Snooker: My fight for future of snooker

Rex Williams gives his side of the story as the sport he presides over is cursed by controversy
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The Independent Online
WHEN I returned to snooker last April, after 10 years on the sidelines, I pledged to do my very best for our players, managers, sponsors and public. The game was close to crisis point. Blazing rows between the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association and the manager Ian Doyle were doing enormous damage. Sponsors, and potential sponsors, were fleeing in fright.

To be frank, it was Ian Doyle, who has a team of 17 players, who actually encouraged me to come back. He seemed sure that I could be voted in as chairman of the association, although he is just one manager among the many who handle our 700 playing members. He was in a position to be so confident because only those players who have been ranked in the top 40 over the previous two years, plus board members, are allowed by our constitution to vote on board appointments.

By having as many as 12 top-40 players on his books, plus the support of another player managed by his son, Doyle had a substantial block vote. All he had to do was persuade a handful of other players to back him and I was in. Since then he has signed up three more top-40 players, bringing his total voting strength to 15.

The constitution desperately needs attention because it is absurd that one manager can have so much power simply by accumulating a stack of players who are in the top 40. With this in mind I am now advocating an early change to our rules so that the number may be raised to include the top 64.

Since returning to the game, I have been horrified by the way in which Doyle has persistently tried to influence our affairs. I felt I was being asked to go in a direction which in my opinion would be detrimental to the game. I made it plain very early on that I had no desire to be a puppet, and stressed that I was there to represent everyone.

Incidentally, I had also become concerned that confidential information was leaking out of our head office in Bristol. When I told a colleague about my fears, he said: "It's sounding more and more like The Rex Files!"

Starting to doubt the integrity of people working alongside me was something I had never experienced before, and I began to wonder why I was putting myself through all this trouble when I could be enjoying a quiet life in retirement. But I had given my word to our members that I would do my best to lead the game forward, so any thought of quitting was put out of my mind.

As the association's annual general meeting got closer I knew it could be another chaotic event like the previous year unless I worked hard with our legal advisers to find the best way to ensure the proceedings went smoothly. It was obvious to me that Doyle would be there with his lawyers and I would be given a rough time.

Ironically, at the previous year's meeting I sat next to Doyle while he and his associates voted for the downfall of my predecessor, Geoff Foulds, which cleared the way for me to take over. We decided that a leading barrister should be on hand to make certain the meeting ran without a hitch, which we achieved. During the meeting two vital votes were taken concerning co-opted board members, which Doyle and his supporters lost.

This represented a victory for the membership and for me, and proved that Doyle's block vote could be beaten when everyone else pulled together for the good of the game.

These are critical times in the history of professional snooker. When I accepted the post of chairman I had no idea what lay ahead. On occasions I have been shocked, angry and appalled. There is a lot of work still to be done, a mountain to climb. But I am committed to the job anddelighted that I have the support of so many of the game's top players and their managers.

My special resolution for 1998 is to bring unity and integrity back into professional snooker by a democratic process, and to establish once and for all that no one man, no matter how many top players he might have on his books, can be allowed to be greater than the game itself. The association rules for all its members, and while I am chairman that is the way it is going to stay.

Rex Williams, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, was talking to Brian Radford.