We had our tongue somewhat in our cheek last Friday when we said of Ronnie O'Sullivan's scheduled appearance at the Wembley Masters' snooker, "Perhaps the biggest question hanging over the event is whether or not the favourite will hang around long enough to play all his matches." Although it was his first tournament back after dramatically walking out of the Maplin UK event in York last month we felt lightning was very unlikely to strike twice, especially so soon, but maybe we were closer to the mark than we realised.
It was already known that O'Sullivan had met snooker supremo Sir Rodney Walker for a bit of chat last week. What has only just become clear is some of the details of what they agreed. World Snooker, the governing body, issued a statement yesterday saying:
Sir Rodney agreed, in the exceptional circumstances in which Ronnie finds himself at this time, that for the Saga Masters, he would be excused from fulfilling the normal contractual requirements with the media and sponsors which all players are required to undertake... Sir Rodney understands and accepts that his decision will be a disappointment to the media and the tournament sponsor.
Just a bit, we reckon. Mind you, it might raise the profile of the event more than if he'd just thrashed everybody and chatted urbanely about it afterwards, which they might consider adequate recompense.
[Sir Rodney] is, however, convinced that to expose Ronnie to the added pressures of exposure to the media, at the moment, would not be in the interests of the player, the tournament and the sport.
Crikey. It sounds like another walkout would not be beyond the realms of possibility after all.
We hope that Ronnie is ok, or at least that he'll be back on song very soon, and, as the dust from the York incident is still settling, we can see why the authorities have made such a gesture, but we do wonder if it's really the right answer. Sooner or later he will have to face the media again and this might make that experience more daunting than it would have been already. If Ronnie needs this special arrangement to play this week, might it not be better in the longer term simply to allow him to have some time off with no loss of ranking points? If the arrangement has to continue will some players see it as favouritism and could it come to overshadow the tournaments themselves? We hope for everybody's sake that this compromise is temporary and has the desired effects. We're just concerned that it won't.
Excellent long exposure shot via MarkyBon's Flickr stream.