Hearn calls O’Sul­li­van ‘ig­no­rant’ for crit­i­cis­ing spec­ta­tor tri­als

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tom Mor­gan

The re­turn of spec­ta­tors at the snooker World Cham­pi­onship in Sh­effield has caused rifts within the sport as Judd Trump crit­i­cised Anthony Hamil­ton as “self­ish’’ for pulling out and Barry Hearn hit back at “ig­no­rant” crit­i­cism from Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van.

Trump, who be­gins his ti­tle de­fence to­day against Tom Ford, said Hamil­ton, an asth­matic, should have raised con­cerns ear­lier. “Be­fore the qual­i­fy­ing started, he should have just pulled out com­pletely and given some­one else a chance,” Trump said.

O’Sul­li­van, the five-time world cham­pion, mean­while, faced crit­i­cism from World Snooker chair­man Hearn for say­ing the tri­als of in­door crowds from to­day were treat­ing play­ers like “lab rats”.

Hearn, who says the com­pe­ti­tion has al­ready “swal­lowed” a £2mil­lion loss, warned that “the whole con­cept” of in­door pro­fes­sional sport could be lost for­ever with­out safe tri­als.

He said: “There’s no doubt sport could die and we are the flag-bear­ers of in­door sport, and any­one who crit­i­cises it is re­ally ig­no­rant be­cause they don’t un­der­stand the level of work that’s gone into it.”

Some older fans have been re­luc­tant to at­tend, and a small num­ber of tick­ets are still avail­able for the first ses­sion, with ca­pac­ity at the

Cru­cible be­ing re­duced from 1,000 to 260 to help so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

“I’ve been pro­mot­ing sports for over 45 years, and Covid-19 has set the great­est chal­lenges I’ve ever en­coun­tered,” Hearn said. “We are only go­ing to get through this pan­demic by mak­ing small steps to re­cov­ery. I’m enor­mously proud of the teams of peo­ple I em­ploy, and their ded­i­ca­tion.”

Hearn said fans would be sit­ting in so­cially-dis­tanced seats “marked out to the cen­time­tre” and even the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem will “only cir­cu­late fresh air, not re­cy­cled air.”

Given the un­prece­dented ef­fort, Hearn ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment at crit­i­cism from some play­ers, with Hamil­ton say­ing the trial is “ridicu­lous”

and “too early” for fans. Hearn coun­tered by say­ing: “They have no com­pre­hen­sion of the level of de­tail that we’ve got into.

He said that World Snooker had “worked hand in hand” with govern­ment de­part­ments “and they’ve been an amaz­ing ally for us, be­cause we’re all on the same page in terms of ‘We have to get this coun­try turned round, gen­er­ally speak­ing, or sport will die’,” he said.

Govern­ment in­spec­tors will be on hand and World Snooker will share its own eval­u­a­tion re­port with other sports. “This is a huge un­der­tak­ing,” Hearn said. “You can’t 100 per cent guar­an­tee safety, but if we don’t start some­thing, then we’ll never come out of it.”

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