First ever Turkish Masters represents another huge step in snooker's overseas adventure around the world
The global growth of snooker has seen the game reach previously uncharted waters with Antalya in Turkey the latest destination for the sport. Dave Hendon takes a look at the long and often complicated journeys involved to reach wider audiences across the world. Stream the 2022 Turkish Masters and much more top snooker action live and on demand on discovery+
‘No rest for the wicked’ - Lisowski looking forward to Turkish Masters
This week’s Turkish Masters sees snooker touch down in the beautiful surroundings of Antalya, the latest stopping off point for a sport becoming increasingly global.
After a year behind closed doors in Milton Keynes the stunning scenery and warm weather of Turkey’s southern coastline must almost feel like an hallucination to snooker players used to gazing out of their hotel windows at the local Wagamama’s.
Snooker was invented by British army officers in India before establishing itself in the UK. Early trips to foreign climes tended to be limited to Commonwealth countries. The World Championship was staged in Australia in 1970 and 1975 but tournaments were mainly held in the familiar surroundings of Blighty.
The first ranking event staged outside the UK was the 1988 Canadian Masters. At the time, there were still several leading players from Canada on tour. Later that season, snooker bosses made the bizarre decision to host a new tournament, the European Open, in a casino in Deauville, France – a country without any snooker heritage. It didn’t go well.
Crowds were almost non-existent. There was one session with just four spectators. After the French master of ceremonies had completed his introductions a woman stood up and said, “can you repeat that please? We’re from Portsmouth.”
Dressed in their waistcoats, more than one player was mistaken by casino patrons as a waiter. The event moved the following year to Lyon, where it also failed to make its mark. Both were won by John Parrott, who established a niche by winning titles in various outposts outside the UK.
Part of the reason for this was that Parrott was such a homebird that he treated overseas trips purely as work. He wasn’t interested in sightseeing. In Bangkok, where players were tempted by the bright lights of the city at night, Parrott would be happily tucked up in bed with a newspaper crossword faxed over from the UK.
He could also cope brilliantly with slow table conditions often associated with humid climates. He would end up winning titles in Dubai, Thailand, China, Monaco, Belgium, Malta and Germany.
Following the Deauville shambles of 1989, snooker looked further afield with a deal struck for an Australian Open. Suspicions grew that the contract may not be watertight when the address given by the promoter turned out to be a bus shelter in Melbourne. The event was switched at the last minute to Hong Kong.
It was Barry Hearn’s Matchroom stable which established snooker’s footprint outside British shores with ground-breaking trips to foreign parts like China, Malaysia and Japan in the 1980s.
Savvy to keeping the authorities on side, he once invited Rex Williams, then chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, on a tour of the far east. Williams was known for enjoying the finer things in life and was always impeccably dressed. When the players spent a particularly hot day exploring the Great Wall of China he turned up in a brand new cashmere coat. Hearn pointed out then dress code was casual, to which Williams replied, “dear boy, this is casual.”
Eventually the WPBSA piggybacked on the work Hearn had done in opening up new markets and moved in themselves, staging ranking events in the territories Matchroom had first explored.
Thailand became a popular destination, helped by local man James Wattana’s success. Thanks to Ding Junhui, China later became an important market for the game, with up to five big events staged there each season before the Covid pandemic hit.
James Wattana of Thailand plays a shot during his match against Ding Junhui of China World Snooker China Open - Day 2 on April 2, 2019 in Beijing, China.(Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)
Image credit: Getty Images
Snooker has also enjoyed events in European countries such as Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Gibraltar and, of course, Germany, where the Berlin Tempodrom has become one of the sport’s most popular venues in recent years.
In addition there have been tournaments staged in Bahrain, India, Brazil and Australia, with talk of North America as a potential new area for growth.
Players have therefore become international sportspeople, used to airport terminals, bad hotel TV and chronic jetlag.
Graeme Dott suffered famously with this latter malady at the 2002 China Open. His initial flight from Glasgow to Heathrow was delayed, so he missed his connecting flight to Shanghai. After several hours he caught a later plane and arrived in China in the middle of the night, exhausted after 18 hours of travelling.
Crashing out on arrival, he slept through two alarm calls and woke up just 15 minutes before his match. Jumping out of bed – without time to even put on any underpants – he threw on his waistcoat and ran outside for a taxi.
The cab first got stuck in traffic before the driver admitted he was lost. Dott eventually got out and ran the half a mile to the venue. He was docked two frames for late arrival and lost the match. The journey home must’ve felt even longer, especially for the person sat next to him on the plane.
It was at this same event that an 18 year-old Mark Selby, not used to foreign travel, was so discombobulated that he got up at one o’clock, put on his snooker gear and attempted to arrange transport to the venue for his match at two. It had to be pointed out to him that it was pitch black outside because it was night, not afternoon, and his match was not for another 12 hours.
Barry Hearn has played a key role in snooker's global growth
Image credit: Getty Images
One player even once booked a hotel in a completely different country to the one in which the event was being played but, despite such mishaps, the sport’s professionals have an opportunity not afforded to most: to travel and experience different cultures. In doing so they are taking snooker to new audiences.
Under Hearn’s decade-long stewardship of World Snooker Tour, the game is more professionally run than ever. It still has a British base but its global reach has spread, as evidenced by some of the circuit’s recent winners, including Zhao Xintong and Fan Zhengyi (China), Neil Robertson (Australia), Luca Brecel (Belgium) and Hossein Vafaei (Iran). The women’s world title was won by Nutcharat Wongharuthai (Thailand) and the world junior title by Anton Kasakov (Ukraine).
Eurosport can take much of the credit for spreading the snooker gospel to territories previously underexposed to the sport. Worldwide online streaming now means the game’s major events can be watched anywhere on the planet.
The Turkish Masters marks a further step forward for snooker in a yet another promising territory. It’s a five-year deal with a £100,000 top prize. Moreover, it’s a chance for players and fans to experience something different.
This new event is sponsored by a hotel chain called Nirvana. So, here we are now. Entertain us.
Stream the 2022 Turkish Masters and much more top snooker action live and on demand on discovery+