Ronnie O’Sullivan warns snooker bosses he could have ‘no option’ but to stop playing
'We are at a sort of crossroads now.'
Ronnie O’Sullivan intends to keep playing snooker for some years to come, but warns the powers that be that he has ‘no option’ but to quit if he can’t spend most of his playing time in China.
The sport has returned to China this season for the first time since the pandemic wiped Asian events off the calendar and the passion for snooker is clearly undimmed in the Far East.
Three ranking events and the non-ranking Shanghai Masters are back on the calendar, while players have been given a string of other opportunities to play in exhibitions and tournaments affiliated with the Chinese Billiards and Snooker Association (CBSA).
With these opportunities there has come clashes, with World Snooker Tour unhappy that players are playing exhibitions while professional events are taking place and threatening serious repercussions if any do choose to play elsewhere instead of in a main tour commpetition.
While O’Sullivan wasn’t involved in the specific situation, the quintet of Mark Selby, John Higgins, Luca Brecel, Ali Carter and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh became ‘The Macau Five’ as they hoped to play an exhibition in Macau during the Northern Ireland Open but were threatened with punishment if they did so.
The exhibition was eventually moved, but the players had already pulled out of the Belfast tournament so they missed out on playing in anything that week.
O’Sullivan, who pulled out of the Champion of Champions last week after a hectic schedule saw him playing in Tianjin, China just days before, says that if he is not able to compete when he wants in China then he is likely to give up the game all together.
‘I have no option now. If I can’t go out and do what I need to do – which is play a lot in China – then I won’t ever play again,’ O’Sullivan told the BBC. ‘We are at a sort of crossroads now.
‘There’s not enough here for me in the UK to justify the effort that I put in. When I go to China I play in great venues, great crowds, great prize money. And I love it.
‘If that gets to the point where I’m not able to do that or I’m not allowed to do that, then I probably won’t play. I’ll probably go and play Chinese 8 ball because I still want to play snooker. I still want a cue in my hand.’
The return of the Chinese events has been a huge boost for snooker in terms of global appeal, prize money and players having earning opportunities.
However, players are already complaining about the packed schedule which includes jetting from the UK to China and back regularly, while some feel restricted by their players’ contract which restricts when they can play exhibitions.
The glamorous, big-budget Chinese events can also shine some of the more modest UK tournaments in a poor light, although the three biggest events remain in Britain; the World Championship, Masters and UK Championship.
The Rocket says he and the other top players are not looked after enough in the current climate, saying: ‘I don’t get appreciated on the snooker circuit. None of the top players do in my opinion.
‘I’d love to be able to keep playing snooker for the next five, six, seven, eight years. But if I’m going to be forced into a situation where that isn’t possible then I’m not going to accept what the other 130 players do, which is play tournament after tournament.’
O’Sullivan’s aim does remain to continue playing and that is by far the most likely scenario for some years to come.
Asked at the premiere of his documentary The Edge of Everything on Tuesday how long he has left in the sport, he said: ‘I’ve got another five years. I could do 10 if I wanted, but I think five would just be enough.’
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