UK Championship: Snooker boss says Shaun Murphy row 'great' for the sport

Steve Dawson
Steve Dawson replaced Barry Hearn as chairman of the World Snooker Tour in May
2021 Cazoo UK Championship
Venue: York Barbican Dates: 23 November - 5 December Coverage: BBC One, BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, BBC Sport website and app
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World Snooker Tour chairman Steve Dawson says the manner of Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy's first-round UK Championship exits to amateurs has been "great" for snooker.

Robertson lost 6-2 to John Astley while Murphy heavily criticised the presence of amateurs at professional events after losing 6-5 to China's Si Jiahui.

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Radio 5 Live that covered the financial health of the game, the importance of women on the tour and attracting new audiences, Dawson stressed those results, and the row following Murphy's defeat, had raised the profile of the game.

"It has caused a huge furore with remarkable interest from snooker fans and others," Dawson said.

"I gave Shaun [Murphy] a call the other day and he was surprised as well. There's no such thing as bad publicity. Ticket sales doubled overnight. In an ideal world these things would be discussed behind closed doors but it is out in the open.

"These amateurs are not amateurs like you would find in golf where if they win they can't have any prize money. These guys earn the prize money they play for and £6,500 for any amateur is a significant amount which could lead to a springboard to their career.

"They have been fantastic stories and that reinforces our position in relation to having amateurs in the event. They really are surprises when you look at how far apart they are, not even in the rankings. It is just great."

Chinese cancellations still 'a huge setback'

Dawson replaced Barry Hearn as World Snooker Tour chairman earlier this year and on the surface the game appears to be booming.

With 30 tournaments, around £15m in prize money up for grabs and crowds back in arenas, the game can look to the future with optimism even amid the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, there are still some notable and lucrative omissions, with the likes of the International Championship, Shanghai Masters and China Open yet to return to the calendar because of travel restrictions.

"It is a huge setback and it affects the balance of the tour dramatically," Dawson added, stressing his remit to grow the sport internationally.

"It is something we are looking at all the time. I understand they [the Chinese government] won't consider any changes until after the Winter Olympics so we are watching that with interest.

"We are looking at new events in mainland Europe and mopping up areas that have shown interest over time so out of this disaster we may find some new place that takes events on a regular basis.

"We have got a few irons in the fire in terms of the United States. It is very early stages. There is a big cultural difference but there is interest."

'They are becoming battle-hardened'

The presence of female players like women's world number one Reanne Evans and Ng On-yee from Hong Kong has made the world rankings more diverse.

Both were handed two-year tour cards from the start of the 2021-22 season and while they are yet to win a match this term, Dawson drew comparisons with Fallon Sherrock's progression in darts.

"These players are on the Tour due to their abilities," Dawson said. "There is no reason why we should not have more and more women on the tour.

"They are becoming battle-hardened. I know they have not won many games yet but they are learning all the time and that will give them a huge amount of confidence going forward.

"We have seen it in darts with Fallon and there is no reason a woman cannot do the same in this sport."

Analysis

BBC Radio 5 Live's snooker reporter Jamie Broughton

For the last decade Barry Hearn has run the professional game, so it was fascinating to hear the new man in charge of the World Snooker Tour give his thoughts on the sport and where he wants to take it.

Earlier this week, the WST issued a statement strongly disagreeing with Shaun Murphy's comments that amateur players shouldn't be on tour, so it was no surprise to hear him say amateurs making up the numbers at tournaments is good for the development of the global game.

Snooker fans will also be pleased to hear that the sport can cope with the financial loss of big overseas events like those in the Far East and interested in plans to stage new tournaments in places like North America, where pool is the dominant cue sport.

Reanne Evans and Ng On-yee got to play in the TV stages of the UK Championship for the first time in York and there was a hint that their impact could see more female players given two-year tour cards in the future.

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