Sheffield to 'move heaven and earth' for World Championship

Sheffield's Crucible Theatre illuminated at night
Snooker's World Championship could leave the theatre that has been its home since 1977 [Getty Images]

Barry Hearn believes "Sheffield City Council will move heaven and earth" to keep the World Snooker Championship in the city.

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

Hearn, the president of Matchroom Sport and former chairman of World Snooker Tour (WST), insisted that keeping the tournament in Sheffield is "what we all want".

"The priority is to stay in the Steel City of Sheffield because it's been our home for a long, long time," he told BBC 5 Live Breakfast.

"Great moments. But we have a duty to everybody to listen. We listen to the fans, listen to the local people, we also listen to the players.

"The effect on prize money. We look at the conditions, and say the game has moved on, and deserves better than the current conditions."

Kyren Wilson plays a shot during the 2024 World Championship Snooker final at The Crucible
How the Crucible looked during the 2024 World Championship final [Getty Images]

While Hearn's desire to stay in Sheffield is now clear, he anticipates that doing so would require a change of venue.

Matchroom took over the running of WST in 2010, with Hearn at the helm until he stepped down as chairman in April 2021 at the age of 72.

He remains an influential figure in the running of snooker and ideally wants a new facility to be built to house the World Championship.

"I think it's a new-build within the city. It can't be an expansion of the Crucible. There isn't enough space. The building is too small," Hearn said.

"But I think there are other buildings that could be converted… but I need a venue to stress the importance of the event, the quality of the event.

"You can't stick it in a leisure centre, and say 'this is our World Championships', just for the sake of another 1,000 [or] 1,500 tickets a session."

Moving away from the Crucible would also be popular with some of the players, who have criticised conditions at the theatre.

"If you walk around the Crucible it smells really bad," said Iran's Hossein Vafaei.

"The practice room? Do you see anything special about it? It feels like I'm practising in a garage and that's not good."

Saudi Arabia has worked closely with Matchroom Sport to bring a number of high-profile major boxing events to the country. It also staged a first WST tournament in March - the Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker.

"Should the World Championships stay in little old England? It's a global sport, should it go round the world?" Hearn added.

"Should it sell out and go to where the biggest money is, as have so many sports? Some that I’ve been involved in.

"That's not wrong – that's just the progression of how the world's changed.

"It's a balance – but you can't ignore the money, that would be unrealistic and silly to say we're ignoring the money.

"But at the same time we have a duty of care to the sport, to make sure the great traditions stay with us as well."

'Zero interest in a breakaway tour'

Hearn, who managed six-time world champion Steve Davis, dismissed the notion of a recently mooted breakaway tour to challenge WST.

"There's no breakaway tour," he said. "I don't know why people talk about this.

"The players have got a bit more freedom now, outside of contract, where there isn't a World Snooker contract, to have an event themselves.

"There is absolutely zero interest in a breakaway tour from any player."

Judd Trump is one of a number of high-profile players to have ruled out joining such a tour, which has been likened to golf's LIV breakaway venture.

The 1997 world champion Ken Doherty is sceptical that a rival series would gain any traction.

"I don't see how a LIV-style snooker tour can survive and if it does and players want to do that, if that is what they want their legacy to be, good luck to them," Doherty said.

"There are people throwing money at the top players, but is that the legacy they want? Playing in an exhibition tour rather than something meaningful?

"It is not going to encourage people to get into the game by playing on an exhibition tour just to increase your bank balance."