For this article I want to start a few years ago, in the 90's when I started to play pool to be precise. In 1996 I attended the Youth European Championships for the first time although I wasn't really on the level to really compete yet. I did (mostly) what I was told by my coach and my national federation. Growing as a junior player I had more to do with the federation and its elected principals. It didn't take long to realize that not everything is in order. I was definitely not happy with the situation back then and was even part of a committee that tried to dispossess the national governing body of pool billiard. But I thought by myself: this is Switzerland. Once I am a pro I won't have to deal with stuff like that anymore.
In 2004 I started to play for a German team in the 3rd division of the German League system. Germany is well known in the pool world, not only for its World Champions but also for the huge amount high-level players, especially in straight pool. In fact this was always a dream of mine since I read about the league in pool magazines. And guess what, I even teamed up with one of these World Champions! We had a fun season, raising in the 2nd division without a doubt. Everything seemed to be just fine. But then, one year later, unbeaten in the 2nd division we had to play the play-offs to get into the premier division. And that's exactly when the fun part started to collapse. Yet again the federation decided to change rules for just unreal reasons. And this never ended. While we still won that play-off and finished in the top3 every year of the premier league after that, winning it in 2009, the German federation never seemed shy of unreal, unnecessary and stupid solutions, officially intending to do good for the sport.
At the same time I was playing several European Championships. And what shall I say?! Also the European federation is not above reproach. Many things, in my and also other players' point of view went wrong and a lot of, in my understanding, natural goals were not reached. My biggest disappointment for example was what I gained from finishing 2nd in the EC 9-ball in 2006: a spot at the BCA Open in Las Vegas. To mention, I had to pay the flight, hotel and the 500$ entry fee myself! That is what you get as “first loser”.
All of these federations know about my opinion because I was never shy to say it. And all this time I thought: once I am a pro all this won't bother me anymore because I won't have to deal with it beyond a certain point. I was wrong!
World stage and World Championships
My first appearance at a World Championship was in Taiwan in 2004. The event was managed and run by Matchroom Sport since 1999 when they herald the new-age of pool events in Cardiff, Wales. Besides my performance the event was a total success! Players knew the deal, promotional clips were already running in the national and continental TV when we arrived at the hotel and the queue in front of the WTC convention hall was about 200 people strong. And also important – I felt like a pro!
But this all changed, starting in the very same year 2004. The World 8-ball Championships were given to Fujairah, a city just 90 minutes away from Dubai. Lots of people/players thought that this was promising considering the latest upraising of the emirates. Although the total purse was way too small for such an event most international top players made their way to the desert. I also took part in the 2005 event. And this time it was the other way around. Besides my performance, everything else was ridiculous. We played in a tent somewhere in the back of the hotels, off of everything, with referees that didn't know anything about pool, a time management that made me playing 5 hours late to play for a seat in the elimination round at 3.30am and even an official WC banner over an entrance telling us that we are still in 2004.
I was not only shocked but also sure that this won't happen again because the head of our sport, WPA president Ian Anderson was on location. He must have seen what I had seen and take his consequences out of this experience. But I was wrong again! Since 2004 the WC 8-ball have been given to Fujairah again in 2007, 2008, 2010 as well as 2011. Did it improve? I can't tell because I was never willing to go there again. But the latest blog of former 9-ball World Champion Daryl Peach tells you this:
Well, could you really call this tournament that? To be honest, it's one of the worst events I have played in for a long time! I hate to say that because the UAE people are great and I wish the tournament was a big success, but in truth, the organisation was well below par, and the format was terrible. The referees were terrible apart from the odd one, and to be honest ALL the players said the same. I had what was probably the toughest group, every player in the group was capable of beating the others in the group. But I played some solid stuff and came through on the winners side by beating firstly Joven Bustamante and then Francisco Bustamante, both by a score line of 7-6. Because of the strange format that they decided to use, there were 56 qualifiers for the straight KO stage, but they decided to give 8 byes to the 8players who had lost the least racks in the group stages....all this meant was that the players who had easy groups got rewarded for it, and players who had tough groups like myself were penalised because it was so hard to win heavily against world class players! So I drew Vilmos Foldes in the last 56 and had 4 dry breaks from my first 4breaks! I was 7-1 down and got it back to 7-5, but made the mistake of asking the ref to remove the breaking template (magic rack)....he mark the 2 balls that were near the rack but then proceeded to drop one and moved the marker on the other! This messed the whole layout up of the balls. This eventually hindered me in running the balls out and I lost the rack, and eventually lost 9-6. To be honest, the only reason I was disappointed in losing was because this event carried Mosconi cup points. I was glad to get outta there and get home, and now I look forward to my next event......” - by Daryl Peach (source: http://darylpeachpool.blogspot.com )
And if you ask yourself now if “our” president was on location or not – pictures tell you more than words:
Also to mention is the amount of wild cards and local qualifiers for this year's WC 8-ball:
- 9 organizer wildcards (of which at least 3 are doubtful choices due to no possible serious reasoning)
- 6 UAE players
- 3 wildcards
- 9 qualifiers
That means that 27 of the 112 players are either wildcards or qualifiers. I think there are more than enough players around the world that would have earned their spot more than many of these 27 players! My assumption is that there was "a deal" made or the organizer just was authorized to do what he wants.
