World Snooker Tour chairman Steve Dawson has hit back at Ronnie O’Sullivan’s “misguided” and “disrespectful” comments about the state of the sport.
Seven-time world champion O’Sullivan claimed this week that the game was in the “worst state ever” with regard to prize money and even raised the possibility of players staging a strike.
A match-fixing hearing involving 10 Chinese players also means next month’s World Championship in Sheffield will be played under a dark cloud, but Dawson has come out fighting with a lengthy statement on the WST’s website.
“Ronnie is a fantastic player and a legend of our sport, but sometimes his misguided comments go too far,” Dawson wrote. “I feel it’s necessary to respond to some of the damaging remarks he made to the press this week.
“Firstly, Ronnie has never attended a players’ meeting or engaged with us to discuss his opinions. He also has my number and is welcome to speak with me directly.
“He often compares snooker to golf and tennis, but I would challenge him as to whether, for his part, he elevates the sport and acts as a role model like a Rory McIlroy or Roger Federer.
“We are striving to take snooker to a higher level, but we need the players to be ambassadors in public, and to communicate any concerns they have through the right channels. Comments like those from Ronnie this week are damaging to us as a sport – and they’re unfounded.”
Dawson highlighted the growth in prize money since the commercial rights of snooker were awarded to Matchroom Sport in 2010, adding: “During the time that we have run the tour, Ronnie has earned £7million in prize money, including the £500,000 top prize at the World Championship last year.
“No doubt, with his talent, it would have been a lot more had he chosen to play in more events.
“His comments too often are disrespectful to snooker’s dedicated management, the sport’s commercial and venue partners, and to his fellow players.
“In the past he has described lower-ranked players as ‘numpties’ but they love the sport just as much as he does and our role is to give them opportunities to compete. This season we have provided every player with a £20,000 income guarantee to help them pay expenses and develop their careers.
“He suggested that players should go on strike – but why? That certainly won’t drive new revenues. He also claims that players are frightened of being fined for giving their opinions but again this is not borne out by the facts.
“The number of players fined for comments made in the media is tiny – generally they are given much more freedom than athletes in other sports because we want them to engage more with the media and the fans.
“If Ronnie took advantage of his own massive global popularity to be a true ambassador for snooker then he could work with us to drive the sport forward for his benefit and for the sport as a whole.
“Snooker is bigger than any player. The sport will continue to grow and we have no doubt that in the years to come it will be more successful than ever before.
“My message to Ronnie – and all players – is come and talk to me and the team. Our door is always open.”
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