Snooker chiefs have revealed they looked at moving the UK Championship from York to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena.
Their announcement follows Ronnie O’Sullivan having put the Barbican venue in the national spotlight, calling it the “graveyard competition” after criticising the venue and table conditions.
The five-time world champion – and favourite to lift the UK crown on Sunday – spoke out following his 6-3 win over Leeds potter Peter Lines.
O’Sullivan said he thought the Barbican was too small to host a tournament featuring 128 players, with four tables housed in the main arena, plus another four tables in the sports hall, for the opening two rounds of the event.
Some top players, like former world champion Graeme Dott, have been unhappy at playing in the sports hall, likening it to playing in a “toilet”.
But World Snooker, the game’s governing body, have countered by claiming there is “slightly more room” in the main arena than last year, and record ticket sales for York indicate the four-table open plan set-up is popular with supporters.
The Barbican has received mixed comments from players; world No 61 Lines called it a “great venue” after his defeat to O’Sullivan, but players higher in the rankings have been quick to make their misgivings known.
“It wasn’t an easy game, but it’s not an easy venue to play at,” O’Sullivan said after beating Lines.
“I reckon there’s going to be a lot more shocks until they get down to the two-table set-up.
“I know what they are trying to do – have 128 players. But get a proper venue, get two proper TV tables. It is like asking (Roger) Federer to go and play on court 13 in front of three men and a dog, for Nadal at the French Open to be stuck on an outside court.
“You just don’t do it. You just think about the players a bit more. Especially the top players, who are there to sell your sport.
“You expect them to go out there and play well and the tables are really shocking. Someone needs to be accountable for it and someone needs to do something about it.
“I said at the start of the tournament you’re going to see some really weird results this week because you’ve got four tables and it’s not ideal playing conditions. I have called it the ‘graveyard competition’.
“It’s really tough out there because you’re playing with your back to the crowd so you don’t actually feel like you’re playing to anybody.
“When it gets down to a two-table set-up it will be like a proper tournament, but at the moment it’s just a lottery.
“The tables are playing really shocking. It’s going on to the cushions at one mile an hour and coming off at three miles an hour.
“I’m in the second biggest tournament we play in and I’m thinking of not using cushions.
“This obviously isn’t big enough for 128 players.
“I think they will need a bigger venue – maybe the NEC – somewhere where they can get 20 tables in.”
The UK finals returned to a revamped Barbican in 2011 – after four years in Telford – and are well-liked by Barry Hearn, World Snooker chairman.
“Each year here at the Barbican I am delighted by the enthusiasm of snooker supporters, who turn out in their droves,” said Hearn.
“It’s a venue which produces a sensational atmosphere.”
A World Snooker spokesman added: “We did consider moving the event to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry last year, which is a much bigger venue, and the concerns we had were:
“Two TV tables plus lots of outside tables might make the tournament look more like a European Tour event.
“Would a big venue generate the same atmosphere and ticket sales as York, which is more intimate? If we take fewer players to the final venue, using less tables, then we risk losing top players. In this event 13 of the top 16 have reached the third round.”
The Ricoh Arena currently hosts the Champion of Champions tournament in November, and has proven to be popular with top players.
O’Sullivan was also unhappy at the practice facilities in York, but this has now been alleviated with the four tables in the sports hall no longer used for matches and instead being dedicated official practice tables.
John Higgins produced a vintage showing to beat another former champion Matthew Stevens 6-2.
The Scot made breaks of 59, 81, 62 – after Stevens was first in with 61 in frame four – to lead 3-1 at the interval.
He then added a 128 and a 52 in a convincing win and put his improved form this week down to a new shorter cueing motion.
Higgins next faces Anthony McGill, who claimed a 6-5 comeback victory over Nigel Bond to progress.
David Morris followed up his stunning 6-4 win over Mark Selby by beating David Gilbert 6-2 with breaks of 60 and 65 and will face Stephen Maguire or Mark Williams.