Ronnie O’Sullivan is not comfortable with crowds at the Crucible for the World Snooker Championship, saying players are being used as ‘lab rats’ and suggesting they are an easy target to do so.
The World Championship begins on Friday and around 300 people will be allowed through the Crucible doors, making the Sheffield venue full to around 30% capacity.
It is one of the Government’s test events for returning crowds to live sport, with Glorious Goodwood horse racing and County Championship cricket also being used.
The difference for snooker’s centrepiece is that it is indoors, seemingly a much more hazardous environment for coronavirus, and some players are not happy to be the first one back in front of a crowd.
Anthony Hamilton, who has come through qualification to reach the Crucible, feels it is ‘ridiculous’ that players are in this situation.
‘Let’s say one person gets ill and dies from the Crucible – it’s one person who died for no reason at all, just for entertainment,’ Hamilton said after securing qualification. ‘I think it’s ridiculous.
‘On a personal front I’m high risk – I’ve got asthma so I’ve been diligent to say the least during this lockdown. I’ve been shielding, basically. I haven’t been seeing anyone.
‘I’ve been practising on my own, I’ve been washing all my food, cleaning my clothes before going in the house, all that business.
‘So to go into a room with 300 people is against the grain for me. I’m not going to be comfortable in there personally. I don’t know why anyone is going to be comfortable. Three hundred people for 17 days I think is an absolute risk. For entertainment purposes, it’s well out of proportion. I don’t think it’s a good risk at all.’
O’Sullivan agrees with the Sheriff of Pottingham and feels it has been easier for the Government to run the risk with snooker players than it would be for more high profile sports.
‘I defy anybody if they have been keeping their distance from people for four months to say, oh right, now you’ve got to go into a room full of people – unless you have got a death wish, and some people have in many ways and they just don’t care,’ said the Rocket.
‘But if you are one of these people that happens to care about your health and are taking it seriously, I totally get how he feels.
‘I would feel a bit strange walking in a room with 10 people I don’t know, and I have done. I didn’t feel comfortable.
‘So I totally respect where Anthony is coming from, and where other people are coming from – they want crowds in there, they want things back to normal. We have a choice we don’t have to go and play. We all run a bit of a risk.
‘I don’t think it’s a risk worth taking. I have the option not to play but I’ve decided to play. Maybe with 5,000 fans I could see it’s a bit of an income you’re going to lose, but 200 fans, is it really?
‘Maybe they have to start doing a test on crowds at some point and I’ve heard people say they’re treating the snooker event a little bit like lab rats – you’ve got to start somewhere, start with snooker players.
‘Less insurance to pay out for Anthony Hamilton than there is for Lewis Hamilton.’
While O’Sullivan and Hamilton are of this opinion, many other players have welcomed the return of the crowd to snooker and are glad that the World Championship, the sport’s crown jewel, is not being played behind closed doors.
Last year’s semi-finalist Dave Gilbert told Metro.co.uk: ‘I think it’s brilliant, personally, I think most would. The Crucible is a very special place and it would be very strange walking into an empty arena.’
O’Sullivan, though, has had personal experience with the horror of COVID-19, which leaves him feeling that most people are not taking it seriously enough.
‘It’s not until you’ve had people close to you that have gone through it, and know someone who has died,’ said Ronnie.
‘And I’ve had nurses who I have spoken to and they say, that people have come in with Covid-19 and they think they are going to be alright and it’s not until they can’t breathe that they say “please don’t let me die”.
‘Grown men and women crying their eyes out because they can’t breathe. It’s only when something like that happens and you hear those stories that you go ‘hold on a minute, this is serious’.
‘I don’t think it has been taken seriously enough.’
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