Mark Selby, John Higgins and Luca Brecel lead player mutiny with WST
Snooker in CRISIS with Mark Selby, John Higgins and world champion Luca Brecel leading a player mutiny – as Ronnie O’Sullivan brands governing body’s stance ‘b****cks’
- Selby, Higgins and Brecel are among five players to have snubbed a key event
- The trio have shunned this month’s Northern Ireland Open to play in Macau
Mark Selby, John Higgins and world champion Luca Brecel are leading a player mutiny – handing an embarrassing snub to snooker bosses.
Four-time world champions Selby and Higgins plus the reigning Crucible king Brecel – along with Ali Carter and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh – have shunned this month’s official Northern Ireland Open.
Despite threats of legal action from World Snooker Tour, the five decided not to enter Belfast and opt instead for a lucrative Macau exhibition.
WST bosses sent first emails and then strongly-worded letters claiming if the players took part in Macau they would be breaching contracts, harming the game and facing disciplinary action.
But lawyers representing the players reckon the threats are baseless since they did not enter the Northern Ireland event, and believe they are just doing what they want on their own time.
Four-time world champion Mark Selby is one of five players leading a players mutiny
Both John Higgins (left) and world champion Luca Brecel have shunned the Northern Ireland Open
And world No1 Ronnie O’Sullivan, himself playing in a Shanghai exhibition this month, has backed the ‘Macau Five’ – describing WST’s stance as ‘b*ll*cks, trying to scare players like that’.
Many of the players involved are furious over what they see as heavy-handed tactics. Part-organiser Victoria Shi, owner of a Sheffield academy, has also been threatened with action.
Selby, who has suffered badly with mental health issues in recent years, is understood to have requested he receive no further correspondence on the matter.
This comes with another highly-paid unofficial event featuring O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Williams, Jack Lisowski and Ding Junhui looming even sooner this month in Shanghai.
The Shanghai exhibition takes place during the Northern Ireland Open qualifying event. Top-16 players involved could still appear at the final stages given their opening rounds are held over.
But WST were also unhappy with big names playing this event – believing it will leave the qualifiers in the shade. They originally banned the players from taking part – before softening their stance.
And they issued similarly threatening letters to players insisting they keep all involvement in Shanghai quiet demanding a social media and news blackout – and participation in Belfast, for which only Williams is confirmed.
The player-power situation presents a huge challenge for the governing body going forward, with big-name stars openly flouting their authority – and lawyers no doubt licking their lips.
With Chinese tournaments back in the calendar this season after three years following the Covid pandemic, WST had been hoping for a smoother ride in 2023-24.
But after those years of reduced earnings new opportunities are opening up in the Far and Middle East. Players want to cash in – leading to the current row.
And events of the week have highlighted a chasm between the best players and the game’s rulers. There has even been hushed talk of a boycott of January’s prestigious Masters.
O’Sullivan has been among those fiercely critical of some aspects of the way the tour is organised, the venues used in the UK, and the treatment of the players outside Asia.
He has even in the past suggested the possibility of a breakaway tour – which today sounds less fanciful than it did.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has backed the players’ mutiny and criticised the WST for scaring players
O’Sullivan will himself be playing in a lucrative Shanghai exhibition later this month
WST were accused earlier this year of attempting to gag players and bar them speaking to the media about a large meeting discussing the future of the sport.
But on this occasion it appears any similar attempts have backfired, with the players involved calling WST’s bluff over both Macau and Shanghai.
O’Sullivan, the sport’s biggest draw, has led calls for players to be able to maximise their earnings.
On the Shanghai exhibition, he said: ‘There is absolutely no reason to try and stop me and other players going to Shanghai during the Northern Ireland qualifiers.
‘That is a small event, we are not involved, and we could still play in the final stages with our matches being held over.
‘Players are just trying to earn money, it is their choice. And they are realising their value. They are trying to restrict us. Those involved in Shanghai were sent letters advising them not to play.
‘I know for the tournament in Macau players were also sent even stronger threatening letters telling them it was in breach of their contract.
‘That with an opportunity to play in an official tournament they were turning it down and choosing to go somewhere else, and it was damaging for the sport.
‘It is b*ll*cks, trying to scare players like that. It’s wrong and I am glad they have taken a strong stance.
‘This is about players being able to earn what they can, and choose how and when they play. They can enter a tournament – but they don’t have to.
‘They used to try and tell me what to say, until I got a really good lawyer who kicked back at them. If they want to play silly games, we can all play silly games.’
WST were asked a number of pertinent questions, and given the opportunity to respond to the story. A spokesperson would say only: ‘WST does not publicly discuss private conversations with the players, or share contractual information.’
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