Venue in doubt for snooker world championships

Venue in doubt for snooker world championships

The head of World Snooker admits he is unsure whether Sheffield will continue to host the sport's World Championships.

The Crucible Theatre, widely regarded as the home of the sport, has been the venue for the championships since 1977.

Rodney Walker championed the cause of keeping them in Sheffield when he assumed the role of the head of the sport's governing body in 2004.

One year on from his appointment, Walker decided to award Sheffield a five-year contract to keep the tournament at the Crucible - despite interest from another five UK cities.

He spoke proudly of his decision to keep the tournament at the city of steel at the time but now concedes the championships may move abroad, possibly to China, where snooker is booming in popularity.

"I have a meeting with Sheffield City Council next week and I'm hopeful of resolving those discussions with a positive outcome that will see the event stay at Sheffield - but at this stage I can't say for certain where the future lies," he said.

"There's no doubt that they [China] have expressed an interest in hosting the tournament on more than one occasion to me, and we have also had a general inquiry from the Middle East as well.

"It's good that China has expressed an interest. But as a proud Yorkshireman, I hope Sheffield will be able to come up with an offer that makes it difficult for us to take it away from Sheffield."

The emergence of players like Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo has led to a rise in popularity snooker in China.

Moving the championship to China could lead to a vast increase in revenue. But any decision to move the event abroad will not be taken lightly, Walker confirms.

"It isn't as straightforward as China coming in and offering £10m (€11m) and us taking it or leaving it," he said.

"You have to take into account other factors - like our broadcast contract with the BBC (which has two years left to run), the level of support we have here within UK and the views of the players. All of these things are important.

"Some players think it will be nice to have a change from the Crucible.

"The majority of players, I think, would say that the Crucible is the home of snooker - like Lord's is the home of cricket and Wimbledon is the home of tennis."

Three-time champion Ronnie O'Sullivan admitted in January he was becoming bored of the sport and it needed to be completely overhauled if it was to survive.

He suggested only a celebrity mogul like Simon Cowell could increase its popularity and save the sport, but Walker is adamant snooker is not a dying sport.

"We are looking at new initiatives for the game, and I think the future looks very bright indeed," said the 65-year-old.

"We have built up the China market and we're looking to open up the Middle East market as well.

"Things change. People often say that snooker is not how it used to be.

"They say it's not like the great Dennis Taylor v Steve Davis final (in 1985), but at that time there were four TV stations - now there are over 300.

"The fact that the World Championships in 2008 had 24.5 million viewers in over 80 countries and that 100 million in China watched the final shows there is an awful lot of interest in the sport around the world."

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