Masters snooker 2021 - Barry Hearn admits event won't have snooker fans due to Covid restrictions
World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has revealed he will be forced to abandon plans to allow fans access to the Masters at Alexandra Palace in London next month due to the new coronavirus restrictions. With the capital placed into a new Tier 4 over the weekend, Hearn is planning for the sport's invitational event to take place behind closed doors.
Stuart Bingham poses for a photo with the Paul Hunter Trophy after victory in the Final of the Dafabet Masters between Stuart Bingham and Ali Carter at Alexandra Palace on January 19, 2020 in London, England
The 2021 Masters – snooker's most prestigious invitational event – won't have fans at Alexandra Palace next month due to the new coronavirus restrictions in London.
World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn admits his plans to allow 1000 fans access to the tournament involving the sport's top 16 players between 10-17 January will have to be scrapped due to the capital being placed in Tier 4 over the weekend.
Elite professional sport can still go ahead behind closed doors, but Hearn had hoped fans would be allowed to watch with former world champion Stuart Bingham defending the title he lifted with a 10-8 win over Ali Carter a year ago.
Highlights: Bingham beats Carter to take Masters title
Snooker faced a similar problem during the World Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in August when the public was allowed access on the first and final days of the tournament due to changes in health advice.
Despite the possibility of restrictions being eased before the Masters takes place, Hearn is planning for snooker to follow the lead of the PDC World Darts Championship at the same venue with no fans in attendance.
Ronnie O'Sullivan and World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn.
Image credit: PA Sport
"It is a mess. If you had asked me about the Masters two days ago I would have said, "All systems go". Suddenly now, realistically, we have a problem," said Hearn.
"It is because of all the things we have to organise.
"It is like this whole thing is taking great pleasure in kicking me in the nuts. Every time I spend a load of money, there is no payback.
"We had the snooker at the Crucible, half a day before they changed their minds on crowds. The darts, all of a sudden after one day with live crowds – gone.
"These things cost a lot of money just to get the venues ready for the admission of people.
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"We have a final meeting on Monday, but this is not a two-minute thing and my recommendation will be to stage the Masters behind closed doors.
"Even if we come out of whatever tier we are in now – which they are making up as they go along – I can't see them welcoming crowds back to sport until early January at least.
"But I have to make decisions on Monday about things like tiered seating at Ally Pally, structure, entrance of fans, Covid rules for them…it is actually more efficient to do it behind closed doors.
"I can't leave those decisions until early January, I have to make them now as it's a three-week order and build.
Image credit: Eurosport
"We as an organisation have been burned twice already at the Crucible and now the darts World Championships."
Hearn – who is also chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation – estimates the Covid-19 restrictions have cost snooker and darts over £7m without any financial support from the UK government.
The 2020/21 snooker season has so far been staged behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
He hopes a sense of normality will return when this season's World Championship is staged by the Crucible in April.
"We don't get any payment from the government, even as a pilot scheme – I'm not moaning about that, just stating a fact," said Hearn.
"If it's going to be a choice between a maybe and a definite, I'm better off opting for the safe option so I'm pretty sure there won't be crowds.
"We had sold a number of tickets, and this thing runs into a lot of money overall. We lost £2.5million at the Crucible, maybe £4m at the darts, and the Masters £750,000.
"The only overriding thing that is good still is that although we come behind that great sport of breakdancing in the Olympics, we are recognised as an elite sport here.
"That has just been confirmed by Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State, and we can continue to put on professional tournaments behind closed doors.
"How quickly we return to any kind of normality with the crowds I don't know, but I am thinking the Crucible for the World Championships next April."