As an 18-year-old Ding Junhui completed a break of 103 to defeat Stephen Hendry 9-5 and win his first ranking title at the China Open back in 2005, few could have imagined the size of the imprint that his victory would have upon the sport globally.
Even now, nearly 13 years on, the legacy of his achievement remains clear following the announcement of a historic new agreement between World Snooker, the official National Governing Body in China the Chinese Billiards and Snooker Association (CBSA) and the promoters Beijing Fuhua Culture Tourism Development Ltd. Co and Star Xing Pai, which will see the same tournament break the £1m barrier for total prize money for the first time. This will see the prestigious event become the most lucrative tournament outside of the World Championship.
It is only fitting that Beijing will play host to the biggest professional snooker event to have been held in Asia. Not only was it within the city that Ding Junhui sparked a snooker revolution with his title run in 2005, but the capital has also been at the heart of the work undertaken by the WPBSA and the CBSA – key supporters of the sport at grassroots development level – ever since.
The progress made is reflected by the amount of Chinese representation on the World Snooker Tour, which has increased significantly over the past decade. During the 2007/8 season there were just seven Chinese professionals, a figure that has more than tripled to a record high of 23 who are currently competing at the highest level of the sport. Perhaps more significantly yet, many of these players have achieved success during the first half of the season, with Ding Junhui, Li Hang, Xu Si, Cao Yupeng, Zhou Yuelong, Yan Bingtao and Lyu Haotian having reached at least the semi-finals stage of a full ranking event during the past six months.
WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: “It has been incredibly rewarding to see the growth of snooker in China in recent years. It was not long ago that many were questioning where the next Ding Junhui would come from but with the breadth of talent now on the tour, not to mention those fighting to join them, we can now safely say that there are now many stars from China who will secure the sport’s future in the country.”
Many of these players are products of the WPBSA-CBSA Beijing Academy, which opened its doors in 2013 as a joint venture between the WPBSA, CBSA and training technology partner Rigour. Through mutual cooperation between these organisations we have seen initiatives including referee and coach training programmes, as well as Cue Zone into Schools projects become a reality.
Following many fruitful years working together on this and other projects, in 2017 World Snooker announced that it has licensed digital rights in China to Rigour Media in a ten-year deal giving Rigour exclusive control of digital audio-visual rights in China.
This followed another significant announcement between World Snooker and CCTV for the broadcast of televised events in China over the same period.
But rather than being seen as the culmination of the years of hard work that have been put in to develop the sport in China, we see this as just the beginning with several new initiatives planned to continue the upward trend moving forwards.
Already we are seeing snooker schools prosper in China, with the support of current professional players who take time out during tournaments to visit and pass on their knowledge and experience. And in the city of Yushan, home not only to the World Open won this season by Ding Junhui, but also World Snooker’s strongest partner in China, exclusive table supplier Xing Pai Star, there are ambitious plans afoot to create the world’s first Billiard Sports City to take the sport to a new generation.
Next season will also see the Shanghai Masters become snooker’s richest invitational event following the signing of a new five-year agreement between World Snooker, promoter Juss Sports and the CBSA last November.
But with the field now set for the final stages of the China Open following this week’s qualification matches, it is Beijing that will take centre stage from 2-8 April as snooker’s biggest stars fight to take home a record-breaking top prize of £225,000.