Coronavirus: How snooker will return to live action on Monday

By Shamoon HafezBBC Sport
Mark Selby
Snooker will make its return, but without the watching crowd

It has felt like a long two months since live sport last took place in the UK but 1 June marks the return to action.

Snooker is leading the way with the staging of the Championship League in Milton Keynes starting on Monday, following the government's 'phase three' guidance which paves the way for competition to return.

Star names including world champion Judd Trump, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson have all entered, with matches taking place behind closed doors and broadcast free-to-air on ITV4.

BBC Sport has been given an insight into the initial obstacles posed by the halting of the sport and the planning and protocols of making a comeback.

Lockdown poses practice problems

Judd Trump
Trump won the last event, the Gibraltar Open, playing the final without a crowd

The last snooker tournament ended on 15 March as world number one Trump won the Gibraltar Open to claim a record sixth ranking title of the season without any spectators.

Then the global lockdown took hold meaning the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) had to ensure all tour players were safe, not stranded in any part of the world and with financial packages in place for those struggling in any way.

Once that was ensured and not knowing when the sport would be played again, the problem of being able to practice posed a major obstacle - surprisingly only 10 of the 128 players have their own table at home, with others located in office buildings, academies or designated places in clubs.

Snooker's All-Party Parliamentary Group submitted proposals to the government on how players will get access to the facilities in a safe manner, which was given the go-ahead.

Three-time world champion Selby, one of the fortunate ones to have his own snooker table, told the BBC: "The Bundesliga is the only live sport being shown at the moment but there is nothing on in the UK, so we are going to be the first sport back.

"That is great for snooker and you might get some new people interested in the sport, but we we have been starved of sport for so long now so any kind of sporting action on TV will make people tune in."

Strict testing in place

The World Snooker Tour announced on 21 May that the 64-man, non-ranking Championship League will be the first event to mark the return of snooker, taking place at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

The venue for the indoor sport is important - it not only stages the matches but has an on-site hotel too meaning players, officials and World Snooker Tour staff are contained at the complex until 11 June.

But strict Covid-19 testing through external medical advisers has been put in place for those permitted to attend and they will not be allowed to enter until the tests show negative.

While the tests are being analysed, players will be required to wait in isolation in a private area and unable to move until given the all-clear.

If a player wins a match and leaves the building, he will be tested again on his return before being allowed to re-enter the venue, though no guests will be allowed to attend.

A catering service will be provided at the hotel, though no-one is allowed to share food or have dinner together.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson told BBC Sport: "We have put extensive work and research into how we can create a sterile environment, including reducing the number of people on site, minimise the impact of people crossing over each other inside the venue.

"Putting together all this process has taken time and we are very happy we can return to work. We are not going to be complacent."

'We are not in the business of cuts'

As well as having no crowd to play in front of, there are a number of safety measures and protocols which have been put in place.

There will be social distancing measures throughout the venue and players seated at least two metres apart during matches, which is not a problem for snooker.

Players must use anti-bacterial hand sanitiser before matches and avoid handshakes, while first aid personnel will be on site at all times.

The only player not to enter on medical grounds is world number 48 Anthony Hamilton, who suffers from severe asthma, while those living outside the UK have also not been able to take their places.

Ferguson added: "It is a very welcome measure to bring some live sport back on to TV. Players want to play, compete and entertain the public.

"On this occasion they will have to do it on the screens. We are in a new world and the World Snooker Tour will embrace it.

"Whatever happens from now, we are not in the business of cuts, we are in the business of moving forward."