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The Debate: Should the Crucible remain the home of the World Snooker Championship?

Synonymous with the World Snooker Championship, Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre has been placed under the microscope again as the venue’s future comes into question.

The iconic venue has been the annual tournament’s spiritual home since 1977 and many would dare to think of the sport's showpiece departing for pastures new.

But that has become an increasingly likely reality with former World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn declaring that the Crucible is no longer fit for purpose.

As the debate rages on, members of the bet365 Sports & Betting News team have delved into the argument on the Crucible's future as the home of the World Snooker Championship.

Absolutely, the World Snooker Championship has to remain at the Crucible!

For many, myself included, attending the iconic Crucible theatre represents an annual pilgrimage.

Ardent fans from home and abroad descend on the sport’s spiritual home each and every year to take in one of the true highlights of the sporting calendar, the World Snooker Championship.

Nestled amidst the quaint South Yorkshire city of Sheffield, the Crucible has served as the hallowed ground of the World Snooker Tour’s flagship event since 1977 - almost half a century ago!

Its intimate setting, which is steeped in history and tradition, creates a truly unparalleled atmosphere that has captured the hearts of snooker enthusiasts from Sheffield to Shanghai.

Fans, by and large, don’t simply travel to attend the World Snooker Championship, they travel to visit the Crucible.

They long to watch some of the biggest names in the game do battle in such a unique, nostalgic and tight setting; to feel the emotion and history that comes with one of the few remaining sporting churches on these shores.

As we approach the 2024 World Final, the same question that rears its head on a yearly basis, ‘should the Crucible continue to be the home of the World Snooker Championship’, is being asked once again.

From purely a financial perspective, it’s difficult to put up too much of a fight against a potential move. There’s absolutely no doubt that the riches on offer from Saudi Arabia, or even China, would serve to lace the palms of the players and World Snooker Tour executives to a far greater extent than at present.

China - one of the global hotbeds of snooker - already plays host to three of the more prestigious events on the calendar, whilst Saudi Arabia recently hosted its maiden World Snooker Tour event, the World Masters of Snooker.

Nobody would be surprised if either or both of those countries were amongst the strongest contenders to host future World Snooker Championships, if a move were to ultimately transpire.

The likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has recently inked a multi-million pound ambassadorial deal with the Gulf state, and Hossein Vafaei, who bizarrely kicked up a recent stink (quite literally) about the supposed stench at the current venue, are championing for a lucrative move to the Middle East.

But there are others, like reigning champion Luca Brecel, three-time winner Mark Williams and six-time World finalist Jimmy White, who shudder at the World Championship being staged anywhere other than its iconic and history-steeped South Yorkshire home.

Look, there’s no doubt in my mind that efforts should continue to be made to encourage the growth of the sport overseas, especially in China and Saudi Arabia, but any notion that the World Snooker Championship should form part of those efforts, for me, is nonsensical.

The current push to move the event from the Crucible is a perfect example of the destruction of a fabled sporting institute, its setting, history and spirit. Far too often in sport we see the abandonment of the very things that make an event so incredibly special; all at the expense of chasing additional profit!

The qualities that first attracted those vast television audiences in the 80s, the paying spectators from every corner of the earth and big-money sponsors in the first place, are seemingly being discarded for yet more commercial gain.

Yes, I get the fact that the World Snooker Championship - like any other major sporting spectacle - has to evolve. I also fully understand that a bigger venue would enable more fans to attend, and as a consequence I also get that being able to offer more seats could potentially lower the cost of tickets. Although that notion would more than likely fall victim to greed, too.

For me, there’s no reason as to why these boxes cannot be ticked whilst still in Sheffield. Renovations can undoubtedly be made, and need to be made, there’s no doubt about that, but the idea of relocating the event - whether it be overseas or not - would rob it of so many visceral connections and diminish its significance.

Snooker is a sport that is best enjoyed at close quarters, where fans can feel the tension and witness the intricacies of a game where the minutest of details separate the great from the good. The Crucible provides the perfect intimate ambiance for this.

For as long as the powers that be wish for the World Snooker Championship to be regarded as the biggest and most important tournament of the season, it simply has to remain in Sheffield. Anything else just wouldn’t feel the same - for both players and supporters alike.

There are plenty of events throughout the snooker season that provide ample opportunities for change, innovation and international involvement - look no further than the ‘Golden Ball’ introduction in Riyadh earlier this season.

But the World Snooker Championship - the tournament that attracted global interest and sparked a dream for players from across the world in the first place - should firmly remain where it has since 1977, at the sport’s spiritual home, the Crucible.

Sorry Crucible, it's time for an upgrade...

The Crucible is in need of a makeover.

Now, before I start, I’ll clarify that a temporary relocation of the World Snooker Championship could be the tonic to an increasingly contentious subject.

As laughable as Hossein Vafaei’s critical comments of the smell may have been, the fact he’s opted to raise the matter in the midst of the tournament makes a mockery of the sport.

Highlighting the Crucible’s inferior facilities, Barry Hearn’s statement on the subject also reiterate that – as fabled as the Crucible is – it is no longer a venue befitting of such a prestigious tournament.

A bigger stage would instantaneously increase prize money for players. With more money comes greater exposure, which leads to larger audiences and increased sporting participation. You only have to glance at how darts has evolved in recent years.

The current agreement between World Snooker Tour, the sport’s governing body, and Sheffield City Council is due to expire in 2027, which is coincidentally the Crucible’s 50th anniversary.

Is there not a better moment for the WST to temporarily relocate the World Snooker Championships, expand the game, reap the financial rewards and, in that period, enhance a venue so that it’s equipped to host the sport’s pinnacle event for another 50 years?

Surely it’s possible to maintain the unique, enclosed setting whilst creating additional seating; the greater the capacity, the more happy spectators flocking through the doors and snooker prospers. It’s a win-win.

Take Wembley, for example. The ‘Home of Football’, one of the most revered stadiums steeped in history and a landmark intrinsically associated with football. The decision was made to pursue a multi-purpose, state-of-the-art facility and in return, we have one of the world's most iconic stadia that has helped the sport in this country to grow, still bearing the original name.

Without change, there is no avenue for growth. Saubi Arabia and China have been mooted as potential destinations and while neither are particularly the most appealing of locations if you’re a UK fan, it would be fascinating to see if an alternative arena influences the competition in anyway.

And what’s to say that, after a year or two, the World Snooker Championship returns to Sheffield where a modernised Crucible awaits them? As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

If all governing bodies in this matter were seriously invested in maintaining the Crucible’s rich history, change needs to happen.

The home of the World Snooker Championship needs a reboot and if that prompts a move abroad in the meantime, so be it.

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