Barry Hearn pushing for full capacity Crucible in World Snooker Championship latter stages

The 2021 World Championship could still see a full Crucible crowd (Picture: Getty Images )

World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn says he is pushing for a capacity crowd at the Crucible for the latter stages of the World Championship this year, describing a full arena as the ‘ultimate dream’ with discussions ongoing.

The World Snooker Championship runs from 17 April – 3 May at the Crucible, Sheffield and tickets are on sale for every session, with a reduced crowd expected.

However, there remains a possibility that there will be a packed Crucible for the quarter-finals onwards, if Hearn gets his wish.

The World Championship is being used as a pilot event, principally to collect data on the spread of Covid-19 and to learn lessons on opening up more indoor venues to crowds in the near future.

The 72-year-old believes the best way to do this is to start with a small crowd and build up to full capacity.

‘We are now looking at the practicality of numbers and I hope that there are a few things that will be resolved in our favour in the next few days,’ Hearn told the Talking Snooker podcast.

‘I can’t give you a strict number but what I would like to see is an evolving system throughout the event where we get data that can benefit, not just snooker, but sport, cinemas, theatres…

‘That will involve a level of testing of the crowd, what level we don’t know yet. It will involve post-testing, people who have been to the Crucible signing up to have another test at home. It’s quite complicated, it’s not just a question of putting half or a third or a quarter of people in there.

‘The system I would like to see brought in would be: round one is a social-distanced system with evidence of a vaccination or a negative test.

‘Round two might be a percentage occupancy, maybe 50%, then quarter-finals, semis and final, let’s go for it! Let’s have a full crowd and let’s really get some data that comes back from that, subject to testing.’

The quarter-finals will be played on 27-28 April, the semis on 29 April-1 May and the final on 2-3 May.

While firm decisions have not been made on the logistics of testing, Hearn is hopeful that there will be little to prevent a capacity crowd if everyone has returned a negative Covid test result before entering the arena.

‘The question is, if we are in an environment where everybody in the building has had a negative test, can we go back to the next level of normality? That’s what I’m trying for,’ he said.

‘I can see the side of Public Health England saying that even with a test we can’t be 100% secure, no system can be. So are we ready to roll a small risk into a deal where we get data that can set the trend for future events across a range of activities?

‘Hopefully everyone will have common sense, nothing can be perfect, but we have proved over the last 12 months that our Covid-19 policy has been exemplary and we have achieved more than virtually any other sport out there, even beyond Premier League football.

‘Time will tell and it’s a decision that will have to be made quickly.’

A full Crucible crowd may seem ambitious even for a promoter as skilled and experienced as Hearn, but it comes as no surprise that he is shooting for the stars.

‘I’m always going for gold because that’s the nature of the beast,’ said the World Snooker boss.

‘I think there’s a common sense level where we should experiment. We have 17 days, 40-odd sessions of snooker, we will never have a better opportunity to collect data and experiment with the future of all indoor events.

‘It’s a question of how far we’re allowed to go. The ultimate dream would be to end with some kind of total capacity just to round off the data and its collection.’

Barry Hearn has an ambitious plan for the World Championship next month (Picture: VCG via Getty Images)

The return of just a reduced crowd to the Crucible in April didn’t sit well with all fans, with some feeling it was a step too far, too soon as we emerge from the pandemic.

The idea of a full theatre will certainly put off some people, but Hearn feels that, if the experts allow it, then it is the right time to progress back to normality.

‘I don’t know what too soon is!’ Hearn said. ‘I don’t know when you turn round and say we’re going back to normal?

‘At the moment 60% of the adult population has been vaccinated. When 100% has been, is that too soon?

‘You could always make a case that the data over a period of time cannot prove we’re clear of the disease. I’m afraid to say – and I’m not being heartless because I had Covid myself, it’s not at all pleasant it’s horrible and I wasn’t nearly as bad as other people – the world carries on, we have to make a call on where we want to move.

Ronnie O’Sullivan lifted the World Championship title to a reduced crowd last year (Picture: PA)

‘If we’re going to be locked away for two years, that’s the rule, then that’s what we’ll do. But the evidence says we’re entering a period of coming out of it and I don’t take too kindly to people that have opinions with no educated knowledge.

‘For someone to tell me it’s too soon, I say to them: “Please show me your doctorate so I can take your opinion seriously.”

‘This is not rumour, gossip and intrigue, we are led by the science and by people that have got more knowledge than we do and we have no choice but to go along with what they say. We hope, as the government hopes, we are approaching a return to normality, it’s the speed of that return that I don’t have enough detail on yet.’

Nothing is finalised, but Hearn expects decisions to be made by the end of the week, with the tournament less than three weeks away.

Having any fans return is difficult enough logistically, but he has confidence in achieving his ambitious goal.

‘It’s not a straightforward operation, it’s extremely complicated,’ he explained. ‘It’s a mountain to climb, but it’s a mountain we’ve climbed a few times over the last 12 months and whilst we haven’t got to the top, we’re a good way past base camp.

‘We don’t give up very easily at World Snooker, I can assure you.’

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