DING JUNHUI came out on top in the latest battle between China and England, but those that could follow he and Judd Trump to the top are currently the subject of intense scrutiny.

Ding, aged 26 and the 24-year-old Trump are of course likely to be contesting finals and sharing out the snooker honours for many years to come.

But there was also a symbolism about the clash over and above what was actually at stake on the night in terms of titles, money and ranking points.

Trump is sometimes unfairly dismissed as not being a deep thinker and only interested in fast cars, but his comments during the German Masters about problems with the conveyor belt of talent in the UK struck a chord with the rulers of the sport. It is what they are talking about.

The world No4 outlined his concern about the next generation of British star players, 10 years away from the heat of battle in finals, as follows. He claimed that a decade ago many observers could point to a handful of teenagers destined, or at least with a good chance, of reaching the top.

Trump himself was such a case, widely talked about especially after becoming the youngest man to make a 147 at 14 years of age.

But he insisted that currently all the players being identified as having real potential are from China, the likes of Lyu Haotian who became the tour’s youngest ever pro this season and is still just 16.

Trump articulated his thoughts succinctly, saying: “Over the next few years the amateur game is so bad in England that you will see five or more Chinese players coming through for every one English player.”

Jason Ferguson, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, has done more than most to promote the sport not only in China but worldwide, and can hardly be sorry the Far East are investing heavily in the grass roots game and producing talent.

But he would like to see some of the same funding for developing players thrown in snooker’s direction in Britain, feeling the game is unfairly discriminated against due to a lack of Olympic status, and challenging the government and Sport England to do more.

Ferguson said: “China is producing great players, there is no doubt about that. They had concerns where the next one after Ding was coming from but have invested a lot of time and money in it, and now there is a very strong wave set to come though.

“We see what they do at grass roots level through our Academy there, and in schools. There are some very, very good players, 14 and 15, who are potential world champions.

“That is a good thing, we want the game strong everywhere – but we need it strong in Europe as well. The sport is global, we need to develop other areas quickly.

“But we need to get to young people and that is where there has been gap in England. Our audience has traditionally been a bit older.

“What we are seeing with more TV exposure and more grass roots activity from us in schools with the numeracy initiatives and so on, we are seeing lots more young people taking it up.

“It is a concern that we could name more Chinese prospects than English ones, but they are out there. It’s about giving them the opportunity.

“There is still an amateur game in the UK but it needs help, and snooker needs more recognition as a sport from other parties and bodies.

“We are one of the biggest sports on television, and one of the biggest participation sports in the world and the British government, and Sport England all need to step up and support snooker in the way they support other sports at that amateur level.

“A lot of people working at that level are volunteers, they need help to develop. That takes funding, administration facilities. It is money, basically.

“And in China the governing body have worked with the regional and national governments with sports grants to develop opportunity inside and outside of schools.

“There is no substitute for developing talent, investment in grass roots and we need to see more interest. There is a gap with the government and sporting bodies.

“The fact we are not in the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games means we are missing out, and it is completely unacceptable.

“The World Championship is based in England, we would love to keep it here but there always other offers from other countries for when the contract is up.

“One day there will be a very big offer to put it somewhere else, and if that country has all the best players it would be a stronger case.

“We are developing the sport worldwide, and we think we’re doing a good job but in England we need more help.”


Photographs by Monique Limbos