The venue has held snooker's showpiece event since 1977. Credit: SCC

Crucible row rumbles as contract end approaches

The city council and snooker players alike have spoken out in favour of the Sheffield venue, currently hosting the World Championship and attracting fresh criticism led by the influential Barry Hearn.

The Crucible Theatre, which has hosted world snooker’s showpiece event since 1977, is no stranger to criticism – heading off moves to relocate in the early 2000s – but with its current contract only running to 2027, those seeking a change are adding to pressure on the council.

Not purpose-built for the sport, the venue only has a capacity of 980, and has in the past been criticised by the sport’s best-known player Ronnie O’Sullivan. That criticism was added to this week by Iranian player Hossein Vafaei, who described the practice facilities as being “like a garage”.

Barry Hearn, the promoter most credited with making snooker big business in its 1980s heyday, and a former chairman of the World Snooker Tour, this week told the BBC that in his view there are four broad options on the table: staying at the Crucible; Sheffield providing a new 3,000-capacity venue; the event going to a cash-rich new home for 10 years (China and Saudi Arabia being touted as possibilities) or taking the event round the world on a yearly basis.

Hearn said: “I am doing everything I can to stay in Sheffield, and it takes two to tango,” stating his preferred option is for a new venue in the city.

The city is certainly aware of what its key event means. Speaking before the tournament started, Sheffield City Council chief executive Kate Joseph said: “Sheffield is the home of snooker. The World Snooker Championships and Sheffield go hand in hand.

“We know what the tournament means to the people of Sheffield, the players that come to compete and all the fans that watch the tournament across the globe. We have created a sporting legacy here in the city and we want that to continue for generations to come.

“We are in regular contact with World Snooker Tour and meet with them before, during and after each tournament and we will continue doing so.”

The Crucible is operated by the Sheffield Theatres trust. Players past and present have spoken out in favour of the venue, including current pros Tom Ford and Barry Hawkins. Also going in to bat for the Crucible was former champion Shaun Murphy, who as well as competing this year is also doing punditry work on the BCC.

Again, speaking pre-tournament, Murphy said: “It’s iconic in the world of snooker. If you stop someone in the middle of Beijing and ask them to say something about Sheffield they’ll say snooker.

“It’s just synonymous. The two things go together. It used to be steel, its now snooker, and the Crucible Theatre is right behind that.

“We always say it’s great to play in arenas that were designed for performance… this has been designed specifically for it and the atmosphere out there is better because of that.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to speak to a number of actors and actresses over the years who come here and play great shows themselves and Shakespearean shows and they all say the same thing – The Crucible Theatre is one of the best theatres in the country and for us it’s obviously home.

“It’s the home of snooker. We’re fast approaching the 50th year of the World Championships here and it’s very special.”

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