Snooker: McKenzie's sacking set to spark revolt

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The Independent Online
Jim McKenzie, the chief executive appointed by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association in July, is to be called to a board meeting at Shawhill Golf Club, near Preston, tomorrow faced with dismissal.

The action, agreed at an informal meeting of board members in Sheffield on Friday, has upset not only influential figures in the snooker world but several members of the governing body's staff who are fearful of their jobs if they speak openly.

"McKenzie is the best boss I've ever had," one said. "It makes no sense," another remarked.

Rex Williams who was elected as WPBSA chairman last April, originated the move but will now face, as will his boardroom supporters on this matter, a call for his removal at a Special General Meeting for which 21 days' notice must be given. Before that, there are certain to be lively exchanges at the AGM on 19 December.

The impetus to remove Williams comes from Ian Doyle, whose management of Stephen Hendry and other leading players gives him 15 votes in the WPBSA's electorate of 48. "Rex's arrogance is matched only by his ego," Doyle said. "I supported him on the clear understanding that a management team would be appointed and given the freedom to manage this great sport's affairs. We have a wonderful product which has been mismanaged for the past two decades."

With no dissenting voice, Williams sacked the marketing team shortly after he took office. Joe Beeston, chief executive of Highland Spring, the mineral water suppliers, accepted a consultancy to assist the search for sponsors and himself agreed Highland Spring's sponsorship of the Scottish Open in Aberdeen next February.

"I'm just back from Dubai on business," Beeston said yesterday. "To get back and find that snooker seems to be going back to it's dark old days is very disappointing. I was always aware of snooker's potentialities but it's always been run unprofessionally and that's why I wasn't too prepared to commit any serious money to it.

"I was promised that this would be a new regime and that they would bring in proper management. On this basis, I agreed that Highland Spring would sponsor the Scottish Open and than I would act as a consultant for them.

"My first job was to interview Jim McKenzie. I recommended his appointment and everything he has done since has shown what a good appointment that was. If McKenzie is sacked on Monday, I would resign my consultancy and withdraw Highland Spring's sponsorship of the Scottish Open. There is no point trying to advise people who don't want to be advised."

Jim Chambers, a WPBSA board member who dissents from the majority view, said: "Nothing I've seen or heard has convinced me that McKenzie is doing anything but a first-rate job. I resigned from the previous board because I didn't think it could function in that manner."

McKenzie has earned praise from several quarters for his recent high- profile handling of snooker's attempt to reduce the impact of the Government's proposal on tobacco sponsorship which accounts for 70 per cent of the WPBSA's sponsorship income. These efforts, however, seemed to put Williams's nose out of joint. "It's the Jim McKenzie road show," he objected.

Williams has suggested that McKenzie is too close to Doyle - whose votes, ironically, were largely responsible for Williams becoming chairman. Recently responsible for the appointment of Lord Archer as the WPBSA's new president, Williams is understood to have his support. Archer is due to attend Monday's board meeting in a non-voting capacity.

Williams recently characterised McKenzie, who rescued E J Riley, the table concern, from receivership and built it into a position of strength as "just a jumped-up table salesman".

The question therefore remains: why did Williams enthusiastically acquiesce in his appointment?

UK Championships, Briefly, page 19

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