Former world champion Ken Doherty insists that snooker bosses must resist commercial pressure to move from the Crucible, saying: “There are some things money can’t buy.”
Five time Betfred World Championship winner Ronnie O’Sullivan joined the debate about the future of the tournament on Sunday, claiming it was inevitable the event would leave.
The Rocket drew attention to the capacity of just 980 in the tiny but atmospheric arena, where the blue-riband tournament has been staged in Sheffield since 1977.
China, a growing force in the game, would love to have the World Championship at some stage and have the financial backing and the venues to put in a serious bid.
But there are even other frontiers, notably in Asia and Europe, might be interested.
The deals with the BBC and Sheffield run out next year, although both are currently negotiating two-year extensions, with the broadcaster thought to be close to agreement.
O’Sullivan, 40, had said: “I think there will inevitably be a move away from the Crucible at some point.
“There will come a point where they want 128 players at one venue like Wimbledon, and that won’t be this one.
“It is a great playing venue but not the best venue for getting in and out, and capacity.
“As the game grows and prize money grows I’m sure they might want to expand to somewhere where they can sell 4,000 or 5,000 tickets – which we could.
“Snooker could sell 4,000 tickets for the final and probably other big matches in the right venue in the right place, maybe even every day.”
But the 45-year-old Doherty, who lifted the trophy at the Crucible in 1997, said: “Some things money can’t buy – they are just more important than that, and the Crucible is one.
“You could play in a place where you had 5,000 people and make more money – but would it generate the same atmosphere? It might not.
“Sometimes places can be too big. Even at the old Wembley Conference Centre, which was brilliant when it was full, some early-round matches fell a bit flat if there was a small crowd.
“Only if Jimmy White or Ronnie O’Sullivan or Steve Davis was playing was the atmosphere great. Here at the Crucible, it is great for every match.
“I am very nostalgic about the World Championship, about the Crucible, and the city. Okay, behind the scenes the scope for large-scale hospitality is more difficult.
“You can’t move the Masters from Augusta. I am all for it staying here as long as possible, though I know there will be temptations to move it elsewhere in the UK or the world.
“I just prefer it here. I know what Ronnie is saying, there is a commercial pressure and that side of it will make commercial decisions.
“But I hope they consider all aspects, and for me it wouldn’t have the feel of the World Championship anywhere else.
“The city of Sheffield has also been very good to snooker, they supported us in difficult times when others didn’t want to know. The city and council did everything to keep it.
“For fans and players it is like a pilgrimage, from all over the world. I’m just an old nostalgic fool that loves it.
“As a player, there are just so many memories here. Every time you walk through those curtains, they come flooding in to your mind.
“When Alex Higgins won here, Dennis Taylor winning, Steve Davis winning, Stephen Hendry winning, Jimmy White losing, the 147s here…
“You really feel them around the place, walking down the corridors, around the city – and your personal ones. And I have great memories of this theatre.”
Photograph courtesy of Monique Limbos