Ronnie O'Sullivan 'ready to go' with breakaway snooker tour

Ronnie O'Sullivan
On the 2018/19 snooker calendar there are 20 ranking events played across Great Britain, Europe and Asia.

Ronnie O'Sullivan says he is "ready to go" and form a breakaway "Champions League-style" snooker tour.

The five-time world champion is unhappy with the number of events on the calendar and the travelling required.

The 42-year-old says Stephen Hendry is "ready to come out of retirement" and hopes John Higgins joins too.

But 1997 world champion Ken Doherty said he did not think the public would like the tour, and doubted if Higgins would be interested.

"You need those players on the tour but I could not see how it would work," Doherty said.

O'Sullivan suggested that, in addition to seven-time world champion Hendry, he would also invite Yu Delu and Cao Yupeng, the two recently banned Chinese players.

"I am looking for seven or eight real top-quality players," said O'Sullivan after his narrow second-round victory over Doherty at the UK Championship.

"I am just waiting for four or five unhappy players. I am ready to go and if someone offered me the opportunity to play on another platform, I would be gone tomorrow.

"I want to play in quality events, good venues against great players and that is what inspires me. The tour is fantastic for a lot of people but it is not for everybody.

"I am being patient because I still have 15 years left in this game and I feel I can play into my mid-50s easily. There is no rush."

O'Sullivan's comments come following a series of run-ins with World Snooker over the last year, in particular with chairman Barry Hearn.

Earlier this month, O'Sullivan called Hearn a "dictator" for the way the sport is run. In January, Hearn said the sport could survive without O'Sullivan.

At last year's World Championship, O'Sullivan claimed he was being "bullied" by snooker authorities, an allegation Hearn rejected as being "unfounded".

O'Sullivan, who says he has had conversations with financial backers, explained how he thinks his proposed breakaway would work:

Why does it need to happen?

"The public will have the choice of the best playing each other every week. You don't see Leyton Orient turning up to play Lionel Messi at Barcelona. It does not happen. It is demotivating.

"Messi would get fed up having to playing Huddersfield Town and Orient. He wants to play against Cristiano Ronaldo and wants to hear the Champions League music. It gets you excited. There is space for two tours. Everyone loves choice.

"As a sportsman, I like to see the green jacket in golf, I like to see Roger Federer in tennis coming out looking slick at Wimbledon. I don't want to see Federer at Richmond Park having to qualify for Wimbledon.

"The guy deserves a bit more than that. If they asked him to do that he would probably swerve it. John Higgins is no different to Federer or Rafael Nadal, they are in different sports but at the same level of class."

Who would be involved?

"It is a chance to get John Higgins, the two Chinese players [Yu Delu and Cao Yupeng] who have been banned, and I know another couple of top-ranked Chinese players who are unhappy at the travelling they have to do, playing in qualifiers at Barnsley.

"Stephen Hendry is ready to come out of retirement and is up for it and three or four other good players. I would have to have a package in place but I need players.

"I am ready but I cannot do it on my own. The whole idea is to play against quality players day in day out."

What would be the format?

"I doesn't need lots of top players, I am not looking for an alternative tour. I am looking for seven or eight real top-quality players, Champions League or ATP tennis style. Every match would be a final.

"You have your 128 players that you might want to watch, and then the crème de la crème playing match in, match out. It would be very different.

"I would not dream of putting an event on in which one guy is mauling another. It would have to be competitive."

Would players have to give up their tour card?

"Absolutely. It is a risk for Higgins and people like that.

"The 64th ranked player in the world might have played in 13 events and six months into the season he has made around £14,000. Do your maths, he has to find food money from somewhere.

"It is up to people to make a decision. I am looking for people who are ready and are at the point of no return."

The current world number 64, Craig Steadman, has earned £16,500 this season from the eight events that he has played in.

Where would it be played?

"There is talk about Abu Dhabi, Dubai, China is a nailed on one, Europe is very big. There are so many places you can go. They are just the start. We are talking at the moment."

'Higgins would not be up for it, no way'

While O'Sullivan is enthused at the prospect of a breakaway, his beaten opponent on Sunday takes a different view.

"It would [be sad]," said 1997 world champion Doherty. "They have tried it in other sports but it never really peeled off.

"Maybe darts [the PDC split from the BDO in the 1990s] in is a different example. But I don't think the public would like it. They want to see them playing in all the blue riband events including the UK Championship.

"Why would you want to break away when you can create amazing records, more than what O'Sullivan has already has done?

"Knowing John Higgins, I don't think he would be up for it anyway, no way."

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