IT WAS a day of announcements at the Crucible as World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn held a press conference detailing tour invitations and changes to the structure of the World Championship for next year.
Advance notice of these changes, with no flesh on the bones, had triggered some wild speculation of matches in Sheffield being made shorter format and all manner of other apocalyptic notions.
But in the end the changes to the qualifying process were almost exactly as predicted on Inside Snooker almost a week ago – and the two two-year ‘invitations’ issued to Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis also no surprise.
These invitations will allow the legends, with 13 world titles and lifetimes of being ambassadors for the sport to their name, take a place in any ranking-event draws where the full complement of 128 is not present.
In practice, this is most if not all of them although that could change if the number of professionals were to rise from 132.
And that sleight of hand offset much of the anticipated criticism if the illustrious pair had just been given places at a young player’s expense. Given Hearn’s complete U-turn on the issue having declared in December Davis would not get a wild-card if he fell off tour, there has been a lot of care taken to dissipate any dissent and accusations of favouritism.
While Hearn’s business relationship and friendship with Davis is always going to be an easy stick with which to beat them both, the fact is that most neutrals would acknowledge Davis’s outstanding and unique ambassadorial contribution to the game and accept this is an appropriate gesture.
Davis, 56, had already declared his intention to play on in just the European Tour events if needs be. The 45-year-old Hendry has played his cards closer to his chest, but there is little doubt he will now take part in the World Championship, the UK Championship, and other UK, European and Chinese events that fit into his schedule.
There is possible provision for a up to another two of these invitations, and should Jimmy White fall off tour over the next week one may well be heading in his direction.
On qualifying, there will be a total of 144 players in the draw, 128 from the tour and 16 invites including all former world champions. Whether Cliff Thorburn, Terry Griffiths, John Parrott and Dennis Taylor fancy a crack at it remains to be seen. The remainder of the invites will be used tactically to help encourage snooker’s growth around the globe.
The importance of finishing in the top 16 will be greatly increased, with those finishing 17-32 having to play three qualifiers rather than the current one. The money earned from the China Open WILL count to the pre-Crucible cut-off next year, having not done so this time.
The prize money overall will rose to £1.35million, with £6,000 to the last 64 in qualifying, £10,000 to the last 32, £12,000 to the last 16 making it through, £20,000 to those reaching the second round proper, £30,000 for quarter-finalists, £60,000 for semi-finalists, £125,000 for the runner-up and again £300,000 to the winner.
There was also a mention of the future of the World Championship’s long-time home, the Crucible Theatre, in the wake of Judd Trump’s comments that it was perhaps too small to stage the world final on ticket sales grounds.
Hearn made the point that ticket sales actually formed a small part of overall revenues relative to the lure of the venue for broadcasters, sponsors and other media and expected it to keep the tournament for the foreseeable future. The contract is up for renewal next year, though the BBC have their own deal for a further two years, hinting at no move away.
And though not in the press conference, it has been confirmed that the Champion of Champions will once again be staged at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, though earlier and starting on November 3 2014.
Photographs by Monique Limbos