Discontent as Age Limit Raised for World Seniors

Well this is an interesting one. I understand from a number of players that the decision has been taken this season to raise the age limit for the World Seniors Championship from 40 to 45, excluding players such as Stephen Hendry, Peter Ebdon and Ken Doherty who would otherwise have been eligible. Is this fair?

At first glance this may not appear to be a massive issue, after all the World Seniors Championship is not a ranking event and to many might appear to be little more than an exhibition tournament.

On closer inspection however that is clearly not the case as with a top prize of £20,000 on offer last season, as confirmed over at Snooker Scene Blog last November, the action was generally hard fought and you can see from the video above just how seriously the players were taking it. Add to that the fact that Jimmy White earned a spot in this year’s Premier League courtesy of his victory in this event and the tournament suddenly takes greater significance.

So why has the minimum age been raised to 45? Word has it that broadcasters SkySports wished to present a different event with less focus on the current players and more on those of yesteryear. Rumour has it that names such as Ray Reardon, Doug Mountjoy and Kirk Stevens will be involved this year which will certainly excite some of the older viewers who will remember them from their heyday.

Rumoured to be playing – Ray Reardon

Looking back at the line-up last season, the pre-qualifying tournament saw the likes of Joe Swail, Peter Lines and Dave Harold participate who will no longer be eligible while from the main draw former world champions Peter Ebdon and Ken Doherty will no longer qualify.

Is it right that these players should be excluded?

Taking the yes argument first of all, looking back at some of the comments on Snooker Scene Blog from last year it is evident that there are fans who would rather not see players who are still competing in the upper echelons of the professional game involved in the seniors competition. The nostalgia of seeing those from the 1970’s and 1980’s take to the table is something of a novelty and it is understandable that people do not want to see those players embarrassed by younger players close to the top of their game.

On the other hand however, while nostalgia is an important part of the event, will the older players now be able to play to a good enough standard to be able to sustain interest from the viewers watching on SkySports while tucking into their Christmas dinners? Reardon for example is 78 now while contemporaries such as Doug Mountjoy are now also in their late 60’s and have long since departed the competitive stage.

No longer eligible – Ken Doherty

In an exhibition this is far less of a problem as such events are all about fun and the success of the Snooker Legends tour during the past couple of years demonstrates the interest that there still is in seeing the older faces at a snooker table. Whether or not there are big breaks the chances are that everyone there will enjoy themselves.

Nostalgia alone however will only carry the event for so long and in a competitive, televised tournament with a £20,000 top prize the likes of Doherty and Ebdon are arguably a welcome addition to the event. In future years more and more players are going to be affected as the likes of Alan McManus, Mark Davis, Marcus Campbell, Dominic Dale and so on turn 40 who from a competitive viewpoint would certainly supplement what was last season a relatively small field.

Another case for the inclusion of the 40-44 year-old players is that certainly for as long as I can remember following snooker, the cut-off for seniors events of any description has always been 40. I am open to correction on this but to my knowledge the international events such as the IBSF and EBSA Masters events are open to the over-40’s and to set a new precedent in this way is a potentially big decision. Will other events follow suit?

The most obvious argument from the players excluded however is a financial one. As highlighted during my recent article here at PSB, the current crop of players have supported the change brought about over the last 18 months such as the PTC tour and signing a contract to the effect that they cannot play a televised match without it first being sanctioned by World Snooker, inevitably reducing their income potential. Some are therefore unhappy that this tournament will be to the financial benefit of more players who are not on the main tour and who are not now contributing to the World Snooker kitty as the professionals are by virtue of the 2.5% World Snooker levy on prize money currently in operation, rather than to those who are.

Would have been eligible next season – Marcus Campbell

All in all then there is quite a debate to be had with a number of factors to be taken account.

What do I think? Personally I can see both angles to this one as on the one hand it is good to see the older players back in the limelight again and no doubt people will tune in to see them at least initially, but on the other I can also readily see why those recently turned 40 are frustrated at not being able to play when the criteria has always been 40 in the past. Indeed it seems strange to penalise them for in effect still playing to a high standard.

Ultimately though as with all snooker issues I tend to look at it from my position as a fan and as a viewer first and foremost and from that point of view I would prefer to see the minimum age left at 40. While there are still some very good players out there who are aged 45 or above such as Nigel Bond, Tony Drago, Jimmy White and Steve Davis, I feel that adding the likes of potentially Hendry, Doherty, Ebdon and so on to the tournament would boost both the profile and the viewing figures for the event. I fear that nostalgia could only take the event so far and that to run as a tournament as opposed to an exhibition which is the crucial factor here for me, the stronger the field the better.

But that is just my opinion and I would be interested to hear your views in the comments section below on this one however as I feel that there is some debate to be had here…