Mark Williams, twice a world champion, yesterday took an amazing potshot at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre on the eve of this year's World Championship.
The Welshman, who won at the Crucible in 2000 and 2003, used Twitter to criticise the iconic venue and also said he hoped the tournament would be moved to China.
Williams said: "World Championships just around the corner. Shame its played in the crucible, sh*t hole [sic], hopefully it will be in China soon. Rubbish, rather play in Pontins."
When contacted, Williams confirmed he made the remarks, saying: "I don't like the venue, and have never liked playing there. It is everything about it, from the players' lounge upwards. I think it is inevitable it will end up in China, they have five events already and we only have three [in the UK]."
Williams also used Twitter to say: "Over-hyped is correct. It's only my opinion about the Crucible so [World Snooker] don't send me any letters or fines."
In response Barry Hearn, the World Snooker chairman, issued a statement that stressed he would be happy to keep snooker's biggest tournament at the Crucible permanently. The World Championship has been staged at the venue since 1977 and the current contract runs until 2015.
Hearn said: "We've had fantastic support from Sheffield City Council, Welcome to Yorkshire and the BBC, and as long as that continues I'd be happy to keep the event at the Crucible until the day I die. It's an outstanding venue and the refurbishment which recently took place has greatly improved the facilities. There is so much history associated with the Crucible, it is synonymous with snooker and the World Championship."
Williams is not the first professional player to make outspoken remarks on Twitter. The three-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan was disciplined by World Snooker earlier this season and the World Open winner Mark Allen was fined for calling the Beijing tournament "horrendous" and labelling Chinese people "ignorant".
Meanwhile, John Higgins, the defending champion, knows he will have to play well to retain his title.
"At the end of the day my poor form has been down to myself," said Higgins, who has won four world titles. "The previous season did take a lot out of me but I've not given the tournaments the respect they deserve this season."
Higgins faces China's Liang Wenbo today. He said: "I've got the butterflies now. I still want to win any event. It's not been great this season and it's not nice to see other people winning events. You become a little bit jealous, that's perhaps what spurs you on to keep winning titles.
"Being honest, you only get out what you put into tournaments – and I've not put a lot in at all. That's why I've got nothing out of them. I think you sometimes need a wake-up call to be honest. Throughout my career I've had high and low points, but I definitely think that if it doesn't happen at the World Championship then I'll definitely have a better season next year. I certainly can't have a worse season because it's been pretty bad."
Higgins dominated last season, after his return from a six-month ban for bringing the sport into disrepute. The world No 6 won the UK Championship and Welsh Open before claiming his fourth world title. But he also lost his father to cancer and, before being cleared of match-fixing, was heavily criticised by fans and fellow professionals, having been filmed by the News of the World, allegedly agreeing to take money for throwing frames.
At 36, he says the pressure of performing on the big stage does not make life any easier. "I've got no thoughts of retiring though, not at all," said Higgins. "But as you get older the pressure multiplies itself, that's why the older players start to lose the longer they play. It's just the pressure. I think I'm the only player who'd be prepared to say that, to be honest. Other players might say it's something different why they struggle.
"Maybe when you get older you can't handle the pressure in the same way you did when you were 20. When you get to a certain age you can't compete the same way. Maybe some players don't suffer from it, but I certainly do."
Steely performers: Three to watch in Sheffield
China's Ding has won the UK Championship and Masters titles, but needs the Crucible crown to complete the full set of majors. Was beaten 17-15 by Judd Trump in last year's semi-finals, and should come close.
The outspoken Ulsterman has upset some people this year with his critical comments on how the sport is run, but aims to let his snooker do the talking having reached the UK Championship final in December.
The talented Belgian is the youngest ever qualifier for the Crucible at 17 years and 26 days. He had to win four tough matches just to make it to Sheffield and, like Trump last year, he has nothing to lose.Reuse content