Snooker`s successful return to its birthplace with Indian Open

PTI| Updated: Oct 20, 2013, 13:44 PM IST

New Delhi: Before the Indian Open began, both the BSFI and WPBSA were sceptical about the tournament`s success, let alone its sustainability over a three-year period as per the contract, but what they have been left with after the five-day snooker extravaganza is only delightful memories.

October 14 marked the beginning of a new chapter in the history of snooker in the country when the world`s leading 57 professionals descended on the city to make the country the newest destination on the pro circuit.

Who would have known that the game will return to its birthplace 138 years after the sport was invented in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh in the form of 300,000-pound Indian Open world ranking snooker tournament.

The inaugural edition left a lasting impression on the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) administrators as they went back home completely overwhelmed with the sport`s progress and after discovering a new market for snooker in India, a country with a 1.2-billion population.

India is emerging as a force in snooker with top cueists -- Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta -- reigning supreme on the professional circuit.

Mehta also created history by becoming the first Indian to reach the final of a ranking event in the Indian Open. However, he ran out of luck in the summit clash against World No.4 and Chinese prodigy Ding Junhui, who defeated the 27-year-old Mumbaikar 0-5.

The world body is, therefore, keen to tap into the market here and the massive media coverage, both electronic and print, the event received in the last five days and the good crowd support only strengthened the belief of the game`s custodians that India could be developed as a new snooker territory.

"The tournament has been a grand success. Full credit to the BSFI and World Snooker, their officials and all those involved in making it happen. The crowd support was phenomenal. They showed that whether one is well-versed with a sport or not, the love for sportspeople is unconditional," eight-time world champion Advani told PTI.

"It is really heartening to see this beautiful sport slowly but surely spreading across the world. Wishing for many more events to come to India," added the Bangalorean, who lost 3-4 in the quarter-final against his countrymate Mehta.

Many officials also believe that India could become the new China, where the sport is hugely popular, thanks to Junhui`s eight ranking tournament victories.

According to the world body, there are 77 countries across the world which televise snooker with a global viewing audience of over
450 million.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson`s excitement reflected in his rich words of praise for the tournament.

"It is a real significant moment for all of us as we bring snooker to India. Snooker has grown massively in the last three years and has gone to China, Belgium, Holland, all over Europe and now India. We have gone to the World Games, the first step towards inclusion in the Olympic Games," he said.

Ferguson also spoke about his plans for a new prize-money based ranking system.

"It`s the most important innovation we have brought into the sport. It will provide more opportunity to young players to rise quickly in the ranking chart. Our plan is to completely globalise snooker and India is emerging as a potential destination. Growth has been incredible and there is need to introduce snooker in schools."

Good sponsorship for the event, two television partners in Doordarshan and Neo Sports and decent crowd turn-out, Ferguson couldn`t have asked for more.

Capt PVK Mohan, Billiards and Snooker Federation of India president, said, "I am happy with the coverage of the tournament. We are good enough to host three tournaments of the same magnitude as this one."

World No.1 Neil Robertson said a lot will depend on the success of Advani and Mehta on the professional circuit to promote the game in India.

Cali World Games gold medallist Mehta, who landed his biggest pay day with a cheque for 25,000 pound, said: "A few years ago, I would never have predicted this. My heart has been in the right place and I have put the right amount of work in, and shown myself that nothing is impossible.

"I am very proud to have represented India in this tournament and for the fact that the event has been successful."
It`s still early days but signs are promising. There`s every reason to be optimistic.