Think Norway v Finland in a sporting context and ski-jumping springs more readily to mind than snooker – but the Scandinavians changed all that in Beijing.
As World Snooker bosses talk to Finland about the possibility of staging a European Tour event, Kurt Maflin – a Londoner based in Oslo for many years with a Norwegian family – and Finland’s Robin Hull clashed in the last 16 at the University Gymnasium.
Maflin won 5-1 and reaching the quarter-finals was a big result for the 31-year-old, a talented player who hinted at finally making a big breakthrough a couple of years ago after battling back from a serious car crash that saw a plate and screws inserted in his shoulder.
Pickings have been sparse this term though for Maflin, and though he has decided to move back to Coulsdon’s Frames club as a base after years of struggling with no sparring partners in Oslo, the world No44 would still love to see Scandinavia get the boost of a tour tournament.
Maflin said: “The season has been shocking up to here, so it is huge getting to the quarters and hopefully this will turn things around ahead of the world qualifiers.
“I will be back practising in Coulsdon next season and while I don’t want to use it as the sole excuse for my form, practising on your own every single day has been difficult. It has been crucifying not to kick on, because I feel like I have underachieved but that could change.
“The game against Robin was interesting, he is a nice guy and I know he is battling for his tour place - I am certainly used to seeing the two countries fight it out on TV in ski jumping or biathlon.
“But I hope there can be a European Tour event in one of the two countries, there is a lot more interest in Norway than there used to be when I moved out there. The interest is high on the TV with Eurosport and I am sure such an event would be a success in Oslo. People would come from Trondheim and Bergen to watch, a fair distance.”
Hull, battling to hang on to his tour place in Beijing, was the early beneficiary of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s late withdrawal from the China Open, beating wild-card Yan Bingtao 5-1 to go straight into the last 32 in Beijing.
You could lazily revert to some stereotypes often bandied around about Finland (and I’m about to) and say that World Snooker are talking to a country populated by rally-driving, javelin-throwing, long-distance running, vodka-drinking ice hockey players spending large amounts of time deprived of the sun’s rays.
A lack of sunlight shouldn’t bother snooker’s night-owl fraternity too much, at least.
Finland is like Germany in some respects, a European country with a growing television audience for snooker, boosted by Eurosport’s season-long coverage of the vast majority of the tournaments, but lacking players and facilities.
Show a sports-minded Finn a picture of O’Sullivan and they’ll more than likely know who he is. But chances are they wouldn’t know how to play the game, and even if they did, they might struggle badly to find a club that could accommodate that need.
Hull said: “The people probably deserve an ET event in Scandinavia, and I would obviously say Finland, because they watch in big numbers on Eurosport. For a country of 5 million or whatever, viewing figures are in hundreds of thousands which is substantial in percentage terms.
“Helsinki would be the place in Finland, it would be crazy to consider anywhere else, it is the biggest market and has the venues. Finland is a racing nation with its cars, loves athletics and winter sports so we are breaking new ground with the snooker.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos