Yushan shoot­ing to be­come global cap­i­tal of cue sports

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

SHANG­HAI — A sleepy cor­ner of cen­tral China nes­tled among moun­tains and forests is mak­ing a bold at­tempt to ri­val Eng­land’s Sh­effield as the home of world snooker.

Yushan county, which bills it­self as “the world’s first bil­liard sports cap­i­tal”, ex­em­pli­fies China’s hopes for a ma­jor role in the growth of snooker.

Yushan, mean­ing “Jade Moun­tain”, lies in the rugged prov­ince of Jiangxi and has a pop­u­la­tion of about 500,000 — small by Chi­nese stan­dards.

But it has out­sized am­bi­tions and is build­ing a 4,000seat arena tai­lor-made for cue sports. There will also be a bil­liard sports academy, mu­seum and ath­letes’ vil­lage.

The pro­ject will cost two bil­lion yuan ($290 mil­lion), and could be com­pleted inside of two years.

Yushan al­ready hosts the World Open, an in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment with a nearly $1 mil­lion prize fund — one of six events Chi­nese events on this year’s World Snooker cal­en­dar.

“They’ve said, ‘Look, wow, we love this, we want to make Yushan a home for snooker,” Ja­son Fer­gu­son, a former world-class player and now chair­man of the WPBSA, snooker’s governing body .

“The river­side is all be­ing re­designed with a snooker theme and will be re­named Snooker Bay.”

Yushan of­fi­cials have vis­ited Sh­effield and stud­ied its fa­mous Cru­cible Theatre, which hosts the an­nual world cham­pi­onships and is to snooker what Wem­b­ley is to soc­cer or Yan­kee Sta­dium to base­ball.

The re­gion’s blue­stone slate is used for snooker ta­bles by Bei­jing-based Xing Pai Star, which pro­duces elite-level ta­bles and is the de­vel­oper for the snooker city pro­ject, which was un­veiled last year.

Speak­ing at the Shang­hai Mas­ters, one of the biggest events on the snooker cal­en­dar, Fer­gu­son said Yushan of­fi­cials and the WPBSA are sup­port­ing the ini­tia­tive.

For any sport mak­ing in­roads into the po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive China mar­ket, a home­grown star is a must — and snooker found it when Ding Jun­hui won the China Open in 2005 as a teenage am­a­teur.

There are now nine Chi­nese play­ers in the world top 50, with Ding ranked sixth and one of the sport’s biggest names.

Mark Selby, the world No 1 and a three-time world cham­pion, has seen how the sport has grown in the coun­try.

“My first time in China was in 2002, com­ing to Shang­hai to play in a tour­na­ment, and the sport was nowhere near as big as it is now,” the English­man said af­ter bat­tling back to de­feat home player Zhou Yue­long on Tues­day.

“I think that’s down to Ding Jun­hui. We owe him a lot, he’s ob­vi­ously a fan­tas­tic player and one of the greats of the game now.

“Win­ning that first tour­na­ment in 2005 when he was 18 sort of put China on the map — that was prob­a­bly the best thing that could hap­pen to snooker.”

Fast-for­ward to to­day, and Fer­gu­son be­lieves that snooker can call it­self a na­tional sport in China.

A spe­cial­ist snooker academy opened in Bei­jing in 2013, and in 2016, 210 mil­lion Chi­nese tuned in to see Ding lose the world cham­pi­onships fi­nal to Selby.

XIN­HUA

China’s Ding Jun­hui com­petes at the Hong Rui Ma Cup Snooker World Open in Yushan, Jiangxi prov­ince, last month.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A red-car­pet cer­e­mony wel­comed play­ers to this year’s Yushan Snooker World Cup last month. Yushan, in Jiangxi prov­ince, bills it­self as the world’s first ‘bil­liards sports cap­i­tal.’

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