x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Snooker chief still hopes O'Sullivan will defend title despite break from sport

Barry Hearn, chairman of World Snooker, believes the reigning world champion may return to defend his title after saying he would not play again this season.

Snooker world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Snooker world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The chairman of World Snooker hopes to convince champion Ronnie O'Sullivan to defend his title next year - despite the maverick player taking a break from the sport.

O'Sullivan announced last month that he would not play again this season, having made only one low-profile outing since winning snooker's most highly-prized trophy last May.

Personal reasons were cited for him taking a break from the current campaign, with the player having previously claiming that playing week-in, week-out on the tour was taking a heavy toll on his life.

He did not sign up for the continuing williamhill.com UK Championship, or next month's Masters at Alexandra Palace in London, but Barry Hearn, the World Snooker chairman, confirmed he will contact O'Sullivan, before the deadline closes for the season-ending World Championship.

"I have said to Ronnie that the only tournament for us if he wanted to change his mind - and that is not unknown - is the World Championship," he said.

"We are not sure exactly when the closing date for that would be, maybe the end of January, and I will call him and make sure he knows when it is.

"Then he has the option, and it is his decision. We know how much interest that would generate at this season's event, clearly more so as defending world champion after most of a season out.

"We didn't want to lose Ronnie at all for the profile he brings. At the moment, the last time we spoke, it must be said he was still intent on missing the season, but he is infamous for changing direction so who knows?"

Hearn is aware that even if O'Sullivan were harbouring such thoughts, he would be wary of underperforming.

"Snooker is so competitive now that he will know you either take it 100 per cent seriously or you don't play at all. That is the issue in his mind," Hearn added.

"He is not going to play for first-round loser's money, or come back to the stage he has graced and given so much pleasure to get embarrassed."