Plans have been announced for snooker’s Championship League to return from June 1-11 at Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, with the event to be covered live in the UK by commercial broadcaster ITV.
The non-ranking event is organised by Matchroom Sport and will feature 64 players in round-robin groups. The competition will take place without fans and strict rules on social distancing, hygiene and Covid-19 testing will be enforced.
The event will see snooker become the first major UK sport to resume with live televised action following the Covid-19 outbreak. The competition will air daily on ITV4, with the presenters to operate from home and commentators to cover the event from the venue.
Marshall Arena, which has been selected as the venue, has an on-site accommodation, meaning that no players, officials or staff will need to leave once they have entered.
All 128 World Snooker Tour card holders will be invited to participate, with the top 64 who enter to receive a place. Current world number one-ranked player Judd Trump (pictured), and top 10-ranked players Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson have already confirmed they will participate.
The group matches will run from June 1-8 and will feature 16 groups of four players. The player who tops each group will progress to the second phase, where the 16 winners will be split into further groups of four. These second-phase matches will take place from June 9-10, before the four second-phase winners battle it out in the finals on June 11.
The total prize fund will be over £200,000 (€223,000/$243,000), with each player to earn a guaranteed £1,000. The winner will pick up £30,000 and earn a place in November’s Champion of Champions event.
Matchroom Sport chairman Barry Hearn said: “During the challenging times of the past few weeks we have examined the opportunities which still exist and worked relentlessly towards the goal of getting our tour going again. While most other sports remain sidelined, we are ready to return from June 1. This sends out a message to the sporting world that snooker is at the forefront of innovation.
“Our first priority has to be safety and we have had detailed discussions with government in creating a set of approved guidelines for the event which will be rigorously followed. We are making this very clear to the players and everyone working on the event.
“We will be the first major sport to get back to live televised action. That’s not by chance, it’s because of the hard work and preparation we have done during the lockdown to make sure we are ready to get going again as soon as it is legal.”
Hearn, who suffered a minor heart attack last month, has been pushing to stage live events behind closed doors to offer to broadcasters worldwide who have seen their schedules decimated.
He told the Unofficial Partner podcast in March: “I’m looking at ways of creating behind-closed-doors events subject to government rules and if I’m allowed to do that. If I am allowed to do it then I can then tick another box which is something on TV screens around the world which is live and entertaining although obviously lacking the atmosphere that most of my events have.”
Darts and snooker particularly lend themselves to behind-closed-doors events, Hearn said, with a limited number of people present and the two-metre rule being exercised.
Shortly after the Covid-19 shutdown took effect, Matchroom devised the Professional Darts Corporation’s Home Tour with players competing against one another from their respective homes.