Sheffield set to keep snooker in new long-term deal

Mark Selby in action during day fifteen of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Steven Paston/PA Wire

Mark Selby in action during day fifteen of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Steven Paston/PA Wire

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A long-term deal to keep World Championship snooker in Sheffield is expected to be signed ‘very shortly’.

The tournament has been hosted at The Crucible since 1977 but the current contract for the event is running out next year and there has been competition from other venues to host the event, including from China, where the sport is played by 40 million people.

But chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association Jason Ferguson said advanced talks are taking place to secure the event’s future in Sheffield.

Mr Ferguson said the WPBSA will turn down bigger offers to keep the showpiece tournament in the Steel City.

He told the Guardian: “I don’t think any of us in the sport have the heart to change. We’ve had substantial offers to move the World Championship.

“But what price do you put on history? What price do you put on heritage? On those wonderful photographs you see when you walk backstage? Taking snooker away from here would be like taking the Wimbledon tennis championships away from Wimbledon.

“I’m hoping for a long-term deal - and I’m hoping an announcement will be made very shortly.”

Hosting the championship beings around £5m to the local economy each year and Mr Ferguson said Sheffield provides the ‘greatest atmosphere’ for players.

But concerns have been raised about the size of The Crucible, with the venue holding under 1,000 spectators for each session.

Mr Ferguson said: “The restriction here is the venue itself. I can’t criticise the venue because it’s the greatest atmosphere on the world snooker tour. It’s drama and it creates everything we want.

“But if we look at the size and scale of the sport now, we could easily fill 3,000 seats, which would be about right for the world championship.

“We’re already doing about 2,500 for the German Masters in Berlin and the atmosphere is incredible.”

World Snooker chief Barry Hearn has also backed the idea of the tournament remaining in Sheffield for the foreseeable future.

He told The Star: “The history of this event belongs to the people of Sheffield, and the Crucible Theatre.

“From a businessman’s perspective, that’s difficult for me to say that.

“Because clearly I have an event which could sell many more thousands of tickets.

“But sometimes there are things that you can’t mess with, and this in my lifetime - with the support of the people of Sheffield, the BBC, Eurosport - is not something that is going to change.

“But imagine the FA Cup final not being played at Wembley, or Wimbledon moving away from Wimbledon?

“It’d never happen, and snooker in Sheffield is in the same category.”

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