We often hear the phrase “it’s only a game” but in fact sport is both big business and can inspire passion and everything – good and bad – that goes with it.

The daily blather of internet chat can often lead to people coming to virtual blows. In the real world people sometimes come to actual blows over sport. Then there’s the drugs, the match fixing, the lack of respect for officials and paying public and all the negatives that can sometimes make sport a pretty nasty place.

So let’s celebrate some overwhelmingly good news: Ali Carter has marked his return to competitive action by winning the General Cup in Hong Kong. He beat Shaun Murphy 7-6 in today’s final.

Ali had not played in a tournament since the World Championship. He was diagnosed with a form of lung cancer shortly afterwards. While his fellow players were potting balls on television he was a long way from the bright lights of the arena, undergoing chemotherapy and having to manage the many competing emotions he must have been feeling.

Anyone who has followed his tweets during this time cannot fail to have been inspired by the positive attitude he has displayed throughout, which must surely have given great encouragement to anyone else going through a similar ordeal.

That he could win his first tournament back is remarkable. The General Cup is a small invitation event but featured top players. Untelevised, it seemed to be the perfect way for Carter to ease himself back into playing. But to win the title is quite something.

It isn’t part of the World Snooker tour and so doesn’t get Ali into the Champion of Champions tournament, but I think he should be in it anyway. They can’t fill the whole field without topping it up from the ranking list and I can’t seriously see anyone complaining.

Sport is full of rivalries and not usually a place for sympathy but when someone is taken seriously ill, that goes out of the window. Snooker is a kind of family. Like any family it is full of fall-outs and aggro but it comes together in a crisis.

Carter’s ranking was protected so he will play in the Masters in January and can now look forward to the rest of the season with what is likely to be a new perspective on the sport.

So yes, it’s only a game, but in snooker, as in life, Ali Carter has proved himself to be a winner.


Thanks to Tommy Tanaka for the photograph.