'We belong to the city of Sheffield' insists snooker chief Barry Hearn ahead of 2018 World Championship at Crucible
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has reaffirmed the sport's long term commitment to Sheffield as 500million people worldwide prepare to tune in for the World Championship at the Crucible from tomorrow.
Hearn last year signed a decade-long deal to ensure that the tournament would remain at its iconic home in Sheffield, despite calls from some sections of the snooker world to move it to a different, higher-capacity venue - possibly even in China.
City council chiefs estimate that the 17-day tournament, which has been staged at the 980-seat Crucible Theatre since 1977, boosts Sheffield's economy by almost £3m per year.
And Hearn said: "We've got a long term contract with Sheffield City Council and, to borrow a line from a movie, they had us at hello really...we feel at home in Sheffield.
"As a businessman, this is quite alien for me to say but sometimes, things are not just about money. I'm just so happy that we have a home here at the Crucible.
"I was walking through the doors earlier and an old guy came up to me and asked me when we were going to get a new trophy for the World Championships.
"I have no idea where that question comes from, but I asked him 'when are you going to get rid of your face?'
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"He asked what I meant and I said 'well, you're old, but it's your face, it's got history and it means something to you. The trophy is part of our history here.
"I was talking to former champion Stuart Bingham earlier and when he's old and got his grandchildren sitting on his knee, he won't tell them how much money he earned in his career but he'll show them a picture of the trophy with his name on.
"The players make money, of course, and they deserve to because they entertain a global audience, but the enormity of winning at the Crucible isn't measured in pounds or pence but by holding that piece of metal.
"It belongs to the city of Sheffield, and so do we."
Hearn, who sanctioned the streaming of the World Championship live on Facebook to countries without television rights from last year's tournament, estimates a global audience of 500m people will watch the 2018 edition, with both BBC and Eurosport reporting increased viewing figures in 2017.
"This is one of the world's most iconic sporting venues," Hearn added, "and now we're broadcasting on Facebook as well, the drama is there for all to see."