Is Staging the World Snooker Championship in July Realistic?

It has been reported that new dates have been agreed upon with the Crucible Theatre, and that the onus now lies with host broadcaster BBC.

A World Snooker Championship in July is on the table, according to an exclusive by the The Sun on Sunday that quoted an optimistic Barry Hearn.

Like numerous other events on the sporting calendar, the blue-riband tournament has been postponed amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Originally supposed to start in just under two weeks time, the marathon 17-day competition could potentially now take place at the end of July and into the start of August.

These dates would coincide with the period previously occupied by the Tokyo Olympics, which of course has also since been postponed.

Ever the opportunist, World Snooker Tour chairman Hearn evidently sees an opening for snooker to swoop in and claim the sporting plaudits at a time when not much else is going on.

Major summer festivals of sport like Euro 2020 and Wimbledon have also bitten the dust, while there is ongoing speculation surrounding the climax to this season’s Premier League in football.

Hearn has already formulated an agreement with the Crucible Theatre, which luckily was due to host the World Seniors Championship in early August anyway.

Hearn said: “We have secured the Crucible for the same dates as the Olympics were going to be.”

“And we have applied to the BBC to make that move so it will be played out at the end of July and start of August.

“We are waiting to hear back from the BBC if that is acceptable to them.”

It’s clear that Hearn feels pretty confident that there will be a World Snooker Championship in July, going on to state, “we’re prepared if necessary to stage a Crucible behind closed doors.”

But how realistic is this? Even if the BBC is interested, will the COVID-19 crisis be sufficiently over in three months?

It’s all well and good acquiring the Crucible, but what about the qualifying rounds that need to be played out beforehand as well?

While it’s somewhat feasible to play from the last 32 onward behind closed doors and with a minimum amount of people – including players, officials, and cameramen – in attendance overall, it becomes less obvious how to manage the qualifiers.

More than 100 competitors, many from outside of Britain, are due to contest these preliminaries in an attempt to claim the 16 additional spots in the first round proper.

Travel restrictions are likely still going to be in place by July, particularly in the UK which hasn’t yet reached its peak of infections.

Even if players from abroad can get into the country, they may have to undergo a self-isolation process before being permitted to move around freely.

If these international players can’t get in, what’s the plan? Just go ahead with the sport’s flagship tournament without them?

Then there’s more mundane issues like whether or not hotels will be fully operational at this point, and what the government guidelines will be on social distancing.

There’s no doubt that it would be brilliant if there could be a World Snooker Championship in July, but the problems currently seem to far outweigh the solutions.

Hearn vehemently insisted that the Tour Championship was going to go ahead in March near the outset of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, only to be forced to cancel on the opening day of the event.

That the tournament didn’t already start ultimately saved him from a degree of embarrassment, but he seems to be setting himself up for another potential mess here.

The successful businessman hasn’t got to where he is today without taking a few risks, and Hearn is certainly going all-in in the hope that the cards fall in his favour.

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