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Saudi ‘golden ball’ rule cues up snooker controversy

seven-time World Snooker Championship winner Ronnie O’Sullivan is among the top-rank players taking part in the Saudi event Action Images
Seven-time World Snooker Championship winner Ronnie O’Sullivan is among the top-rank players taking part in the Saudi event
  • Tournament takes place in March
  • $1m prize pool
  • ‘Golden ball’ met with confusion

Saudi Arabia will host its first major snooker tournament in Riyadh in March, though the deal has aroused controversy because of a new “golden ball” rule. 

The Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker is the latest in a series of top sports events the kingdom is organising during the first months of 2024. 

The Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker will be held in the Saudi capital on 4-6 March with a ten-player field. Competitors include the seven-time World Snooker Championship winner Ronnie O’Sullivan, the 2019 world champion, Judd Trump, and the current holder, Luca Brecel. 

The deal was announced on 19 January by the head of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, Turki Alalshikh, and the chairman of World Snooker Tour, Steve Dawson. 

“This is a huge breakthrough for snooker into a new territory, and we see this as the beginning of a new adventure for our sport in the region,” Dawson said in a statement 

However, at the same time, Alalshikh also announced a controversial new rule for the matches in Riyadh.

“Welcome to a new era of snooker with Riyadh Season! Don’t miss the excitement, including the debut of the 20-point golden ball at 167 points – a snooker first,” Alalshikh posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Matches will be played under World Snooker rules, but with the addition of a 23rd golden ball known as the “Riyadh Season ball” that will be worth 20 points and can only be potted if a player is on a maximum break, to make it 167 on the last ball. 

This seems to mean that there will be an additional ball on the table throughout the game, which in most games is unlikely to be potted.

The golden ball has been attacked in UK media as a “mad snooker gimmick”. 

Sports promoter Eddie Hearn, who helped arrange the deal, said the total prizes would amount to $1 million. 

Alalshikh is bringing a litany of sports stars as part of what the government is calling Riyadh Season, including a face-off between boxing champions Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk on 17 February and a mixed martial arts champion-of-champions event on 24 February. 

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