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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Green baize bust-ups
By Phil Harlow
BBC Sport at The Crucible

The World Snooker Championship has produced several good stories in its first few days.

Quinten Hann before things turned nasty in his match against Andy Hicks
Hann is no stranger to controversy
But the best of the bunch has undoubtedly been Quinten Hann's decision to challenge opponent Andy Hicks to a fight at the end of the match.

Snooker purists may tut and point to Joe Swail's demolition of former champion Ken Doherty, but for the vast majority Hann's outburst has been the highlight.

The Australian, already warned for swearing at the table, told Hicks he was "short and bald and always would be" before gesticulating at him with his cue extension.

While some may prefer to moralise about the terrible example such antics set to youngsters, the truth is this kind of spat is a major part of what makes snooker such a fascinating sport.

As the incident was unfolding on TV screens in the media centre at The Crucible, there were remarkably few cries of 'What about the children?' to be heard.

The most common noises were actually the gleeful rubbing together of hands and the sound of chairs being knocked over in the dash to secure a good seat at the post-match press conference.

Snooker, probably more than most sports, needs characters and personalities to capture the public's imagination and the sport's authorities knows this as well as anybody.

Paul Hunter has claimed that he had been specifically asked - alongside several other of the sport's young tyros - to develop a personal "style".

"Ronnie O'Sullivan, Matthew Stevens, John Higgins and myself were all told to liven up the sport," Hunter told The People newspaper.

"We signed a contract, which was for us all to get our own style to help drag younger audiences in."

Ronnie O'Sullivan has had his share of disputes
Hann v Hicks
O'Sullivan v Williams
O'Sullivan v Hendry
O'Sullivan v Robidoux
Alex Higgins v The World

For the sport to retain media interest and all-important sponsorship income, some spice must be added to what Ronnie O'Sullivan, in his more philosophical moments, calls "a game with some balls and a stick".

Legislation has outlawed tobacco sponsorship (although the World Championship has been given special dispensation to continue its partnership with Embassy until 2005), and the prestigious Masters tournament was without a sponsor this year.

So will Hann's behaviour damage snooker's standing in the eyes of potential sponsors? Not if it helps bring in that much sought-after younger audience.

Snooker has a well-established tradition of feuds between players and hell-raising behaviour off the table which have undeniably helped attract fans to the sport over the years.

Despite his repeated run-ins with the snooker hierarchy, it could be argued that Alex Higgins unpredictable behaviour and chaotic lifestyle during the 1970s and 80s were major factors in snooker's rise in popularity.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, probably the game's biggest star, made some uncomplimentary remarks about Mark Williams in his autobiography and promised to send Stephen Hendry "back to his sad little life" ahead of a Crucible clash.

Snooker needs to retain its most charismatic players and, as As Hann said after his run-in with Hicks, "It's all just a bit of harmless entertainment for the crowd."




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