Matchroom Sport’s Barry Hearn has suggested live televised sport should continue behind closed doors during the coronavirus outbreak and that snooker will wait for government advice before suspending any events.
The snooker, darts and boxing promoter told BBC Radio Scotland that he would continue to schedule sporting events “where possible”, or delay them at worst.
He said: “I’m not sure of the benefit of not staging outdoor events. People talk about spreading the virus, but unless we’re all going to be locked indoors for the next few months, we’re all going to be down the pub or mixing with people at work, or travelling on trains.”
Hearn suggested this year’s World Snooker Championships, scheduled to take place at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield from April 18 to May 4, could be played in front of empty seats.
He added: “My gut feeling is to carry on whenever possible subject to normal health requirements.
“I’m actually looking at events behind closed doors, to actually expand the events I’m doing. Because there’s an opportunity there to keep everyone busy and happy. It does present an opportunity for indoor sports, behind closed doors, even boxing may well have a market in the absence of any other live sport existing.”
Yesterday (Sunday), the final of the World Snooker Tour’s Gibraltar Open took place behind closed doors. The tournament was initially limited to a crowd of 100 people but then switched to going behind closed doors halfway through.
After it was announced two referees had fallen ill, players were asked to referee their own matches. In one case, Chinese player Liang Wenbo had to pick the balls out of pockets for his opponent James Cahill.
Following the final, Hearn responded to calls to suspend the upcoming World Championships by tweeting: “We need directive from government based on specialist advice. Then we have three options – cancel/delay/play within government rules. Time will tell.”
Matchroom sports has already had to announce a provisional reschedule programme for the Professional Darts Corporation’s 2020 Premier League event. Last Thursday it was announced that a double-header scheduled to take place in Rotterdam on March 25 and 26 had been postponed due to regulations forbidding large public gathering in the Netherlands. The event is now scheduled to take place on September 9-10 in the same country.
Hearn remarked: “Already I’ve got a team of people working on alternative dates. I’ve cancelled next week’s Premier League in Rotterdam and immediately booked 9-10 September so we can have something to look forward to maybe.”
Like Hearn, PDC chief executive Matt Porter has said the darts organisation will continue to follow government advice on whether events should be cancelled or postponed. In spite of a swathe of cancellations to sporting events around the world, darts has continued to organise a busy schedule during the coronavirus outbreak. The Premier League went to Liverpool last week and is scheduled to be in Newcastle this week.
Last Friday (March 13), World Snooker issued a provisional statement indicating the World Snooker Championships and next week’s Tour Championship in Llandudno would take place as planned, provided the situation didn’t change.
Hearn noted: “I’m playing the Gibraltar Open [snooker] behind closed doors at this moment in time. Next week I have the tour championships and I’m waiting to hear if I’m allowed to do it.”