for the Home Nations in particular has really stagnated. Ultimately if prize money is bigger in events like Belfast then people wouldn’t even consider exhibitions.

2023 Wuhan Open - Day 3
Mark Allen feels a boycott of WST tournaments could be needed (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Ronnie’s hit the nail on the head with a lot of the things he’s said. He’s absolutely right. They’re able to hide behind the players’ contract. That doesn’t mean it’s right or it’s fair. I just know if I was one of the players involved then I would have taken a stand because the contract we have is far too restrictive.

‘If you don’t sign the contract you can’t play snooker, so ultimately you have to sign it because I want to play tournaments, compete and earn a living for my family but that doesn’t mean I’m happy with a lot of things in the contract.’

World Snooker Tour have hit back at Allen’s claims and say they will be taking action against him for ‘false and defamatory’ remarks.

A statement read: ‘We have offered Mark three meetings in the past three months, two of which face to face, and he has refused to engage. We had finally arranged to meet with him in the next week but he has clearly decided that he would not want to do so and has made these public comments instead. We strongly refute these allegations which are false and defamatory and will be taking necessary action.’

MORE : Judd Trump wins inaugural Wuhan Open to claim two titles in two weeks in two continents

MORE : Northern Ireland Open draw confirms ‘Macau 5’ will not play the event

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