Setting realistic goals

“Five years ago, no player could gain access to the Tour unless he came over to the UK. This is changing, as we are now taking the sport to the people instead of expecting the people to come to the Tour,” says the WPBSA chairman, Jason Ferguson. By Nandakumar Marar.

Cue sport professionals have started looking at India as a land of opportunity following the successful conduct of the second Indian Open International Ranking Snooker 2015 by the BSFI (Billiards and Snooker Federation of India). And with the elevation of the BSFI president, Capt. P. V. K. Mohan, to the post of the president of the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF), India is expected to host more high profile events.

“We are looking forward to Capt. Mohan to take the sport forward,” said Jason Ferguson, the WPBSA (World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association) chairman, while talking of plans to push for snooker as an Olympic sport by 2020 (Japan).

Speaking to Sportstar, Ferguson, who was in Mumbai recently for the Indian Open, also talked of snooker’s popularity in China and Thailand, the emergence of young champions and the proposed Asian Tour.

Question: India, with a multiple world champion (Pankaj Advani) and the numbers (population), is seen as the next destination for snooker. How is the WPBSA linking up with the BSFI to take the sport forward?

Answer: We are together for the long term. Working in the Indian Open was just the start of our journey. We have plans for a schools programme later in the year; we need the sport to reach more people.

Indian Open snooker is here to stay, with Delhi followed by Mumbai hosting it. Chennai is slated to host the event next year. £300,000 is big prize money. What more can be expected in terms of growth of the sport?

The average prize fund is around £500,000 for major events. I see India getting to this level eventually. We must walk before we run though, so a gradual development is healthy. It took nine years to develop the sport in China, and now they have eight events. India is a fast developing country and we hope to develop snooker here.

The Chinese snooker professionals figure prominently in the world rankings list. Ding Junhui is ranked No. 4, and two others (Xiao Guodong and Liang Wenbo) are in the top-25. What is China doing differently for its players to make such strides?

China and Thailand have a strong record in snooker. James Wattana of Thailand was the first Asian to burst on to the international scene. Since then snooker has taken off in Thailand. Both China and Thailand have excellent academies and a number of good coaches. We aim to work closely with the BSFI to do the same for India. Having top players is essential. India has Aditya Mehta, and more will follow.

Aditya moved to England seven years ago. He is now World No. 50. How far can he go?

He is talented, and he proved it when he won the gold medal for India at the World Games 2013. To go the extra mile, he will need to be more aggressive as a player. Aditya is starting to show signs of this. It’s a massive achievement to stay in England and compete. Maybe, he just needs more backing to take the next steps. Certainly, he has the ability.

The Asian Tour is set to become a reality. Beijing has a functioning snooker academy. Will this help the young Asian players turning professionals to make a living without having to shift their base to England?

The idea of the Asian Tour is to give opportunity to the players without the need to travel. We expect it to go further. Five years ago, no player could gain access to the Tour unless he came over to the UK. This is changing, as we are now taking the sport to the people instead of expecting the people to come to the Tour. We have six European Tour events and three tournaments in Asia. An amateur qualifying also takes place in these events that creates a qualifying structure for the players to win a place on the professional circuit.

In China, do you see snooker going deeper into society, with families and schools/colleges getting involved?

We are pushing snooker as a community benefit, especially in the cities where we hold the events. Some colleges have set up their own snooker associations and the social benefit is tremendous. Players are getting younger; they are also realising the necessity to be fit and healthy to withstand extensive travel. A 14-year-old from China had won the IBSF World Snooker Championship (Yan Bingtao) and he will join our Tour eventually.

Snooker’s attempt to gain acceptance as an Olympic sport is a brave move. It is influenced by television viewership and the number of people playing it...

As a television sport, snooker is huge. The world snooker events go to 87 countries and are watched by around 450 million people. I truly believe we deserve our space in the Olympics. We are already in the World Games. Our education programme, Cue Zone in School, is also engaging many young people, girls and boys. Not every child wants to play soccer, cricket, rugby etc. Snooker offers a healthy alternative, with many benefits like concentration, developing technical skills and good etiquette.

How will snooker strengthen the Olympic Movement in Asia, since Tokyo 2020 is supposed to be the entry point for the sport? How big is the sport in Japan?

Snooker is a small sport in Japan. Billiards, with pool and three-cushion billiards, is huge there. Snooker has a lot to offer. We are world leaders in anti-corruption strategies in sport, a hot topic for the IOC. The sport is strong in Asia; over 40 countries have established National governing bodies. There are 90 National governing bodies around the world.

Snooker creates opportunity for women to compete with men on the Tour. Can you name the performers breaking down barriers? What is the qualifying norm for women to be listed on the same ranking list as men?

There is no reason why women cannot compete on the World Tour. This is a sport of high skill, technique, concentration, hard work and practice. If snooker facilities around the world were more inviting for women, more would play and reach professional standard. Over the years, there have been top class ladies like Alison Fisher, Kelly Fisher and Reanne Evans. Many of them have moved to the USA for pool due to good earning opportunities. Reanne is an exception — a 10-time World ladies’ snooker champion. She continues to play snooker and we as a governing body must ensure the incentives are there for Reanne and others in the future to compete.

We have always operated with an open-door policy, men and women compete together. At least two women players have been ranked alongside their male counterparts in the world rankings.

Reanne made the last 64 of the Wuxi Classic in China two years ago. She will also gain access to the qualifying for the World snooker in Sheffield this year.