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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 17:51 GMT
Snooker at the crossroads

So, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association board has survived an attempted coup to remove it en bloc.

But despite Wednesday's victory, the WPBSA and World Snooker Enterprises, its newly appointed commercial manager, face an uphill task to restore confidence.

The background

Last season, the WPBSA ran nine world ranking events.

Due to financial problems, it originally announced only six events for this season.

But it's managed to squeeze out two more by slashing prize funds at this week's British Open and next month's UK Championship.

Those cash worries, however, don't look like easing.

Tobacco sponsorship worth more than 2m will disappear by law at the end of this season, and the WPBSA is currently locked in dispute with Trans World International (TWI) over 3.1m of TV money.

Had the challenge of coup leader Terry Griffiths prevailed, it would have reopened negotiations with a rich consortium to bring new money into the sport.

On paper, the deal looked financially tempting.

But it was rejected because many of the players suspected it was a front for Ian Doyle, the acerbic 61-year-old Scot who manages Stephen Hendry and 20 other leading players, to take over the game.

The case for change

The consortium was made up of Altium, a firm with backing from a London financial institution, TWI and Octagon, another powerful name in the sports world,

Altium made it clear that part of it's offer to invest in snooker included a promise to settle the TWI v WPBSA row - without any further cost to the latter.

But Altium withdrew from talks with the WPBSA complaining of an unwelcoming attitude from its board.

Altium were offering to guarantee a world-ranking circuit of nine events plus the Masters and a richer challenge tour for five years.

Scotland's Stephen Hendry
Hendry: Another leading light in the challenge
Dependent on this was the acquisition of WPBSA's commercial rights for a nominal 1, albeit with an undertaking to redistribute their entire worth in the form of prize money.

It would have injected an initial 2.5m to underpin the tour, and the players - as WPBSA members - would not have been liable for expenses such as executive salaries and tournament set-up costs.

Sticking with the status quo

Nevertheless, a vociferous element within the 77-strong electorate (the top 64 in the rankings for the last two years plus the board itself) was adamant that this was a rip-off.

They were particularly suspicious that Altium were on friendly terms with Doyle.

Despite Altium's denials, several continued to insist that Altium was little more than "a front for Doyle to take over the game".

The truth is that professional snooker has been split between Doyleists and anti-Doyleists for more than a decade.

Doyle is acknowledged on all sides as an effective manager but his readiness to unleash abrasive criticism - usually justified in my view - has made many enemies.

Another key factor in Wednesday's vote was the WPBSA's undertaking that the circuit would be kept at 128 players regardless of cash considerations.

In their initial pitch to the membership in June, Altium admitted with perhaps suicidal candour that it would prefer to reduce the circuit to 64.

Competing on the circuit is essential for professionals, so it's extremely unlikely that anyone anywhere near the current relegation zone voted against the board.

Turkeys voting for Christmas springs to mind.

The verdict

So with the political battle over, World Snooker Enterprises, in whom the WPBSA has placed its full confidence, has to show what it can do.

Much depends on the performance of WSE executives Richard Relton, Mark Whitehead and Richard Davies.

It won't be easy.

See also:

13 Nov 02 | Snooker
13 Nov 02 | Snooker
08 Nov 02 | Snooker
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