World champion Ronnie O'Sullivan admits he is "devastated" the UK Championship will not be going ahead in his favourite city of York later this month due to the global health pandemic.
Due to strict UK government health guidelines, the 2020/21 season has been shifted behind closed doors to a temporary set-up at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes with players subjected to regular Covid-19 testing at events.
The European Masters, English Open, Championship League and this week's Champion of Champions event have all been staged in Milton Keynes with the UK Championship set to join the Northern Irish Open, Scottish Open and World Grand Prix in being moved near the home of English League One football club MK Dons before Christmas.
"This year’s Betway UK Championship will be staged in Milton Keynes for the first time, in line with Government Covid-19 regulations," said tournament organisers World Snooker Tour in a statement on Wednesday.
"One of snooker’s most prestigious events and part of the Triple Crown Series, the tournament has been staged at York Barbican since 2011. However this year all rounds will take place at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, running from November 23rd to December 6th."
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O'Sullivan lifted his sixth world title in Sheffield in August with only a few hundred fans admitted at the Crucible for the final two days, but says playing every tournament behind closed doors in one town is not ideal for the sport.
The seven-times UK champion would prefer to compete at the KT Leisure Centre in Crawley – a venue he berated for smelling of urine at the English Open in 2018 – than being forced to travel to every tournament in Milton Keynes.
"It is what it is, but at some point you want the fans to come back because without the fans it is hard," said O'Sullivan, who became the youngest winner of a ranking event at the age of 17 when he defeated Stephen Hendry 10-6 in the UK final in 1993. "Listen, you feed off them sometimes and it is nice to come out and play in front of a crowd.
"It's a shame we aren't going back to York. I'm devastated because that is my favourite city in the whole country, even in the whole world," the world number two told Eurosport.
"To not be going there and back to Milton Keynes – that's just as hard in many ways as having to just keep going to Milton Keynes.
"I think I'd even take a little tournament at Crawley over Milton Keynes."
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WST chairman Barry Hearn is adamant the UK Championship will return to the York Barbican next year.
“We are disappointed not to be going to York Barbican for the Betway UK Championship this year because it is a fantastic venue in a wonderful city," said Hearn. "The people of York can rest assured that we fully intend to be back in York next year and in fact we have already agreed dates for 2021 and 2022 with the venue.
“Following extensive consultation with the UK Government and the relevant public health bodies, the decision has been made to stage all matches in Milton Keynes this time. It is an ideal venue, we are working with an exceptional team there and we have proved over the past few months that we can stage major tournaments there, involving 128 players, safely and successfully.
“In the circumstances we face today, our crucial objective is to keep our events going, provide competitive action and prize money for our players, and top class sport for the many millions of television viewers around the world who are in need of inspiration."