World Championship: Let’s build a bigger Crucible in Sheffield – says Barry Hearn

Barry Hearn believes building a new Crucible could be the answer to keep the Betfred World Championship in Sheffield.

Barry Hearn, World Snooker Tour president. Picture: PA.
Barry Hearn, World Snooker Tour president. Picture: PA.

The famous Steel City theatre has been home to snooker’s World Championship since 1977, but with a 980-seat capacity, there have been calls over the years to take the event away from Yorkshire, even relocating to China.

The success of January’s Masters, where over 2,000 fans watched at London’s Alexandra Palace, has only served to highlight the Crucible’s limitations.

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But Hearn, World Snooker Tour president, is a long-term advocate of keeping the tournament – which is halfway through a 10-year hosting agreement in Sheffield – in the city.

Ding Junhui in action against Kyren Wilson on Wednesday at the Crucible. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

And he has opened talks with Sheffield City Council about building a new Crucible, which would increase the capacity and corporate opportunities.

“We are committed under a 10-year deal for the next four years to be in Sheffield,” Hearn told The Yorkshire Post.

“I have always said in my lifetime we will never be moving. But I would challenge Sheffield Council, as I am doing, why don’t we evaluate the idea of building a new Crucible in Sheffield, which is bigger, and then we get the best of both worlds. That’s what I shall I be aiming for.

“I am totally committed (to staying in Sheffield). There’s a lot of people not looking at the big picture. The big picture is what snooker brings to Sheffield, and what Sheffield brings to snooker.

‘It’s called history, it’s called reputation, if you want to be modern, it’s called brand value.

“It’s not just a question of a few extra bums on seats in a bigger arena. It’s about enhancing the broadcast value which brings in far more money than a few ticket sales.”

Australian Neil Robertson – the 2010 world champion – suggested this week using another venue in Sheffield to run parallel with the Crucible in the early rounds.

Robertson said: “My idea is to make it kind of like Wimbledon, where you have Centre Court and Court One, so you give everyone who qualifies the one-table experience.

“I think if you had two Crucible venues that are equal, it would be an amazing experience for everyone to end their season – Sheffield is well equipped to deal with that. It’s just an idea. Everyone gets to experience that from round one at the Masters, whereas here there’s only four (semi-finalists). Being the World Championship, it should be the biggest event from the start, not the semi-finals.”

Robertson’s idea was given short shrift by Hearn and 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham.

Bingham is an avowed fan of the Crucible set-up and believes the fight to reach the one-table set-up is one of the reasons that makes the venue so special.

“Not everybody likes it in those first couple of rounds and it can get a little bit cramped at times, but that’s what makes the Crucible Theatre,” said Bingham.

Hearn, 73, added: “The idea of running simultaneous venues is not new, it just doesn’t work.

“It doesn’t work from a PR point of view, it certainly doesn’t work from a TV production point of view – you are doubling up.

“It’s an idea, and God bless snooker players, they have some great ideas, and are also great snooker players.

“I can’t play snooker, but I have great ideas.”

Inside the Crucible, Jack Lisowski held off a fightback from Matthew Stevens to progress 10-8.

Lisowski had resumed with a 6-3 lead over Stevens, but that was soon wiped out following a swift start from the Welshman with two half-century breaks and a 99 clearance helping him level.

The Englishman, seeded 14, regrouped to take the next three, including breaks of 78 and 83, only for Stevens to respond again and cut the deficit back to 9-8.

The 18th frame proved another tense affair, which Lisowski eventually took 93-33 to book a showdown with Australia’s Neil Robertson for a place in the quarter-finals.

Earlier, four-time champion John Higgins eventually saw off Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-7 to move through to the last 16, where he will play either Belgium’s Luca Brecel or Noppon Saengkham.

Higgins, who won the last of his world titles in 2011, levelled the match at 5-5 on the back of a 75 break in Wednesday morning’s lengthy opening frame which lasted almost half an hour.

Another clearance of 53 was followed by a century as the veteran Scot, an eight-time finalist, took a 7-6 lead into the mid-session interval.

Following the restart, Un-Nooh recovered to stay in touch at 8-7, but Higgins eventually edged a nervy 16th frame 58-40 to move within one of victory, which he secured with another classy half-century clearance.

“It’s always more nerve-racking in the first round because you just want to get through and get into the tournament,” sad Higgins.

“I feel as if I am hitting the ball well at the moment, that can get better the longer I stay in the event.”

Kyren Wilson, runner-up in 2020, recovered from 3-0 down against Sheffield-based Ding Junhui to win 10-8.