While none of the four Chinese players in the main draw at the World Snooker Championships has made it through to the quarter-finals, it’s clear that snooker is developing rapidly in the Chinese market. Other sports will want to learn from this success but may find it difficult to replicate the specific attributes which have benefited snooker.
According to a Chinese journalist quoted by the BBC, 15 TV channels are showing the World Championships in China and there are now between 500 and 1,000 clubs in Beijing alone. Increasing numbers of Chinese fans have also been evident in the crowd in Sheffield.
The top-ranked Chinese player is Ding Junhui who is currently tenth but has previously been as high as fourth. He reached the semi-finals last year and had been considered one of the favourites for 2012 until he lost out in the first round. Although he has been based in Sheffield for some years, the younger contingent of Chinese players now making their mark have spent most of their junior years competing in China.
Just a couple of days ago, it was announced that a new tournament would be held later this year in China with the third largest prize money of any snooker event. With several ranking tournaments now scheduled in China, the sport seems to be determined to make the most of local interest.
So why has snooker made such progress when attempts by some other sports to develop in China seem to have faltered?
- Most importantly, snooker had no choice but to embrace the Chinese opportunity. When Barry Hearn took control of the sport in 2010, revenue and interest had been fading for a number of years. The emergence of Ding Junhui and other Chinese players presented a clear opportunity to host more events in China and to offer players wild card entries to tournaments
- Role models count for a lot. Numerous Chinese players and their families have seen Ding on TV and evidently invested significant amounts of time and money to compete on the Asian circuit with a view to reaching the highest level
- Facilities are not too expensive or complex to set up and an indoor sport which takes up limited space is an attractive leisure option in a big city with a harsh climate, such as Beijing
- Snooker provides cheap and (for fans like me) compelling television content enabling World Snooker and regional federations to screen plenty of hours of coverage to TV stations in China as well as numerous other countries, particularly through Eurosport
It would be no surprise to see a Chinese world champion soon but it won’t be in 2012. Belgian teenager Luca Brecel is also a hot prospect for the future. British players such as Judd Trump, losing finalist last year, should take their opportunity while they can.