The Crucible Theatre

Barry Hearn believes snooker's World Championship will be pilot event again, with fans allowed at Crucible

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn believes there's a "good chance" of the World Championship again being used as a pilot event for the return of fans to sport, with 50 per cent of the capacity allowed in at the Crucible.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this week that crowds will only return to sporting events on May 17, which is two weeks after the World Championship is due to end.

But Hearn remains bullish, insisting a repeat of last summer - when the 2020 tournament was used as a pilot event - is very possible.

"I think we've got a good chance of having some sort of limited crowd in there," Hearn exclusively told Sporting Life.

"I spoke to DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) this morning and we are on the list, they are pushing, and hopefully within the next week or 10 days I reasonably, optimistically expect that we'll get the go ahead as a pilot event.

"I think there's every chance of maybe a 50 per cent crowd occupancy for Sheffield. If I can get 50 per cent, I'll probably bite their hand off."

Under a pilot scheme, fans were allowed in to watch three days of the World Championship last summer, including the two days of the final.

Since then, every event this season has been held behind closed doors, the vast majority of them at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

Judd Trump in action against Ronnie O'Sullivan in Milton Keynes

Hearn has hailed the way snooker has dealt with life during the coronavirus pandemic, saying it leads the way in sport and will help as he pushes for crowds to be permitted in Sheffield.

"We've got an exemplary record on Covid policy, and have proved it across hundreds and hundreds of days of events," he said.

"Our event output is actually bigger than it was pre-Covid. We've not asked the government for any money, which is always a plus. We've self-funded everything, and we've not reduced our prize money.

"And we've done a bloody good job. I mean quite honestly, our Covid policy is more stringent than any other sport out there, including Premier League football.

"We've got a good relationship with public health authorities and DCMS, so it would be surprising for them to say no, but who knows?

"There's two things. If we listen to Boris and actually believe him, which I'm not sure we all do, it looks like we'll be back to normal by June 22nd. If it's really back to normal, then everything else is just a short-term problem isn't it?

"The other thing is, there's always this feeling with Boris that he changes his mind. I think he's going to be under a lot of pressure from some of his colleagues on the Conservative back benches that I know, that are saying he's moving too slowly.

"If the data comes in and the figures are really declining, which they frankly should do with all these vaccinations, you never know, he might bring forward a few dates."

Barry Hearn spoke to Nick Metcalfe in December - CLICK HERE to read the interview

Hearn, who told Sporting Life in December that the tournament would be held in its original spring slot, again confirmed that would definitely be the case, with any suggestions of a move "not even a starter".

He said: "Just tell me where I can get 17 days broadcast coverage without a problem. The only reason I moved it last year was because I was fortunate that the Olympics was cancelled, which freed up just about 17 days.

"This year, with everything from European Championship football to Wimbledon, then the Olympics, there is no window of opportunity to move significantly. I certainly wouldn't get 17 days. So it's not even a starter."

As for next season, Hearn believes a return to normality is on the cards for tournaments in the UK, but thinks we may have to wait until 2022 for any events to take place in China.

"It's back to normal as soon as we get past the World Championship," he added. "Our financial year ends on the 30th June, and I've sort of written off everything until then. The World Championship would be a plus. I don't know what it's cost me so far, about £15 million quid in ticket money. But you know what, I never had it before, so I didn't miss it.

"From the 1st of July, my vision is that we are back to normal and living with the virus on the back of vaccinations, and just saying it is what it is and we carry on from there.

"The doubt is China. At the moment it's 14 days of quarantine going into China, and that just can't happen. They don't have any exemptions. They are talking positively, but I still think China may be challenging for the rest of 2021."

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