Barry Hearn insists global standard of snooker is improving as big names crash out

Barry Hearn: World Snooker chairman
Barry Hearn: World Snooker chairman

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn insists the amount of big name casualties at the Northern Ireland Open proves the standard of snooker across the world is improving markedly.

More than half of the top-16 ranked players crashed out in the opening round of this week's Home Nations ranking event in Belfast, with eight of those losing to players outside the top 60.

John Higgins (4) was beaten by Rory McLeod (61), Barry Hawkins (6) lost to Chen Zifan (89), Mark Allen (7) went out to Niu Zhuang (90), Kyren Wilson (9) bowed out to Lee Walker (95), Shaun Murphy (10) was knockout out by Sam Baird (110) while Stuart Bingham (12) lost to Peter Lines (73) and Marco Fu (16) fell to Chen Feilong (126).

Hearn said: "This amazing set of results justifies the format for this event and highlights the unprecedented quality of players throughout our tour.

"The players ranked among the top 16 are rewarded in the fact that they are seeded in the draw so that they can’t meet another top-16 player until the third round, but it’s a level playing field which is what top level sport should be. And they are vulnerable in the first round because there are so many good players throughout the rankings. The standard this season and the number of centuries and 147s being made has never been higher."

Hearn, who was subject to a sensational verbal attack by Ronnie O'Sullivan on Monday as the Rocket branded him a 'dictator' only motivated by money, added: "Snooker is a land of opportunity and only the cream will rise to the top. All sport is about chasing dreams, but new players need the opportunity to chase that dream, and we have that now. We have a progressive system which is based on talent rather than reputation.

"The top 16 have huge benefits because they are invited to the Masters, the Shanghai Masters, the Championship League, seeded into the final stages of the World Championship, and seeded in the draw for every tournament. But in most ranking events they start in the same round as all 128 players and that is a fair system.

"Our overall prize money has grown from £3.5 million to £15 million within the past decade, and there are more and more players earning a good wage. In our current rankings there are 56 players who have earned £100,000 or more from ranking events within the past two years, whereas at the end of the 2015/16 season that figure was just 33.

"We are extremely ambitious in our plans to grow the sport further and create more opportunities for every player on our tour."

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