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How the very British game of snooker has taken China by storm

by Tom Pattinson
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Jason Ferguson, Chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, explains some of the principles that have taken Chinese snooker to the next level

When we first started working in China, we started out with just one or two small events but quickly realised there was an emerging market for snooker with enormous potential. Of course, there were significant cultural challenges to overcome, the Chinese approach to business is very different to what we were used to in the West.

In order to grow, government support was vital and so the first step was to build a relationship with the China Central Administration for Sport and to ensure that we worked hand-in-hand with them rather than going off and doing our own thing.

Whilst we needed to be financially viable, we weren’t looking to make money; instead, the focus was on giving our partners and Chinese snooker fans what they wanted. These were the principles behind our growth and by doing that we have been able to create grassroots structures which have produced star talent. We were very lucky from the start to have Ding Junhui, who became a national icon after he won the China Open in 2005 at the age of 18. Wherever you go in the world, whenever you want to develop something, you have to create inspiration; in order to grow it’s essential that athletes are identified that the fans and next generation of players can look up to. It’s through that inspiration that mass participation can be created, and it’s through mass participation that the business can develop.

Working with grassroots communities to teach snooker

As part of this development, we have worked on training structures, built academies, led school and university programmes and developed a large number of Chinese coaches, referees, tournament directors and other officials. As with much of our work, that’s a two-way street; the best Chinese officials will now come and work on our other events around the world.

We’re not interested in creating a major sports event, leaving and then turning up the next year and expecting it to still be there

We now have 22 Chinese players on the World Snooker Tour, which makes the market sustainable because we nearly always have Chinese players in the later stages of tournaments. Fans are watching and following the sport throughout the season, giving us huge viewing figures and making us a fantastic commercial property. We now have six major events in China. The flagship event is the China Open which has £1 million prize money and takes place in the Olympic park in the heart of Beijing. We are very proud of the way snooker has developed in China, at both the amateur and the professional level.

Wherever we work, we are always keen to engage with the local culture and one thing we love about China is the variety within the country. The way we run an event or develop the sport in one city might be completely different to how things will work in another. Each city has a unique identity. Beijing is the country’s heart, while Shanghai is more international. In Yushan, in Jiangxi province, our partner Star XingPai has built the world’s first billiards city, including a museum, an academy, a hall of fame, an athletes’ village and a 4,000-seat stadium. This development has put the city on the map. In a similar fashion, Daqing has become well known in snooker circles as it hosts the International Championship.

Chinese champion Ding Junhui

Going forward, we want to continue to develop snooker, which is already one of the biggest sports in China. Around 30% of the World Tour now takes place in the country, and we are proud to work with campaigns that promote cultural exchange in schools; it has been fascinating to see how schools have embraced British culture. With our partners, we have hosted trade missions in both China and the UK, particularly in Sheffield, the snooker city.

We’re not interested in creating a major sports event, leaving and then turning up the next year and expecting it to still be there. We want to create sustainable infrastructure in our host cities, working in response to local needs, local people and local cultures. This principle underpins our long-term strategy and is core to our sustainability.

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