With more and more snooker events moving towards the far east, we take a look at why the popularity of snooker China has exploded
Generally us westerners under evaluate just how big snooker is in china. All in all, it is estimated that 50 million Chinese people play snooker in china. That’s almost the entire population of the UK. Last year, a staggering 400 million people worldwide tuned in to watch the world championship final, and that’s without an Asian player in it!! So how did this begin?
Billiards and pool have long been a popular recreational past time for Chinese people, however the explosive obsession with snooker started when a young 16 year old boy by the name of Ding Junhui burst onto our television screens. He quickly became a national hero in china because he was young, fresh, talented and was winning tournaments. He was by all accounts, the next Stephen Hendry or Steve Davis.
With 100 million viewers watching him in some matches, the sense of the “world on my shoulders” would be an accurate statement to make. This resulted in big-time pressure and perhaps contributed to some missed opportunities early in his career due to the levels of expectation we had for him so early on.
So how did we get from then to now? Well, the Chinese people were inspired by Ding and his story and so the love affair began. Millions of Chinese kids started to watch and play snooker, trying to be like their hero Ding. Slowly over time, more and more young Chinese players have emerged through the rankings such as Liang Wenbo and Xiao Guodong to name a couple. Further down the ranking there are far more Chinese snooker players making large strides in the snooker rankings. For example Yan Bingtao is said to be Champion material. Young Chinese players are moving to the UK to practice with the established professional snooker players in academies (such as the Victoria snooker academy) around the UK. Its hardly surprising to calculate that if 50 million people are playing snooker in china, then it wont be long until china is dominating the game of snooker.
Lets not forget though, china still has some work to do to reach the UK’s level of success with snooker. For example, China has not had a player win the world championships yet, or a player in the final for that matter. But for how long? Not long by our estimation, given the current rate of Chinese players coming through.
With more tournaments in China than ever before, the western players have become accustomed to the long flights, heat and culture difference, not to mention the playing conditions are also different. When players come to China to play a tournament, they are literally treated like A list celebrities. That’s because in China, these guys are celebrities, icons and hero’s to the Chinese. Players enjoy 5 star treatment with red carpets entries, champagne receptions, opening and closing ceremonies that rival the Oscars and thousands of screaming fans.
Often there is a misconception when we watch snooker China from here on the western side of the world. The snooker China crowds appear quiet, unlike the scenes we usually see in the Ally Pally, the Barbican or the final of the world championship for that matter. This is because the Chinese people are reserved and sensitive to the fact that snooker players need to maintain concentration and they don’t overdo their enthusiasm during play.
In conclusion, its very clear that globally, the game of snooker has grown substantially from 2010 onwards particularly in China due to mass investment from wealthy organisations in the far east. Snooker may have seen a decline in the UK and Ireland in recent years, but worldwide the game is on the rise. More events, means more exposure and this is not just true for China, but for Europe also, which can only be a good thing for the game we love. Snooker is here to stay albeit heading east.