Snooker: Higgins hits out at Hearn for 'ruining' UK event's true identity

Defending UK champion John Higgins has accused the snooker authorities of "ruining" a tournament that is widely seen as the second-biggest on the calendar after the World Championship in Sheffield.

Higgins insists World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn previously agreed to leave the sport's "crown jewels" untouched as he experimented with shorter matches and innovative formats to boost snooker's flagging fortunes.

However, this year the £625,000 UK Championship, which returns to its former venue at the Barbican Centre in York next Saturday, will see its traditional, longer best-of-17 frame encounters ditched in favour of contests played over the best of 11.

Four-time world champion Higgins believes the decision has been made with television in mind - but fears the clear identity formerly enjoyed by the UK event has now been lost, rendering it little different to many other tour tournaments.

He said: "I still don't know why it has been done, none of the players have been officially told by Barry Hearn. Apparently it's for TV coverage, but I think some players should have been consulted for their thoughts.

"To be able to play best of 17s I would gladly have given up my automatic place in the draw and played a qualifier somewhere else first to get it down to 16 players.

"A lot of the players are mystified. I do think it has ruined the prestige of the tournament.

"And I also believed this was one of the events that wasn't going to be touched, along with the World Championship. Maybe Barry could have negotiated a bit more with the BBC over it."

Higgins added: "The big BBC events – the World Championship, the Masters, and the UK – all had their own identities, and the UK's has been lost."