Snooker referee Olivier Marteel is on the hospital frontline in Belgium

Olivier Marteel, who refereed the World Championship final in 2015, says he “didn’t even have one second of doubt” about agreeing to be on the hospital frontline in his native Belgium in the fight against coronavirus.

Marteel would have been at the Crucible to officiate in this year’s championships had the tournament not been postponed, and taking precedence now is his usual day job as a nurse at the AZ West hospital in Veurne.

Normally a radiologist, Marteel was asked to work in his hospital’s A&E department for the virus and says he is usually the first person incoming patients see when they come in for assessment.

Marteel checks their symptoms then decides whether they need to be tested for the disease or see a doctor, but with the volume of patients he is seeing and a lack of personal protective equipment, the 50-year-old from Ghent has had to be creative in an attempt to keep himself safe.

“I have never worked in an A&E situation like this before,” the 50-year-old from Ghent said on World Snooker’s official website.

“When I was asked to take on this role, I didn’t even have one second of doubt. Ever since I was a young child I wanted to work in medicine. I trained for three years and I have been working for 28 years. So when this came up, I jumped at it, even if there are some risks.

“It is tough, of course. Just as you do in the UK, we have problems here getting enough personal protective equipment. This weekend we started using scuba diver masks which were bought in a sports shop, because we don’t have enough of the correct masks.

Olivier Marteel is one of the most experienced referees on the World Snooker circuit (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)
Olivier Marteel is one of the most experienced referees on the World Snooker circuit (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

“The worst thing is the heat. The body produces a lot of heat but it can’t escape from the costume. I am often wearing two pairs of gloves – one for the whole day and another pair when I am treating patients. By the end of the day my hands feel like gum.”

Marteel has refereed on the World Snooker tour since 2006 and has also taken charge of UK Championship and Masters finals to complete his own Triple Crown.

“I have always said that refereeing is a piece of cake compared to my main job,” he added. “I treat snooker like a job as well of course, but for me it is a holiday. And that will never feel more true than when I’m back at a tournament – before long I hope.”

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