The ubiquitous Barry Hearn, having scored heavily with darts and given snooker the kiss of life, now has a new sporting squeeze on his arm.
When we interviewed him a while back he revealed he was romancing a fresh love: table tennis. We can now reveal it has blossomed into an international event which he believes will grab us all by the ping pong balls.
Next month Las Vegas will stage the first World Ping Pong Championship over two days with 16 of the world's leading table tennis players competing for "several hundred thousand dollars" in prize money. Hearn promises it will take the game back to its roots, with old-style wooden bats, less spin and more slam-bam excitement.
Says Britain's leading sports impresario, promoter of everything from boxing to golf to fly fishing via the chairmanship of Leyton Orient FC: "I am working with a group of US backers who are putting millions into this. It will be table tennis with a difference. We are taking it back to when it was a big-time sport and thousands packed the arenas. You smacked the ball and it made that lovely noise. You could have rallies where you would stand 16 feet behind the table and smash it. That's when you had people watching. Now this championship will be shown on TV worldwide. It is the sort of event which has Sky written all over it, with long rallies, fierce hitting, lots of razzmatazz and more athleticism. If it works, we might have another darts on our hands and I'd like to bring it here. I can see a celebrity-studded event at the Royal Albert Hall with thousands on their feet cheering, just like the old days."
So what have the ITTF, the sport's world governing body, had to say about it? "Haven't even asked them. Governing bodies can be a bit negative so I find as you get older it is best to ignore them and do your own thing. We simply put the money on the table and if the players want it, they'll take it. We are not looking suddenly to put a team in the Olympics, but just to provide a top-quality event and entertain people."
The event takes place at the Palms Casino on 7-8 February. Paintball, dodgeball and crazy golf are other activities catching his entrepreneurial eye but speedway could be the next to get the Matchroom make-over as Hearn, 62, currently presiding over the Masters snooker at Wembley, looks for more sports to re-invent. And, of course, make a nice little Hearner.
Hammers back on track
West Ham's reported acquisition of the articulate Ulsterman Martin O'Neill as their new manager is surely a welcome boost in the escalating war of words over the future of London's Olympic Stadium.
Even more comforting must be the fact that among those members of the Olympic Legacy Board who will decide whether the Hammers (who would retain the athletics track as pledged by Lord Coe and Co) or Tottenham (who would dig it up) are to become occupants of the sacred site after the 2012 Games is one Nick Bitel.
A high-flying lawyer, Bitel is currently chief executive of London Marathon and an ardent athletics fan. He also happens to be a West Ham supporter.Reuse content