Zhao Sangrui, a snooker instructor in the western city of Chengdu, said China would be a “great encouragement” for a world champion to adopt a crew sport like any other country. With the start of the sports flagship event on Saturday, he may soon get his wish.
The annual World Snooker Championships will be held at its traditional theatrical UK home for the next two weeks, but by far the biggest interest will be in China, where top-name matches will later be rap audiences from Shanghai to Shenzhen.
The rapid development of snooker in China has already added this which is already a significant commercial opportunity in the most populous countries in the world. An estimated 50 million players regularly make a commitment in China.
The Chinese population, which has been watching big events on television for decades, has dwarfed the population of most European countries. An estimated 1.5 million people will follow the competition on state-owned CCTV this year, with more listeners continuing to operate on mobile phones this season.
“We’re seeing some huge amounts of viewership online,” says Miles Pierce, commercial director of World Snooker, which manages global tournaments for the sport. “Two or three years ago [mobile viewing] There wasn’t even a market for us. Now I think we will only watch 500m video online in China. “
About one-third of the world snooker tour events are held in China, including the Shanghai Masters and the Evergrand China Championships, sponsored by one of the country’s largest property developers.
Pierce said the sport was looking at more events as coronavirus travel restrictions were reduced. He pointed to enticing partnerships with Chinese companies, including Xingpai, the maker of sports-specific green tables.
The rise of snooker echoes a broad push by the Chinese government to increase its presence in world sports, especially football, although the country’s league is under financial pressure as a result of its ties to the big teams.
A feature of Chinese games is the perfect number of young players. An expert academy in Beijing, launched in 2013 and backed by former world champion Steve Davis, has encouraged a number of young players on the world stage.
The World Championships in China are expected to fill the shoulders of 21-year-old snooker veteran Ian Bingtao, who won the prestigious Masters tournament in January this year. There is also the experienced player Ding Junhui, who is the first Chinese player to gain worldwide recognition in the sport.
Out of a total of 126, 22 are playing in China, and five of the 32 participants in this year’s World Championships are from China.
The rise of elite snooker players is just one element of the growth of crew sports in China, it is itself part of a period of intense urbanization and a power shift in recreational opportunities that is not yet complete.
Snooker, which originated in the British Army in nineteenth-century colonial India, and a game similar to pool, emerged as a popular period in China’s rapidly evolving culture. Big cities like Beijing and Shanghai can boast hundreds of snookers and pool halls.
Players at the air-conditioned basement pool club in Beijing test their phones while traveling on tables.
Originally a young professional from Hebei province and his friend – who said they would tune in to see the snooker this weekend – noted that they were far from cry when they played outside in the 1990s, even in the depths of winter.
“None of them are around these days yet,” one of them said, keeping an eye on the next shot.
Pierce warned that there was no guarantee that China would dominate the sport even after the investment, adding that the expansion of the game to new markets like India, its popularity in Germany and Eastern Europe, and its enduring strength in the UK. “I think there’s a lot of competition,” he said.
Yet he agreed that if Ian could win the tournament, it would be “too, too big” for snooker in China.
The director of a Shanghai snooker club doubted the young man would claim the first world crown on behalf of China, but was more assertive about the six-time winners and ruling champions Ronnie and Sullivan, who began his defense on Saturday. “She is OK. . . I watch him play and learn a lot, ”he said.
Additional reporting by Wang Jiukiao of Shanghai