Smith on Sport: Takeaway now snooker smoke finally cleared?

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REMEMBER the Embassy World Snooker Championships?

The one that was going to wither and die like the lungs of a 40-a-day smoker if they took the name of the sponsor’s fags out of the title?

The one that now, without advertising products that guarantee ill health and probable death, still attract TV audiences of hundreds of millions and is almost entirely screened on live TV around the world?

I suspect you do.

And I suspect those dire warnings of its inevitable post-Embassy collapse seem as ridiculous to you as they do to everyone else.

All up in smoke you might say since Embassy sponsorship of the tournament ended in 2005. But not so the snooker and it’s vast following.

While the Chinese continue to consume the sport and cigarettes with equal gusto the rest of us have broken the connection between the green baize and brown fingers.

Players are younger and more professional - if at times a little boring compared to the old days. It’s a lighter, cleaner sport, a mainstream national treasure on a par with the Open, The Boat race, The Grand National and The FA Cup Final. An ‘A’ category fixture in the national sporting calendar with its home at the Crucible as hallowed as Lord’s or Wembley.

The BetFred.com championship is guaranteed to stay in Sheffield until 2015 when there will be almighty pressure from the Chinese to take it to where its main market is.

One hundred million snooker mad Chinese can’t possibly be wrong.

Everyone you speak to linked with snooker misses the characters, the Alex Higgins and Jimmy White types whose social lives were more colourful than a 147 break.

But, like football terracing and Test cricket at Bramall Lane, those days are gone.

Snooker is squeaky clean, barely a whiff of smoke or scandal, not a hint of mis-spent youth.

What irony that we should finally take the street-corner out of the once sleaziest of sports only to have the state capitalists of Communist China take it over and make even more money.