Paul Hunter can miss the whole of next season without any threat to his world ranking while he continues his battle against cancer, it was decided yesterday.
At an Extraordinary General Meeting of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, players voted to give the board the capacity to freeze a player's ranking. The rule change allows the board to grant dispensations to players incapacitated by severe illness or injury to allow them to be reinstated on to the tour after their recovery with the same number of ranking points.
Hunter, 27, from Leeds, was diagnosed with cancer just before the 2005 World Championship. He won only one match last season, at the UK Championship in York, and his ranking dropped from No 5 to 34.
After losing in his first match at this year's World Championship, he said: "It's been tough because I've not enjoyed playing while I've been ill. I've been in pain but I've just had to give it a go to try to keep my ranking up. Next year I will try to get back to where I should be."
The three-times Masters champion had been due to play a qualifying match for the Northern Ireland Trophy - the first ranking event of the new season - in Prestatyn next Monday but will now not have to.