Snooker is facing a "players' uprising" from some of its biggest names over a sponsorship row, the chairman of a leading management agency said yesterday, two days before the start of the sport's showcase event, the World Championship in Sheffield.
The controversy has arisen because the event's new sponsor, the online casino 888.com, does not want players to wear rival firms' logos on their waistcoats, meaning some players will lose income from personal endorsement deals.
Ian Doyle, the chairman of the 110sport agency, which includes Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams in its stable, is even considering legal action. And while his players are intent on creating a stir on the baize at The Crucible, most have boycotted the media ahead of the championship, declining all interviews.
"There will be a players' uprising," Doyle told BBC Sport yesterday. "They are sick to death of the situation." Hendry and Williams are both likely to lose deals worth £50,000 with Betfred, while Ken Doherty, another 110 client, could lose his deal with Paddy Power.
World Snooker, the game's commercial arm, has agreed that 888.com should be able to block other firms' logos because it is putting money not just into the World Championship but into the game as a whole via being an associate sponsor of the Masters, the Grand Prix and UK Championship.
"It doesn't seem to have hit home with the powers that be that these are the stars of the game," Doyle said. "Every sport needs its stars and these guys are being punished mercilessly."
Sir Rodney Walker, the chairman of World Snooker, said it was "their prerogative" for 110sport to take legal action. "For years it has been the practice that if an event was being sponsored by a tobacco company or a brewery, the players would not wear competing logos. This is absolutely no different."
Walker said that when he took up his post in October 2003, snooker was a "virtually bankrupt" sport, with losses of £3m in the previous three years. He posted a £1.2m profit in his first year and anticipates "another good profit" this year, to be ploughed into new events.
"Sometimes I am at a loss to understand what the players really want," he said. "Yes, the prize-money has reduced, as indeed the income has fallen dramatically as we have lost sponsorship income from tobacco. But we are going to replace that... Next year more tournaments and more prize-money should begin to give the top players the income-earning potential they are seeking."
S Murphy (1) v J Wattana (Thai)
S Davis (16) v A Hicks
J White (9) v D Gray
P Ebdon (8) v M Holt
M Stevens (5) (Wal) v J Swail (N Irl)
K Doherty (12) (Irl) v B Hawkins
A McManus (13) (Sco) v Marco Fu (HK)
S Maguire (4) (Sco) v M King
S Hendry (3) (Sco) v N Bond
G Dott (14) (Sco) v J Parrott
S Lee (11) v A Carter
P Hunter (6) v N Robertson (Aus)
J Higgins (7) (Sco) v M Selby
M Williams (10) (Wal) v A Hamilton
J Perry (15) v R Day (Wal)
R O'Sullivan (2) v D Harold
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