World Championship could leave Crucible, warns Hearn

Crucible Theatre
Up until the semi-finals, the World Snooker Championship is played with a two-table set up, meaning space is tight and the fans are close to the players [Getty Images]

Former World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn says the World Championship could stay in Sheffield - but only if the Crucible Theatre was to be redeveloped or a new arena built in the city.

The Crucible, which only holds 980 people, has held snooker’s biggest event every year since 1977 but its current contract expires in 2027.

Some players, including Ronnie O’Sullivan and Iran’s Hossein Vafaei, have said the venue is too small and the event should be moved elsewhere, with China and Saudi Arabia among the possibilities.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Hearn, 75, said: “Whether we stay in Sheffield and put up with it is one option, option two they [Sheffield City Council] build me a 3,000 seater [arena] and we extend for a very long period.

“Option three, we go somewhere else for 10 years and option four, as a world championship, we go around the world, maybe one year in Saudi Arabia, one year in China and one year in Sheffield as it is.”

Crucible Theatre
The 50th anniversary of snooker being held at the Crucible Theatre will be in 2027, which could be the final year the competition is held here [Getty Images]

'I'm doing everything I can to stay in Sheffield'

Barry Hearn
Barry Hearn pictured with Steve Davis at the Crucible in 1985 - Davis won the World Championship on six occasions [Getty Images]

The iconic Crucible has become a huge part of the history of the sport, with its tight, cramped setting providing a unique atmosphere and the venue regarded as the home of snooker.

Hearn said his preference was to keep the world championship in Sheffield, but the venue had to be improved.

“I am doing absolutely everything I can to stay in Sheffield and it takes two to tango,” he told BBC Two. “I’ll stay here while we’re wanted. I know we're wanted by the BBC, I think we're wanted by Sheffield.

"But we need a new venue that seats 2,500-3,000 people because I'm fed up of getting letters from people asking how they can get a ticket. I'm looking to Sheffield to come to the party and if they do, we're staying. If they don't, they're saying 'We don't want you'."

Earlier this week, Vafaei criticised the venue, saying it "smells really bad" and the practice room was like a "garage", although 2005 champion Shaun Murphy defended the Crucible, calling it "holy ground" for snooker players.

Hearn, who managed Steve Davis throughout his six world titles in the 1980s, added: “The Crucible has a fantastic history and it’s been a massive part of my life, but we’ve got to live in the real world. There’s a price for everything, whether we like it or not.

"I want to stay here. I can't do any more than say that but I need help, I need a reason to stay here. I can't be more loyal to Sheffield than I have been but everybody needs to pull in the right direction."

When Hearn became majority shareholder in World Snooker Tour in 2009 and began running the sport, tournament prize money was at £3.5m, with him saying it is expected to pass the £20m mark next year.

Saudi Arabia have worked closely with Hearn’s Matchroom Sport company to host a number of high-profile major boxing events in the country and also staged their first snooker tournament earlier this year.

"They are buying up sports left, right and centre," added Hearn. "We've got to show we can compete and raise at least something near it to justify me not turning around to the players and saying 'Why don't we make the prize money 10 times more than it is?'

"It's all about money - get used to it. The world is changing and I'm sorry, I'm not going to be a dinosaur and not change. I’d love to tell you we live in a fairy story, but it’s not that simple. In any sport, the first demand is prize money and players want to see it as big as possible.”

Asked whether ‘money talks completely or does history and heritage still have a say', Hearn replied: “Trust me, money has the edge every time. If there are deals out there that are going to change people's lives and increase profitability, there's not really a choice to make."

Hearn also punted the suggestion of the competition being held at different venues each year and added: "Why should the tournament have one home and why isn't the Crucible transported around the world to play one year in Saudi Arabia, one year in Beijing, one year in Sheffield?"

'Sheffield is the home of snooker'

In response to Hearn's comments, Kate Josephs, chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said: “Sheffield is the home of snooker. The World Snooker Championship and Sheffield go hand in hand.

“We know what the tournament means to the people of Sheffield, the players that come to compete and all the fans that watch the tournament across the globe. We have created a sporting legacy here in the city and we want that to continue for generations to come.

“We are in regular contact with World Snooker Tour and meet with them before, during and after each tournament and we will continue doing so.”