O’Sullivan Critical of PTC ‘Blackmail’ – Is He Right?

Speaking today at the final of the 2011 Rileys Future Stars event as won by Welsh youngster Jamie Clarke, three-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has also taken the opportunity to criticise the current structure of the PTC events, being quoted as saying that he feels like he is being blackmailed to play in them. Has he got a point? Click below for my take…

Ronnie is quoted at SportingLife as saying:

“I feel like I’m being raped when I’m playing in them,”

“I feel I’m being blackmailed. They put these ranking events on and ranking points at these tournaments and it just feels like the winner’s prize is not great, the loser’s prize…most players are going there and losing money, but they’re putting ranking points on so it’s forcing the players to play in it, which is not great, but what do you do? You have to go.

“The lower-ranked players can’t afford it and the top-ranked players don’t really get rewarded for what they do, so no-one is a winner.

“But I have to play in them, there’s not a lot you can do, you’ve got to do it. But I don’t agree with them.”

“I’ve played on my own in a room for the last 20 years, I don’t need anyone to watch me,”

“I just love the sound of the balls. It’s much better to play in a great atmosphere but the actual reality of it is that most of our time we play in a room where no-one watches us.

“I can get my head around that, but obviously they are two different games. You get people that perform better under pressure, which means cameras and crowds, and you get some that can’t perform under that pressure, so the true test is at the big events where the bigger players will come through.

“But these other little events, we have to play.”

The merits or otherwise of the Players Tour Championship events has been one that has been subject to an increased amount of discussion during recent months, both among players and between fans on the various blogs and forums. I offered my two cents worth in my article here, while Snooker Scene’s Dave Hendon has also posted at length about the issue here.

As is often the case both in life and snooker and as you will see from the numerous comments on both of the above articles, a person’s view on the PTC events will differ depending upon their individual circumstances, be it from a player’s perspective or a fan perspective.

For some, the PTC events are a fantastic development, providing playing opportunities to all that have simply not been available in recent years. The likes of Joe Jogia, Andrew Higginson and Jamie Jones to name just a few have all thrived during the events and seen their rankings rise as a result.

For fans too the PTC events are a positive step, providing them with more snooker on a regular basis, particularly now that they are now being streamed either on World Snooker TV or via Eurosport and provide us with an opportunity to watch players who previously we would not have been able to see in action. By the same token it allows those players to clash with those at the very top of the game from which they will surely learn a great deal.

But for some such as Ronnie O’Sullivan the PTCs are not a positive development and for me at least, it is easy to understand why. While his choice of words might not be the most politically correct, I can see why from the point of view of a three-time world champion who has won £6m in prize money and probably double that in endorsements, playing in smaller events for maximum prize of £10,000 wouldn’t appeal to him.

I often see people respond with the comment that snooker is their jobs and that they should effectively not complain at being able to play snooker but particularly in the case of a select few players such as O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry who have played exclusively in front of big crowds for the past 20 years I am not sure that the argument works. I can’t help but see where they are coming from in their personal situations.

Is O’Sullivan correct to say that he is being blackmailed? In truth nobody is forcing him to enter the PTC series and there is nothing to stop him from declining any of the 12 events. As all of the players are now well aware however, such a decision would prove hugely detrimental to any player’s ranking and in Ronnie’s case, would cost him his place among the world’s top 16. Ronnie therefore knows that he must play them if he is to remain among the elite and from that point of view is effectively being forced to play them.

On the other hand of course it is arguable that the problem is of Ronnie’s own making as last season he did of course lose in the first round of the UK Championship, Welsh Open and China Open tournaments, which choosing not to compete during the German Masters.  Had he performed better in these events then he may have been in a position to have skipped some of the PTC events, as Ding Junhui has in fact elected to do.

Personally, as a fan I love the majority of the PTCs, particularly those held in Europe such as the Paul Hunter Classic and the recent event in Warsaw which have attracted large crowds and in the case of Furth in particular, have become almost mini-ranking events and may one day grow into ‘full’ ranking events.

The events in Sheffield are somewhat less justifiable. Stuart Pettman in his book argues for example that the twin purposes of any sport are entertainment and marketing and that in the case of the PTCs he is less convinced due to the lack of media coverage and spectator facilities. While streaming has been introduced since Stuart wrote his book, in terms of the Sheffield events I think that his point stands and that in terms of promoting the sport, these events offer little.

That said, it is widely understood that World Snooker have inherited the use of the facility in Sheffield as a result of a contract negotiated by the previous board and that this will run until the end of the next season so hopefully such events will not form part of the long-term plan.

From a player point of view however, be it someone as established as Ronnie or a lower ranked professional or amateur losing money as O’Sullivan and others have identified, I can understand why some would feel differently.

In terms of O’Sullivan’s quotes which have today been widely quoted on websites such as the BBC, in truth he is only saying what a number of others have also been saying, for example Stephen Maguire last week who said that he feels like a ‘prostitute’ playing in the events or even Stuart Pettman in his book who discussed the topic of the PTCs and the rankings dilemma at length. Ronnie is not the first person to raise questions but because of his profile only now has it really hit the headlines in the wider press.

I am certainly not going to criticise him for the way that he feels and in truth think that it is good to see him being honest, regardless of whether you agree with him or not.

Ultimately the debate will no doubt rumble on, probably until either the PTCs have gone or there is more prize money on offer and your stance will no doubt come down to your perspective, be it as a fan, a player or anything else. Regardless of your view, with the ranking points currently at stake, the PTCs cannot be ignored which in a roundabout way perhaps proves O’Sullivan’s point…