Snooker chief refutes O'Sullivan claims

Snooker chief refutes O'Sullivan claims

World Snooker chairman Rodney Walker has dismissed Ronnie O'Sullivan's claim that the sport is "dying" but admits it could be time for a change.

The World Championship begins in Sheffield on Saturday, and Walker is convinced the sport will continue to attract large television audiences, while matches play to packed Crucible crowds.

O'Sullivan called for a revamping of the sport back in January, suggesting it needed a promoter such as Simon Cowell to attract wider interest.

The 'Super 6s' experiment at the Crucible, which will take place as a side-show to the main event and involve standard rules but only six reds, to encourage quick-fire frames, is an indication that World Snooker are looking at all opportunities.

But Walker stressed: "It isn't a dying sport. We get tremendous audiences.

"And even some of these drawn-out finals get remarkable, loyal viewers."

Referring back to the final between John Higgins and Mark Selby in 2007, Walker added: "There were five million people watching at 11pm, and one and a quarter million people still watching at the death at 10 to one in the morning."

Away from the Crucible, there has been criticism from some players of the small crowds which lesser tournaments have attracted, and the fewer events on the calendar.

Walker told BBC Radio Five Live's 'Sportsweek' programme: "What I'm trying to do is to blend tradition with the need to modernise.

"There is absolutely no way we would sacrifice the best elements of snooker, such as you will see in the 17 days in Sheffield starting next weekend.

"But you have to learn from the way Twenty20 has revolutionised cricket and brought that sport to a different audience."

More tournaments are planned, although the new additions to the schedule are likely to have smaller prize-money pots and fewer ranking points on offer.

However the sport's authorities hope the new events will satisfy the players' desire for more frequent tournaments.

Walker is offering no guarantees that the World Championship will remain at Sheffield in the long run, with China a possible destination for the event given the high levels of interest in the country.

Sheffield's current contract runs through to the end of next year's tournament.

"I think the views about Sheffield versus China, or indeed anywhere else other than Sheffield, are very divided," Walker said.

"And I'm in the middle of discussions with Sheffield at the moment about the future, as indeed I talked to the Chinese when I was in Beijing last weekend.

"I'm on the side of what's best for snooker.

"The reality which not everybody realises is that China, or indeed Dubai where we've had some interest, may have very deep pockets, deeper pockets than Sheffield."

Former World Championship runner-up Jimmy White would not support a switch away from the South Yorkshire venue which has hosted the sport's most important tournament since 1977.

White said: "It's just an amazing venue and I think with how good Sheffield has been to us we should keep it in Sheffield."

Walker explained: "You can't ignore the popularity of the sport in China.

"We've been very fortunate that in the last three years, having taking an event over there at our own expense, they've picked it up and we now have two ranking tournaments there, one of which had an audience of 100 million people, simply because of the sheer numbers of people out there."

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