A Wimbledon-style expansion plan could save the Crucible’s snooker future

Building the ‘Billiardroom’ next to the Crucible could save the World Snooker Championship for Sheffield – James Burland Architect

Saudi Arabia could help fund a multi-million pound expansion of The Crucible, or the building of a new home for the world championship – rather than poaching the event – Barry Hearn has revealed.

This year’s championship was dominated by news snooker’s spiritual home being stripped of the sport’s flagship tournament after Hearn publicly threatened to take it to countries such as the Middle East or China unless a new venue with 3,000 seats was built.

But ahead of crucial talks between World Snooker and the council at this weekend’s final, Hearn has indicated the Saudis could help provide a solution that would suit all parties.

That has opened the door for a 980-capacity Crucible expansion, current plans for which can also be revealed by Telegraph Sports thanks to a British architect best known for the Etihad Stadium in Manchester City, James Burland.

Building on a ‘Billiardroom’ design first developed almost twenty years ago and previously explored by local officials in Sheffield, the proposal would see the construction of a 3,000-seat arena across the road from the existing venue.

A bridge connecting the two would also leave the door open to hosting the world championship at both facilities, in a concept similar to Wimbledon’s Center and No1 Courts.

The proposed site for the new arena is the O2 Academy – the former Roxy nightclub – which was forced to close in September amid armed, autoclaved aerated concrete groups.

Kyren Wilson starts the final by walking through the crowdKyren Wilson starts the final by walking through the crowd

The Crucible is contracted to host the World Snooker Championship until 2027, which will mark its 50th anniversary at the theater – Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Hearn’s revelation follows a cryptic comment from the man who has made snooker the latest frontier in Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented shake-up of the world sport establishment.

Last month, Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority (GEA), announced that Riyadh Season had become an official partner of the world championship.

Speaking at the launch about the possibility of poaching the event when World Snooker’s contract to stage it at the Crucible expires in 2027, he told Sky Sports News: “It would be a pleasure to have everything in our country and we support what’s happening in other countries countries too. That means maybe one day we will do something big here in England.”

Hearn, the president of World Snooker owners Matchroom Sports, said Telegraph Sports that could mean that the GEA will help finance the construction of a new home for the tournament.

“I won’t say more than that because I don’t want to prejudge anything His Excellency might come up with,” he added.

“This man has a huge passion for sports and he is so enthusiastic about delivering the Saudi message.

“It does not necessarily follow that the event must take place in Saudi Arabia.”

Burland and fellow snooker enthusiast Peter Bainbridge, with whom the architect collaborated on the ‘Billardrome’ concept, discovered during the design process that 3,000 seats was the maximum capacity for such an arena that would allow those attending a snooker match to follow the action.

Dennis Taylor wins in 1985Dennis Taylor wins in 1985

The Crucible has staged the game’s biggest moments: Adrian Murrell /Allsport

Discussions have been held with World Snooker and Burland was invited to the World Championship two years ago to research the atmosphere in the Crucible, with a view to replicating and improving it at each new venue.

Bainbridge has estimated the minimum cost of a facility at around £50 million, a figure that could rise if additional facilities, such as a hotel, were included in the plan.

Hearn said: “I am aware of the building. It’s an interesting building. And like everything else, these are the kinds of things I would like to discuss.”

Amid fears that Sheffield is one of dozens of councils at risk of going bankrupt, Hearn acknowledged that the bulk of the money for such a project would have to come from elsewhere.

He also warned that the Saudis could ultimately decide that they would rather host the World Cup than help extend the city’s stay after half a century.

‘Leaving the Crucible will be devastating because we love it’

Whatever the Gulf state’s intentions, Hearn has told Sheffield council it has a year to create a 3,000-seat arena or World Snooker risks walking away.

Other options include effectively bulldozing the Crucible and rebuilding it from scratch – something that will likely be met with fierce resistance as it is a working theater – or using a pre-existing location.

The council’s chief executive, Kate Josephs, alluded to the latter in response to Hearn’s demand for increased capacity.

She said Telegraph Sports: “Sheffield is the home of snooker, just as Wimbledon is to tennis and Aintree is to the Grand National. The World Snooker Championship and Sheffield go hand in hand.

“We know what the tournament means to the people of Sheffield, the players who come to compete and all the fans who watch the tournament around the world. We have created a sporting legacy here in the city and we want it to continue for generations to come.

“The atmosphere that the Crucible Theater offers is second to none. It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else. In recent weeks we’ve heard the likes of Tom Ford, Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins describe the magical atmosphere of competing at the venue. Shaun said the theater was ‘one of the best in the world’ and that it was ‘home’ for the sport, and we couldn’t agree more.

“We have a proud sporting history and we are home to fantastic facilities including the English Institute of Sport and the Olympic Legacy Park. We have just built the 3,000 seat Canon Medical Arena, home of the Sheffield Sharks and the Sheffield Hatters. We also have two snooker academies, and many of the game’s rising stars have made the city their home.

Canon Medical ArenaCanon Medical Arena

Sheffield recently completed construction of the Canon Medical Arena, which will house the city’s basketball and ice hockey teams

“As snooker grows, so does Sheffield – the city center is undergoing a massive £470 million transformation, with a new world-class hotel, more restaurants, cafes and entertainment spaces. Snooker fans have seen for decades that Sheffield knows how to put on a show, and there is much more to come.

“In terms of snooker, we have a contract until 2027 that we are supplying, and our priority is to ensure that everyone here in Sheffield has the best possible experience, whether that be the players, the visitors or our local residents. We are in regular contact with World Snooker Tour and meet them before, during and after each tournament. We will continue to talk to them about a path forward that works for all of us.”

The council declined to comment on whether it would be willing to explore the feasibility of an expansion of the Crucible, citing commercial confidentiality.

Hearn, meanwhile, expressed disdain at suggestions that the World Championship could move to the home of the city’s basketball and netball teams, which will host qualifying events for snooker’s Scottish Open and German Masters in the autumn.

“Our goal is to eventually move to a stadium designed to maintain the feel and visuals of the Crucible in a larger facility,” Hearn said.

“It’s not just about the number of seats, because in my backyard I can get 3,000 seats. But I wouldn’t suggest holding the World Snooker Championship there.

“Leaving the Crucible will be such a horrible experience because we love it. But honestly, if you walk around backstage at the Crucible, it’s not great. However, the atmosphere in the arena is world class. So we need a purpose-built facility that reflects the atmosphere of The Crucible as much as possible, but very simply: with three times as many seats.

“For them to suggest that we can take our World Championship out of the Crucible and move it to a leisure center just so we have the capacity to increase the funding is actually quite insulting.”

Representatives from Saudi Arabia’s GEA and the O2 Academy’s owners, Academy Music Group, did not respond to requests for comment.

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