SANCTION FREE

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In a shocking announcement, Matchroom founder Barry Hearn said that his company will conduct its 2023 tournaments (save for the World Pool Championship) without sanction from the World Pool-Billiard Association. Hearn made the announcement in an interview on Sky Sports during the 2022 Mosconi Cup at Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in early December.

According to Hearn, Matchroom had met with WPA officials in Germany during the European Open and had requested that the world governing body formally recognize the new Matchroom Nineball Rankings as the official rankings for that discipline. The WPA, said Hearn, turned down the request.

In response, Matchroom will not sanction the UK Open, the U.S. Open or the European Open, nor will it sanction its invitational events — World Pool Masters, World Cup of Pool, Mosconi Cup and Premier Pool League.

“It was a tough decision to make,” said Hearn in an interview on the “Doggin’ It” podcast. “We all need to pull in the same direction. That means the sport, the broadcasters, the sponsors, management and sanctioning bodies. I tried to tell the WPA that Matchroom will not continue to invest millions of dollars without having some skin in the game. We said we will continue to build this sport globally, but it’s important to us that the WPA acknowledge the Matchroom Nineball rankings as the official rankings for 9-ball.”

Hearn went on to insist that the newly developed ranking system is set up to help grow the competitive side of the sport at all levels.

“Part of our plan is to bring other events into the tour to expand it,” he said. “Making the smaller tournaments relevant and important will ensure that players participate in those events as well. Those points and that ranking earn you a spot in the top events. Essentially, you must participate in all the events.”

In defending his desire for “skin in the game,” Hearn pointed to the questions he faces in trying to market his events.

“When we go to broadcasting and sponsor partners,” he insisted, “the first thing they ask is who controls the product. Darts is one of the great success stories. We own darts. Why is snooker successful? We own it. Players and governing bodies have proven that they’re not good enough at promoting the sport. They just rubber stamp events and charge a sanctioning fee.”

Sanctioning is required by the WPA for any event that includes players from other intercontinental memberships. National federation members of the WPA control the selection of players from their country for events, although promoters traditionally also receive an allotment of “wild card” entries.

Will Matchroom’s unsanctioned events create problems for players?

“The duty of federations is to the players,” Hearn pointed out. “To give them opportunities.

“The federations have to understand that this is a business and that they don’t own anything.

“We’ve shown over 40 years at Matchroom that when we make progress with a sport, we share that with the players. But behind the scenes we also create a sustainable business that is profitable and allows us to invest in other sports.”

The WPA declined comment on the topic.

“We’re making the investment on our own,” Hearn reiterated. “We have the players’ backing, which is fundamental. If you’re not a realist, you’re history. It sounds a bit brutal, but I’m 74 and I don’t have time to wait for things to happen. I want to see pool hit it big before I go to the big pool hall in the sky.

“I can do that with the team I’ve got, and I’m not going to have administrators stand in the way of the way forward. We’ve proved our commitment over 30 years. But I want ownership now. We have a vision. We’re going to outgrow the world the WPA operates in. We need to do that to create a mega sport. Matchroom will invest whatever it takes to make this game huge.”

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