The Rocket is at it again. Ronnie O’Sullivan is dynamite.
The World Snooker Championship barely needs any more excitement, tension, drama following two solid weeks of all the above.
High-profile early exits, big-name scalps falling by the wayside, even a mid-frame row have all contributed to a terrific tournament, but O’Sullivan has lit a flame under the melting pot like no other snooker player is capable of doing. The man is box office.
The former world champion has a date with destiny in the semi-finals against Mark Selby, days after a typically frank interview from O’Sullivan which revealed his brutal assessment of next-generation players.
“Would I have believed in 1992 Mark [Williams] and I would still be playing in these matches? Probably no. But when you look at the standard of play, then yes.”
“If you look at me and Mark and John, the younger players coming through, they’re not that good really. Most of them might do okay as half decent amateurs.
“They are so bad, a lot of them I think ‘You’d have to lose an arm and a leg to fall outside the top 50’. That’s maybe why we are still hovering around!”
Of course, such hyperbolic, scattergun criticism of an entire generation of sportsmen may not be rooted in objective truth, but his very presence in the final four of the 2020 World Championship – a tournament in which he made his debut months before this 27-year-old writer was even born – suggests his remarks hold substance, not callous shots fired at those seeking to emulate him.
His words may have lit a flame in the bellies of the young guns, kindled a fresh determination to improve, to prove O’Sullivan wrong. Or it may spark a capitulation in others.
However, the conversation over whether Ronnie is on the money feels irrelevant. It’s his opinion, his typical style, his nature and how refreshing is it to hear a sporting superstar moving freely, speaking easily, letting loose, no agenda to push or shareholders to appease. Just a sportsman treating a sport like the game it is.
We hear every cliche in almost every post-match interview from almost every professional athlete in almost every sport around the world. Safe, pleasant, steady, and painfully diplomatic, carefully selecting words fed to them, training into them, as if negotiating a life or death situation – one misstep and it’s game over.
Perhaps the pile-on nature of social media and pressure of ‘conform or be cancelled’ culture has injected sports stars – and their entourages – with an extra dose of fear when speaking out, but this should never be the case when simply speaking about a game. Sport is a game.
In an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com, O’Sullivan spoke of his love for snooker until it becomes all about competition.
He treatment of the game, with a pinch of salt, as a game has no doubt contributed to his rampant success. The maverick superstar told us that he barely spent any time practicing on a table throughout all of lockdown, half an hour here and there with a cue and a mirror, that’s it. He now stands on the verge of a sixth world title.
Of course, livelihoods depend on this ‘game’, lives indirectly depend on the sport industry and there is a grey line where airing thoughts can tip over from mischievous to malicious, but O’Sullivan isn’t there yet. He hasn’t harmed anyone, he simply has a knack of stirring the pot with his words, playing the game.
His comments have been met with a predictable blend of ‘class, that [three crying laughing emojis, three clapping hand emojis]’ and ‘disgrace [fuming red face emoji]’, but regardless of where you stand on his thoughts – ignore him, agree with him, unfollow him – we need more Ronnie O’Sullivans to treat sport like the game it is. Games are meant to be fun.
For the full breakdown of what games are coming up check out our World Snooker Championship on TV guide.
If you’re looking for something else to watch check out our TV Guide.