Another funny fact is the system they used this year. Daryl describes already most of it. Which promoter would do a tournament with 14! groups?
In 2008 the WPA decided to give the World 10-Ball Championships to Raya Sports of the Philippines, run by Yen Makabenta. Matchroom Sport was kept outside. And it was a disaster! The main squad of Philippine players boycotted the event due to a reigning fight between the Federation, run by Yen Makabenta, and the other stall which promotes the players such as Reyes, Bustamante, Gomez, Orcullo etc.. Spectators didn't arrive, I never received an informational email about the opening ceremony or the opening dinner. Just by accident me and my room mate found out about these happenings just 30 minutes after the first and 30 minutes before the second event. The referees were not trained well! During two of my friends' matches the referee called a foul although everything was 100% okay. During one of my games I had to ask the referee to switch off his cell phone three times in a 3 minutes interval after it didn't stop ringing. Only when I got a little offensive he finally agreed to turn it off. Additionally, players had to wait for their prize money somewhere between 3 and 11 months! You might think now that Ian Anderson and the WPA would not sanction the event again if organized by Raya Sports in the following year?! Wrong! Same old same old in the following year and even worse!
In 2009 the Qatar Snooker and Billiards Federation organized the Qatar Open for the first time. All players were looking forward to a new event, held by an ambitious federation. The hotel was nice, the venue was convenient and the people very nice and courteous. The only mistakes they did is the choice of tournament directors. Their biggest mistake was the draw! You would think that the head of our sport would know how to do a draw but again – wrong! While I played and lost against Darren Appleton, Marcus Chamat beat Yi-Ko Pin. So Yi-Ko Pin and me both won the following match in the loser round and then... guess what: we played the same players again. Darren and Marcus lost their next match and were sent “west” where the exact same players were waiting that they just beat the match before. Not conform with the situation I knocked on the tournament directors office a few hours before the upcoming matches to call their attention on this circumstance. After a internal meeting of the tournament director and Ian Anderson himself they told me that everything is just the way it has to be. There was no mistake in the draw! After losing to Darren again I was waiting outside (I was a smoker at that time) for the bus to leave to the hotel. While the bus driver of this 30 year old bus with a damaged AC let us wait almost 3 hours in a heat of 45°C because that was the way it was scheduled, Ian Anderson was given a ride back on demand by a chauffeur in a Cadillac, just as he did all week!
The WPA and Ian Anderson
In Germany I learned the saying (translation): “the fish starts smelling first at the head!”. And while it is the BCA (Billiard Congress of America) not doing the right things or anything at all for the US pool scene it is the WPA not doing what it is meant for to do for the world wide pool scene.
While the via smear campaign re-elected president of the WPA, Ian Anderson, jets around the world in Business and first class, nothing has been done in the past 10 years to improve the world stage for pro pool players. Not to mention that the president in a sport mainly played and promoted in the USA, Europe and Asia should not be from Australia. That just costs way too much money and is inefficient.
