“Blackmail?” Hearn said on Tuesday. “Guilty as charged, your honour.”
O’Sullivan marked his fourth title on Monday night with a prolonged public assault on Hearn’s organisation, claiming it was forcing players to compete in minor competitions to accumulate sufficient ranking points to qualify for the major tournaments.
“You sense there’s always the pressure of World Snooker squeezing you at every opportunity,” said an emotional champion moments after taking possession of the £250,000 winner’s cheque at the Sheffield Crucible. “What’s the best word? Blackmail? OK yeah, it’s blackmail.”
O’Sullivan said he had been so exhausted at times during the past season fulfilling contractual demands imposed on him by the board he had once almost crashed his car when he fell asleep at the wheel returning from an engagement. He added he was going to take a six-month break from the circuit to recoup and consider his next move.
“I love Ronnie to bits,” said Hearn, who was one of the first at the Crucible to congratulate the new champion. “But will I sit down and talk to him about this? Well, let’s just say Ronnie is renowned for many things, but logic isn’t one of them.”
Hearn insisted that far from requiring leading players to turn out for more tournaments, the new contract he has introduced to cover an expanded network of competition leaves the decision up to them.
“I have a duty to the game as a whole, my task was to fill up the schedule with tournaments every week and I’ve done that,” he said. “Nothing in the contract says you’ve got to play in all of them, however. Tiger Woods picks and chooses which golf tournaments he plays in. I think Ronnie should do the same. What we don’t want is players entering then pulling out. And if people pull out they will be fined. But I don’t have a problem if they say they won’t come and they don’t. I’d love Ronnie in every event, course I would, just like PGA would want Tiger. But if he’s not there, hey we get on with it.”
Hearn also admitted surprise at O’Sullivan’s suggestion that he was exhausted by the new schedule.
“Last season he played 60 days of snooker, most people who go to work would recognise that as a pretty low-key year,” he said. “But that’s his choice. My choice is to work 365 days a year.”
And while Hearn said he was always willing to talk to players about issues within the game, he wondered how much point there was discussing the matter with the man who is now unquestionably the game’s biggest box-office draw.
“Sometimes there’s very little logic with Ronnie,” he said. “He’s been telling everyone he’s about to retire since the UK Championships when he was 18. That means he’s been threatening it for 18 years. I don’t think even Frank Sinatra retired that many times. What I say to Ronnie is this: embrace life, play in what you want. We’ll welcome you with open arms.”
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