UK Snooker Champ Calls for Overhaul of Sport

By Kevin Hilton

SVG Europe Editor

Ronnie O’Sullivan won his fourth UK Masters snooker title on Jan. 18, but this year’s competition will be remembered as much for the new champion’s outburst about the future of the game as for his hard-fought 10-8 victory over previous champ Mark Selby.

The mercurial O’Sullivan, World No. 1, reigning World Champion, and among the few showmen in the modern game, said in interviews that only someone like pop impresario and

X Factor and

American Idol judge Simon Cowell or sports promoter Barry Hearn could bring fresh dynamism to the game.

Snooker became a hugely popular spectator sport in Britain during the late 1970s, partly due to extensive coverage on the BBC. The game is past its peak of the early to mid ’80s, but it still fills venues and wins big TV audiences. In recent years, the BBC has enhanced its broadcasts by using Hawkeye to give a better sense of what players are seeing on the table. Facilities for this year’s Masters from Wembley Arena were provided by SIS Live, with Hawkeye for analysis and the pocket camera giving close-ups of pots or misses, although the transmission was in SD.

The BBC itself was embroiled in a row before the start of the tournament over its decision to sideline one of its longest-serving commentators. Clive Everton has commented on the game for the BBC since the late ’70s, but he says that, after last year’s Masters, he was told his BBC career was over.

The BBC later relented, and Everton worked on coverage of the Grand Prix and UK Championship at the beginning of the season. But he was not engaged for this year’s Masters and will commentate only on matches up to the quarterfinals of the World Championship, which takes place April 18-May 4.

In recent years, the BBC has preferred to use former sports stars and celebrities, rather than journalists and career broadcasters, to front sports programmes and, in some cases, commentate on the action. During this year’s Masters, former players Steve Davis, the most successful player of the 1980s, Dennis Taylor, John Virgo, and John Parrot commented on the matches, with 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty as summariser in the studio with anchor Hazel Irvine.

Irvine’s predecessor was David Vine, who fronted the BBC’s snooker programmes from 1978 to his retirement in 2000 and worked on other sports, including skiing and athletics, or gymnastics. Prior to the Masters, Vine was quoted as saying that, while some former athletes have made a good transition to broadcasting, the trend has led to a decline in standards. “Unfortunately, many others have been allowed a free rein to adopt a commentary style which consists of non-stop chatter, schoolboy humour and, at times, pure piffle,” he told the

Guardian.

A few days after that interview, Vine died, aged 73. In the evening interval during the Masters Final, the BBC broadcast a tribute to the journalist and broadcaster, who, in 1967, presented the BBC’s first colour coverage of Wimbledon. The players who are now broadcasters were generous in their praise of Vine’s professionalism and genial nature.