While 5% of the players' prize money is conducted at the WPA sanctioned events the WPA itself does not guarantee any of the prize money (as it officially used to be). We even had to sign a paper right before the 2008 WC in Manila which told us that the WPA is not responsible for guaranteeing the prize money! Almost as if they would have know what's going to happen! Besides the Youth World Championships and the maintenance of the official website I can not spot what else the WPA is spending that money on except airfare tickets.
Another huge failure of the WPA is the scheduling of sanctioned events. Of course it is not the WPA scheduling the events but only sanctioning them. Of course?! Why? Unfortunately the top pros of our sport are not in the lucky position like the drivers of Formula 1 cars. They fly first class to every race, their team takes care of everything else like the equipment etc., their own physiotherapist takes care of their body so they can handle the jet lag better and last but not least they earn real money! Today's top professional pool players have a tough life getting along with the little money they can win. To win money they first of all have to pay flights and hotels, they have to pay taxes and the y have to build up a “pillow” for the time after the career. How much do you think is left for the daily life?! So in my understanding it is the most obvious thing that the WPA has to overtake the responsibility of planning “the tour”. What do I mean by that?
Taking a look at previous, recent and upcoming events makes clear how badly organized everything is. On one hand big events are clashing every now and then, like the Gstaad Swiss Open and the Predator Tour in Manila last September or, just last week, “the Masters” in Chesapeake/USA and the World 8-ball Championships in Fujairah. On the other hand, a European pro player for example has to travel to Valley Forge/USA in the second week of March 2011. Before March 24th he has to back in Europe to play the European Championships. Two days later the Philippine Open is calling before he can fly back to Italy just to make it on time for the Euro Tour. Five days later he should be in Dallas/USA to compete in the Ultimate 10 Ball, leaving right after the closing ceremony to make it not even on time for the Beijing Open in China. All of this in just 7 weeks!
So what is the solution? I guess one obvious possibility would be to do “time and zone areas”. To be more precise, it is necessary to sanction major events on the different continents only in certain time frames. Let's say the major events in Asia are from February till April, in the USA from June till August (nearly every pool hall has AC, in contrast to Europe), in Europe from September/October till November/December. Like this the touring pros could save a ton of money on airfare, the promoters can count with more top players per event and the branding of the players and the tour would be easier: spectators have to take the chance to see the pros, otherwise they have to wait a year.
But all this can only be done by the WPA as the reigning body of the world pool scene! And as long as amateur managers like Ian Anderson are leading us this will for sure not happen! If you are asking yourself if I want to appeal for the discharge of the WPA president Ian Anderson – yes I am! If we want to keep the chance to have touring pros, huge international events and to see them playing live there has a change to be done. And this change must start with “the head of the fish”!
To all the pros out there: if you feel like me and want to support this article please drop me a line which authorizes me to add your name right here as one of the supporters of this writing
Pros and SemiPros that support this article officially:
JÖRN KAPLAN, German Champion (Germany) | SANDOR TOT, European Champion, Euro Tour Champion (Serbia) | MARTIN LARSEN, Danish Champion (Denmark) | VILMOS FÖLDES, Junior World Champion, Euro Tour Runner-Up, Austrian Team Champion (Hungary) | NICK VAN DEN BERG, Dutch Champion, European Champion, Mosconi Cup Champion (Netherlands) | CHARLIE WILLIAMS, Mosconi Cup Champion (USA) | DARYL PEACH, Euro Tour Champion, World Champion, Mosconi Cup Member, World Pool Masters Champion (England) | SARAH ROUSEY (USA) | ALEX LELY, European Champion, Euro Tour Champion, Dutch Champion, Mosconi Cup Member and Captain, World Pool Masters Champion (Netherlands) | CHRISTIAN JOHANNESSEN, Norwegisn Champion (Norway) | BAHRAM LOTFY, Danish Champion, (Denmark) | STEVIE MOORE (USA) | MARCO TSCHUDI, Swiss Champion, Austrian and German Team Champion (Switzerland) | PHILIPP STOJANOVIC (Croatia) | KARL BOYES, Euro Tour Winner, Mosconi Cup Champion Team Europe and current Vice-Captain (England)