Saudi Arabia makes play for snooker with new ‘gold ball’ and 167 maximum break

Eddie and Barry Hearn - Saudi Arabia makes move for snooker with gold ball offering chance at 167
The inaugural Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker will take place in March

Saudi Arabia and the World Snooker Tour are set to confirm a multi-million pound ranking tournament to add to the invitational event that will include a new 23rd ball - the gold ‘Riyadh Season Ball’ - which elevates the maximum potential break to 167.

Ronnie O’Sullivan will headline the inaugural Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker in March but Saudi Arabia’s ever increasing involvement in professional sport is poised to further deepen with a 10-year deal for a full ranking tournament from next season.

It is understood that this event will include prize money on a par with the World Snooker Championships, which had a £2.4 million fund last year that included £500,000 for winner Luca Brecel.

As well as O’Sullivan, Brecel and Judd Trump have been confirmed in the 10-player field for the $1 million invitational event that will be played over three days in March under World Snooker rules, albeit with an additional colour.

The gold “Riyadh Season ball” will be worth 20 points but can only be potted if a player is on a 147 break after taking 15 reds and blacks as well as the usual six colours. The additional ball would increase the maximum potential break to 167.

Full details on exactly when the additional ‘gold’ ball will appear on the table, however, are still being discussed by the World Snooker Tour and their partners in Saudi Arabia.

The additional ‘gold’ ball idea is only for the invitational event in Saudi Arabia and is not being considered by the World Snooker Tour for any other event or tournament.

Negotiations are also close to being finalised on a full 128-player event in Saudi Arabia that will be a ranking tournament on the World Snooker Tour over the next decade from the start of the 2024-25. An announcement is expected before the World Championships in April.

Barry Hearn, the president of the Matchroom company that majority owns World Snooker Ltd, said last year that the Saudi deal was “close” but that “it is never done until the chequer hits my bank account”. The idea of a 10-year deal would be to combine it with the Saudi Arabian sport policy over the next decade and include setting up snooker academies and training for officials.

“They wanted to do the biggest event they could, but I didn’t want to endanger the status of the worlds,” said Hearn. “So their prize money would be the same as the worlds and they were quite happy with that.”

Snooker’s World Championships have been staged at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield since 1977 but the current deal expires in 2028 and Hearn says that Qatar have already enquired about its future availability. He has challenged Sheffield City Council to facilitate a new arena in the city that would increase the current 980-capacity, which is regularly sold out, to around 2,500.

“I want to stay… so build me a new venue,” Hearn told Stephen Hendry’s YouTube channel. “If you think the Crucible is the greatest thing to happen to Sheffield, I believe you. But don’t tell me you love me and then leave me to pay the bill when we’ve had dinner.”

Plans for the Saudi Arabia exhibition were unveiled on Wednesday, with Hearn and his son Eddie posing for a photograph alongside Turki Alalshikh and Faisal Bafarat of the Gulf state’s General Entertainment Authority.

The Hearn family’s Matchroom Sport company have long taken boxers to fight in Saudi Arabia, notably the former world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

The invitational snooker event will take place at Boulevard Arena in Riyadh and will feature the world’s top eight players as well as two wild card invitations.

“This is a huge breakthrough for snooker into a new territory, and we see this as the beginning of a new adventure for our sport in the region,” said Steve Dawson, the chairman of the WST.

“We are looking forward to being a part of Riyadh Season on this fantastic new event featuring the world’s best players.”

Alalshikh said: “We are thrilled to be hosting our first-ever professional snooker tournament in the Kingdom. Snooker is watched and played by millions around the world and we look forward to welcoming some of the greatest players and snooker fans to our country and showing them what Saudi Arabia and Riyadh Season has to offer.”

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