Snooker’s governing body, the World Snooker Tour, has confirmed that “several” players have withdrawn from this year’s Snooker World Championship.
According to reports in China, up to 10 players have declined the opportunity to take part in the tournament, citing concerns regarding travel, and the quarantine regulations for coronavirus.
It is understood that Marco Fu, the current world number 50, and number 22-ranked Zhou Yuelong, are among those who have withdrawn.
None of the players concerned are believed to be among the current world top 16, meaning they would have been scheduled to take part in the qualifying rounds, which begin on 21 July.
Several players have indicated that they have decided not to travel to the UK
– World Snooker
Former finalist Dung Junhui, the world number 11, has said that he will take part – he missed the Coral Tour Championship last month citing the same concerns. Yan Bingtao, the other Chinese player in the top 16, is based in Sheffield and is therefore unaffected.
In a statement, World Snooker Tour said: “Several players have indicated that they have decided not to travel to the UK and the draw for the qualifying rounds will be made after the entry deadline which falls on 6 July.”
WPSBA chairman Jason Ferguson said: “Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic we have worked tirelessly to ensure that every player has the chance to play in the Betfred World Championship.
“We knew this would be a huge task in the climate, but not an impossible one – and we have now reached a point where players can make their own choice. We have done everything we can to support our playing membership. We appreciate that a small number have indicated their decision not to come to the UK, but the vast majority will compete and, without question, the show must go on.”
The tournament will run from 31 July to 16 August at the Crucible in Sheffield.
It’s not ideal for any players to have to miss out on a major sporting event, but more than 90% showing of the top ranks is an impressive showing. The sport is making the best of a bad situation, and, unfortunately, many foreign players could miss out because the sport is predominantly UK-based.
Snooker’s organising bodies have been hard at work, making every effort to allow players to come to Sheffield. Ferguson said: “We’ve been in contact with every single player. We’ve put in place travel and financial support for all players to help them get back to the UK, support for visas and everything. Some of them are thinking ‘shall we or shan’t we’, but our job is to present the opportunity for every single player to get here. On that, we’ve not failed.”
Could these players pulling out adversely affect the tournament? It’s rare for a player outside of the top 16 to win the tournament, but it’s not impossible. Shaun Murphy rewrote the history books when he claimed the title in 2005 – at the time, he was world number 48.
Rankings do mean very little in the grand scheme of things, and anyone at the top could realistically claim the crown, but the odds will always favour certain players.
The tournament qualifiers will involve 128 players from the elite pool
One thing that will be impacted is China’s attempts to finally put a World Champion in the record books. As of date, only three non-UK players have ever won the tournament – the Canadian Cliff Thorburn (1980), the Irishman Ken Doherty (1997) and the Australian Neil Robertson (2010).
Ding Junhui reached the final in 2016, the first Asian player ever to do so, and he’s hungry for a win. If he, or another Asian player, managed the feat this year, it would be a historic moment for the sport. But for all the players who didn’t feel as if they could come, a major question would always be hanging over their head – could it have been me?
The tournament qualifiers will involve 128 players from the elite pool, and only missing 10 in the midst of a pandemic is a substantial achievement. As the organisers have stressed, the show must go on and, for the most part, it largely will as expected – for snooker fans, this will be good news.