WORLD Snooker chairman Barry Hearn confirmed on Thursday night that he is giving serious consideration to awarding Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry tour wild-cards.
The 56-year-old Davis, of course, has recently fallen off the tour though made it clear he does not intend to retire, rather to play on in some form.
Hendry, 45, retired from the tour two years ago, signing off with an 11th 147 maximum break at the World Championships that year at the Crucible.
And Jimmy White, who could yet come into this same equation, is teetering on the brink in 64th and final place on the money list, sweating on results in Sheffield.
Hearn has a problem on this issue, and it is one he acknowledged on Five Live as he contemplated a “360 degree about turn”.
Just leaving the questionable mathematics aside, Hearn has spent years establishing and championing a snooker meritocracy, where everything is earned.
To hand out wild-cards to potentially three legends of the game presumably at the expense of someone might very easily be seen as totally at odds with those ideals.
And in an interview carried in the Daily Express last year, Hearn accurately summed up Davis’s decision to take a big cheque and do the ‘I’m A Celebrity’ show in the jungle (missing the chance of prize money at the UK Championship) as a “calculated risk”.
He further added at that time that “the days of giving him a wild-card, those days are gone”.
On the other hand, Hearn will do it if he thinks it is the right thing to do. And there is no doubt that he believes Davis, Hendry and White have made a huge, unique and lasting contribution.
He would almost certainly argue that people should take a step back, forget it is him involved, Davis’s friend and manager, and simply assess a man’s case on its merits and on a 36-year professional career dedicated to snooker.
On that front it would be a harsh critic who would begrudge Davis, and it is not just a case of what he has won (81 titles including six at the Crucible), but what he has done.
So much of the ambassadorial work Davis does goes on behind the scenes, his time freely given to help promote the sport in a host of ways including the Cue Zone into Schools programme.
He has been a player, a champion, a coach, a board member, a TV pundit and commentator but there can be no doubt that his falling off the tour last week has crystallised the wild-card issue.
Having spoken to Davis on this issue yesterday, he believes a wild-card is less damaging to the potential career of a young prospect than perhaps taking a place from them via Q-School, which he currently has no plans to play in.
But in a way that is the dilemma confronting Hearn, who says the problem is giving him “sleepless nights”. At least he would have played in it that way.
There will be a board meeting next week, with this issue added to the agenda, which of course also raises the possibility of a sensational Hendry comeback to the tour.
It is likely Hearn will abstain from any vote involving Davis, although you imagine the other board members will be aware of his desired outcome.
In the immediate aftermath of Davis falling off tour fellow professionals were queuing up on Twitter to call for a wild-card for him. But these were not people with anything to lose by it being granted.
My hunch is that for millions of casual snooker followers, this is a no-brainer – give Davis the wild-card. For the smaller snooker community opinion is more divided, with some genuinely held convictions that this would set a bad precedent and goes against eberything Hearn has been saying for years.
Not one to sit on the fence, my own view is that I would be swayed by the ‘unique and outstanding contribution’ argument where Davis and Hendry are concerned – but can see the case against, and it is also compelling.
Pick any two people from within the snooker community at random and there is every chance they would be arguing the toss on the issue within moments. The decision is awaited with interest.
Photographs by Monique Limbos