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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Dates clash leaves stars snookered

Steve Davis, John Higgins, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui are heading for defeat before a ball has been sunk.
Steve Davis, the six-time world champion, will not play in the Bahrain championship.
Steve Davis, the six-time world champion, will not play in the Bahrain championship.

"Snooker loopy nuts are we, me and him and them and me..." was a glorious verse from Chas & Dave's cultural Cockney snooker anthem of the mid-1980s, but could also be wheeled out to describe a situation that has left a quartet of the sport's main protagonists requiring snookers.

The new ranking tournament in the Kingdom of Bahrain does not begin until Nov 8, but Steve Davis, John Higgins, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui are heading for defeat before a ball has been sunk. The four will be unable to attend the Bahrain Championship due to its dates colliding with theUK-based Premier League competition that runs from September until November. Davis and Higgins are former world champions. China's Ding, the 2005 UK champion, and Selby, the runner-up to Higgins in the final of the 2007 world championship, also miss an event that represents the return of the snooker tour to the Middle East after the demise of the Dubai Duty Free Classic in 1994 . The chairman of World Snooker Sir Rodney Walker yesterday admitted he had penned a letter to Barry Hearn, who promotes the Premier League and has contracts with the four players.

One perhaps thinks that you could not make it up, especially with snooker recently announcing the loss of sponsorship of the world championship and the Masters, which is held by Selby. The Bahrain competition carries ranking points, and Walker expects it to contain a prize fund of £250,000 (Dh1.75m). Selby may be nicknamed the "Jester from Leicester", but neither he nor his cohorts see the funny side of such a bad break. Higgins is already in touch with his lawyer about his own plight. "It is very, very disappointing but the players have known for weeks, if not months, that we were looking to put on a new tournament," said Walker.

"If they choose to sign up with Barry Hearn and the Premier League, then that is their decision. The Premier League runs for a period of 10 to 12 weeks, and we can't be denied hosting our tournament in those weeks." Hearn, while now possessing a vested interest in boxing, darts and football, was a key figure in promoting the sport in the game's halcyon period of the 1980s. He managed Davis when the player won the world title six times.

"We informed World Snooker of the fixtures in April and never had any notification from them about the Bahrain tournament dates," commented Hearn. "It is a shame for the players not to have the chance to earn ranking points, and an even bigger shame for the people of Bahrain. "It really is astonishing that we have not been able to help work a way around this, but then if you do not know something is happening and you are not told anything, how can you plan the future?"

The new season began on Sunday in Belfast with the staging of the Northern Ireland trophy. Stephen Hendry, the seven-time world champion, today faces Stephen Lee in the last 32. Unlike the Bahrain tournament, the top 16 in the world were all present and correct at the outset of play yesterday. @Email:dkane@thenational.ae