THE AWARDING of an OBE to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the New Year’s honours is long overdue recognition for one of Great Britain’s best known and most popular sportsmen.
The honours system remains controversial but if it exists to reward high profile achievement then O’Sullivan has been an outstanding candidate ever since he won his first world title in 2001 – if not before.
O’Sullivan, 40, is arguably the best player ever. Five world titles, five UK Championships, five Masters, 27 ranking titles, 13 maximums and more centuries than anyone else are the headlines from his playing career.
But with Ronnie it is also about how he makes people feel, how the way he plays makes people sit up and take notice. He can be brilliant, he can be maddening but he is never dull and he has helped to sustain snooker as a prominent television entertainment, including in darker days when politics reduced the circuit to a handful of tournaments.
His contribution to the sport in terms of the number of people he has brought to it is incalculable.
Like all successful sports people in individual sports, O’Sullivan has done what he has done for himself: for his own sense of achievement and satisfaction. But the net effect has been to delight and enthral fans around the world. Snooker has been the winner.
He is comparable in this respect to Tiger Woods in golf, another fascinating box office attraction who has elevated his sport to new heights.
Yes, Ronnie has also had many controversial moments, which his detractors will doubtless point to, and these must have counted against him when previous honours lists were being discussed. But nobody’s life should be boiled down to one or two incidents – good or bad. Rather, you look at the whole picture and in doing so with O’Sullivan you see a giant of the sport, a man who deserves this recognition, which is also in part recognition for snooker itself.
O’Sullivan is often described as a genius but this implies everything comes easily to him. In fact, he has worked really hard to attain the status he has. His career isn’t over yet but this OBE is at long last some acceptance from the establishment that he is a bona fide sporting legend whose achievements deserve respect.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.