With tournaments in places such as Brazil, China, Australia, Europe and more, as well as new professionals from Iran and Egypt during this coming season, Barry Hearn’s aim of helping snooker to become a truly global sport is fast taking shape. One area not often mentioned however is the USA, but interestingly, snooker does have a presence in America and regular blog reader Kenn Fong from California offered to interview Ajeya Prabhakar, President of the USSA for PSB.
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Kenn Fong for ProSnookerBlog.com: Ajeya Prabhakar, welcome to ProSnookerBlog.com. Congratulations on your win this March at the United States Snooker Association tour event at Ace Snooker Club in San Mateo.
PSB: Before we talk about your role as President of the United States Snooker Association, would you tell us something about yourself; how you learned the game, who taught you, and the role the game has played in your life? Where did you grow up and did you play competitively as a youth and young adult?
Ajeya Prabhakar: My dad used to work for a company that had great sport facilities and that is where I started playing back in the late 80s. I was mainly self taught, though I used to practice with great Billiard (English billiard) players. I started in Bangalore, which is the Silicon Valley of India. The competition there was great and I started doing really well in the junior circuit and had opportunities to play for India as a junior. My highlight was that I finished sixth at the World Junior Snooker Championship in 1991 that Ronnie O’Sullivan eventually won. I then proceeded to the United Kingdom to pursue my studies in engineering. I obtained my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Bath, and did postgraduate work in London.
PSB: What do you do for a living? Are there any (mental, emotional, social, or other) aspects of snooker which help you with your profession and life in general? And vice versa?
AP: I work in the hi-tech semiconductor industry. I currently work for one of the world’s top semiconductor companies, Broadcom Corporation. Snooker definitely helps me relax as you need to be really focused and playing it is almost like being in meditative state (not too much of a stretch actually, because if you want to play well, you need all other thoughts out..)
PSB: How did you decide to run for President of the USSA? Is it difficult to juggle those responsibilities, your family and career, and also continue to play at a high level?
AP: I was voted President 4 years ago as I was keen in expanding snooker in the US. We have a great board in John Lewis, Bob Jewett, Tom Kollins and Alan Morris who have done a fantastic job and though I am president we run the organization very flat. It’s fun therefore I don’t feel it as any pressure. I like playing as well therefore not fully in an administrative role..
PSB: When I met you at Ace Snooker Club, you spoke briefly about the plans you and your board have for growing the sport here in the States. What do you and your board think are the greatest challenges to expanding the popularity of snooker here in America?
AP: At the moment the biggest challenge is getting more money and TV into the sport in the US. We are pushing hard towards doing a better job at this.
PSB: Barry Hearn has done some tremendous things to revitalize the sport in the UK and throughout Europe and Asia, which include introducing some new events and recruiting new sponsors. He’s founded Q School, which mirrors the PGA’s qualification program for the tour. Of course, he’s ploughing much more fertile ground, but do you see anything you can take from him and apply to snooker here in the US?
AP: I agree that he has done a great job and we need to push formats etc, to make it more of a spectator sport. We are just beginning to think about this. We need to change the dress code for a start.
PSB: At the Ace Snooker Club event, you said that the field of 16 was composed primarily of players who had grown up playing the game in their country of origin, with only two players who were born in the US. Players were originally from the UK and Asia. Do you think it’s possible to introduce and popularize the game to a wider audience of Americans, and if so, what are your plans for reaching them?
AP: That is a hard one. But we have a lot of pool players convert to snooker. The only way to reach more players is to have snooker exhibitions in big pool tournaments. We need to target that as well.
PSB: Is the primary focus the USSA has in expanding the popularity of snooker: reaching out to emigrates living in the US who grew up playing snooker and bringing them back into the fold or introducing the game to new players?
AP: We need the youth in this country adopting snooker. Therefore the answer is we need to get new players involved. This is crucial.
PSB: Aside from Silicon Valley, here in Northern California, what are the other areas in the US where you see a concentration of players and public tables? Within those areas, do you see any formal or informal programs to introduce the game to young people who have never seen it?
AP: There are many pockets of snooker in the US. NY, LA, Chicago, Texas, etc. Unfortunately there are no tables and access throughout the country. Again this is where we need money, for reach. national TV and webcasts are the best form for reach, therefore we are trying to get there.
PSB: Here in the States, how does a newbie to snooker find an instructor or even someone to play? I have been to a couple of pool establishments which had a snooker table in the back, but I’ve never seen anyone playing or practising.
AP: We have some qualified coaches. Actually, thanks for the question. We need to put that up on the website. We are also getting a Scottish coach, Hugh Brown to Los Angeles in May before the nationals.
PSB: On your Tour calendar, I see one or two events each month spread around the country. Aramith has sponsored the USSA Tour for several years. How have other advertisers reacted when they were approached for possible sponsorship? Do you think some big name sponsors would be interested in providing financial backing or in-kind trade-outs so you might be able to bring in some big name players to do exhibitions or play in a tour stop or two?
AP: This is the area we are putting more efforts in. We have a list of snooker tables and vendors need to start investing in us and the US. But they need to see the market clearly and that is what we are defining.
PSB: When we spoke informally, you mentioned a new snooker/billiards club opening soon in Oakland, California (east of San Francisco), which will have 12 regulation Rileys and 12 regulation pool tables. Do you know of plans for more venues which will prominently feature snooker rather than include one table in the back as an afterthought?
AP: No unfortunately. That is the biggest project that I know of.
PSB: NBC Sports channel, formerly known as Versus, has begun showing darts events at night. They showed recorded European Darts Championship on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday earlier this month at 10 PM Pacific/1 AM Eastern. Do you know if they — or some other cable channel — have plans to show snooker in this country?
AP: We have had interest, but nothing has borne fruit. We are looking for leads in this area.
PSB: Continuing in that vein… Does USSA have any plans to show live events on Ustream.TV, YouTube, or another video sports web portal?
AP: Yes, I think we are making progress towards broadcasting the Nationals that will be held at the Embassy Club in LA later in May over the internet. I will keep you informed.
Thank you for your time.
Stay tuned later in the week for a piece from Kenn on what as an American, drew him to snooker recently…