Friday, April 14, 2006

Snooker Rebellion

According to the BBC, the world's leading snooker players are up in arms about sponsorship restrictions in place for the forthcoming World Championships. Since the end of tobacco sponsorship in Britain, the online poker casinos have filled the breach. Seems rather like fighting vice with vice to me, but then again vice is the prerogative of the individual.

In any case, are sponsoring most major snooker tournaments now, which prevents players sponsored by other gambling companies from displaying their logos during said tournaments. So not only has revenue decreased by limiting the potential pool of sponsors, but personal income is declining quite severely, too. Snooker is not the only sport that has been affected by such gambling restrictions. The ICC, and more recently the West Indies Cricket Board, have almost been torn apart by team sponsors demanding individual players give up agreements with rival companies.

It is my opinion that the organising bodies are dead wrong on this front. They shouldn't have sufficient power to restrict their players' earnings. That is the right of the players. Admittedly, the snooker dispute is not as serious as the West Indies' cricket dispute, because outside of the major championships the snooker players are free to be sponsored by who they wish. Nevertheless, it massively reduces the earning power of the players, and is bound to cause resentment.

Worst of all, it threatens the sorts of splits that can ruin a sport. Formula 1 seems to have perpetual crises with threats to form rival series. Darts is already split, so you have the anomaly of watching Sky and the BBC promote different "World Championships". If snooker tries to control the earnings of its players so closely, it risks a rival World Championship being created. And as Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty are rumoured to be among those most irritated, it is not as if such a tournament would lack credibility.

After all, the point of a world organisation for a sport is surely to look after the interests of its players? Blocking substantial income streams does not do that. Just as Matthew Engel criticises the ICC in this year's Wisden, so the World Snooker authority should be very wary of acting like an independent commercial body. The body would be nothing without its players - and if it continues to affect their earnings, nothing is very much what it might end up like.