UK Championship To Remain At York Barbican


As regular readers and snooker fans will be aware, during December’s UK Championship, one of the hot topics of debate was the choice of venue for the event, in light of the move to a flat draw, 128 player structure and all of the implications that the changes meant.

Yesterday however, there was an interesting line from London, as World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn announced that the tournament will remain at its current home at the Barbican Centre for seemingly the foreseeable future.

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It was no secret during the UK Championship last month, that there were a number of players unhappy with the conditions at the Barbican Centre, citing the infamous ‘sports hall’, the off-site practice facilities, a lack of space around the two ‘outer’ tables in the main arena and even difficulties booking a hotel as reasons for their dissatisfaction.

With 128 players at the venue, some were of the view that the event felt like a PTC, though while not happy, few (if any), laid the blame at the door of the venue itself, but instead at the governing body for the changes to the format of the tournament.

Whatever the reasons, the subject of where the UK Championship would be staged in 2014 became an issue for debate, with suggestions that there could be a venue switch between the Barbican Centre and the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, which earlier this season hosted the inaugural Champion of Champions event.

With the Ricoh receiving rave reviews from those inside the game, WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson would not rule out the possibility of this happening, agreeing that the venue may be better equipped to host the UK Championship going forward.

Clearly however, there has since been a rethink by the powers that be, with Barry Hearn quoted by the York Press as saying:

“We’ve had a few months of soul searching, trials and tribulations and logistical exercises and a good amount of communication between everybody and I am pleased to say the UK Championship is staying in York.

“Obviously the Ricoh is a bigger arena and there is more space but, you know, we have established something in York.

“We have got a good rapport with the people, with the organisation at the Barbican and it is a quality venue as well.

“If it is not broken, we don’t want to fix it. But we did have some logistical problems and the problems weren’t York’s fault.

“They were our fault – 128 players going in and all the tables and it took some time. Any journey is going to have some bumps in the road.

“We sat down with the players, the staff, the officials, we sat down with everyone and said ‘Is it possible? Can we stay there? Can we make it better?

“They all put their heads down and we talked about certain problems the players had brought up and what they didn’t like – such as the space between tables, the overlap of lights.

“We believe we have cured them and we have made a few changes. There won’t be any players seeded through with their matches carried forward onto TV.

“Everyone will play one round not on TV and then we will keep the four tables in the main arena.

“Logistically, we believe it now works. Once we were comfortable with the logistics, there was no choice about the venue.”

While I do think that some (but not all) of the issues raised at the 2013 tournament were valid ones, I am pleased to see that the tournament would appear to be staying at the Barbican Centre for at least another year.

Crucially, UK Championship snooker at the venue has always been well-supported by the York crowd and that was no different this season, for example with the sports hall packed out on an opening day, which saw no ‘star’ players in action, to the general public at least.

Also in favour of the Barbican is that despite the niggles during the early stages of the tournament, it was clear to me that the venue came into its own during the final days, particularly once the arena came down to two and then one just one table.

Clearly this was not lost on the governing body, indeed I remember watching the final on the bet365 livestream and as Jason Ferguson and John Parrott were in the arena to prepare for the live Masters draw, tellingly they could be overheard praising the venue and the one-table set-up.

Whether the changes mentioned above by Barry will serve to reduce the gripes from the players remains to be seen, but it can only be good for snooker’s biggest tournament to find a settled home. Having attended the UK Championship at the Barbican Centre for the past three years, I hope that it will remain there for some time to come.