Snooker bosses threaten to move World Championship from Crucible to Qatar as talks begin

The World Snooker Championship could yet follow the football World Cup to Qatar – according to Barry Hearn. The former chairman of World Snooker always insisted that the blue-riband tournament would never leave its spiritual home at the Crucible while he was in charge.

But son Eddie, whose passion is more for boxing, is now running the Matchroom sporting empire with Hearn Sr an influential honorary president, and Steve Dawson the snooker supremo. The deal with Sheffield City Council for staging the biggest event on the calendar in the iconic theatre expires in 2027 – 50 years after it moved there.

Players and fans alike love the atmosphere, history and tradition of the 980-capacity venue – but there are limitations on space and ticket sales. And Hearn has revealed that with talks ongoing about staging regular ranking events in the Middle East, the Qataris have already signalled an interest.

In what looks a clear message to the Steel City, Hearn said: “Take the Crucible – the debate goes on. 980 seats. I am getting closer with Saudis on tournaments. Qatar said to me last week ‘What year does that World Snooker contract run out with Sheffield? They asked me. I said: ‘It’s 2027-28.’ They replied: ‘Can we be in consideration? Can we have a say in it?’

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“They don’t have a snooker background. But it’s ‘if you want to do a nice big event, then we will put you in the mix.’ Who knows what is going to happen. I mean I have told them [Sheffield[ what they have got to do. I haven’t seen too much activity in that way. We are part of the Sheffield development plan. But again I need a bit more juice on it. I live in a world of people talking about things.

“In the world I like to operate in, it’s where people do things. They are in that process, I am not criticising them. Let’s hope it comes up. We are in 2023. They have four to five years. But I don’t want it to be a decision made in four or five years. I am a Sheffield fan, I want to stay here. But it might not be my decision. Well… it is not. I am the president non-executive. So I don’t really have any power – other than we are still going to do what I tell them to do!

“It is different, Eddie is the main man. He is not a snooker fan. He likes it, but…you know. He has come off the board of World Snooker because we are focusing on more global growth. Snooker is a big part of it but I know I have the right team running snooker. I am relaxed as much as I can be. But I still have disagreements.”

Hearn also commented on the Premier League banning front-of-shirt sponsorship from betting firms, with snooker having relied heavily on similar backing from that sector. He added: “On the betting sponsorship, listen…they are very smart. It is always better to make a concession before you are told to make a concession. They like that. The government like it because it goes, ‘look at us, we have controlled the whole situation’. They take the credit for it.”