Crucible told to rebuild or lose World Snooker Championship

A general view at the Crucible during the first round games between Mark Selby and Joe O'Connor and Mark Williams and Si Jiahui on April 22, 2024
The Crucible has hosted the World Snooker Championship for 47 years but has been criticised by some players - Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Barry Hearn has warned that snooker is ready to end nearly 50 years of history and move the World Championship away from Sheffield unless the Crucible is rebuilt into a bigger venue.

Hearn, who remains president of Matchroom Sport, said that he wanted to stay beyond the current deal until 2027 but, with Saudi Arabia and China becoming increasingly bigger players in the sport, admitted that “it’s all about the money”.

Although Hearn has talked previously about other options ahead of renegotiating agreements with Sheffield City Council to stay at the Crucible, there is a very different feel about the debate this year.

The World Snooker Tour is increasingly global in nature and players ranging from world No 1 Ronnie O’Sullivan to the qualifier Hossein Vafaei – who called the Crucible “smelly” – have been vocal in highlighting the venue’s limitations.

The intimate atmosphere inside the 980-seat theatre, however, remains utterly unique and it would be a huge call to move the game’s showpiece event from what has been its home since 1977.

“I am doing absolutely everything I can to stay in Sheffield and it takes two to tango – I’ll stay here while we’re wanted, and I think we’re wanted,” Hearn told the BBC.

“But they’ve got to be realistic. We’ve said for the last few years we need a new venue that seats 2,500 to 3,000 people. I’m looking for Sheffield to come to the party and if they do, we’re staying. If they don’t, they’re really saying that we don’t want to, so it’s not really my call.”

Saudi Arabia will stage two tournaments in the next snooker season, with the first already being branded as the sport’s ‘fourth major’ and the second offering a $1 million prize for anyone who makes a 167 break by potting the controversial ‘golden ball’ at the end of a conventional maximum break.

“The Crucible has got a fantastic history and it’s been a massive part of my life, but we’ve got to live in the real world,” said Hearn, who still rates Steve Davis’s victory in 1981 as the best moment of his professional life. He added: “There’s a price for everything, whether we like it or not.

“I’d love to tell you we live in a fairy story, but it’s not that simple. In any professional sport played by professional sportsmen, the first demand is prize money and they want to see it as big as possible, and we have a duty to those players.

“I believe next year we go through the £20 million prize money, but you must never get complacent in your life and sit down and enjoy the luxury of saying ‘job done’. There’s never enough. It’s all about the money – get used to it.”

Former champion Shaun Murphy called Vafaei’s comments “sacrilege” and told The Telegraph that a clear majority of the players do not want to leave the current venue.