There are plenty of sports around the world that have a global fanbase. Countries like India and China are important markets for the sporting world, because of their huge populations. That’s why association football has become so big in these countries, and China is trying to lead the way by becoming a footballing powerhouse to rival Europe. However, another, perhaps more unusual sport to have become massively popular in China is snooker.
When we think of the world’s great snooker personalities, we remember people like Ronnie O’Sullivan, Paul Hunter, and Alex Higgins. But, there are plenty of great upcoming Chinese players as well. So, what is it that has made snooker one of the most beloved sports in China? Well, there are a number of factors to look at that have had an impact on the surge of popularity of snooker in China.
During the 1970s and 1980s, snooker was a hugely popular sport in the United Kingdom. The peak came in the 1985 World Championship final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor attracted almost 20 million viewers. However, since then, the popularity of the sport has waned in the UK. However, the sport has become much more of a global sport in that time, and it has set up home in China. Around 60 million people in China play snooker, and it is the number one market for the sport now.
Growth in China
Miles Pearce, the commercial director of World Snooker, has said that there is a definite aim within the sport to grow the TV audience in China. It looks like this has happened over the past decade, and much of that is to do with the emergence of a new generation of Chinese players. Indeed, Barry Hearn predicted that, within the next decade, half of the top 16 players in the world will be from China. Shanghai seems to be the epicenter for the growth of the modern game in China. There are estimated to be around 1,500 snooker clubs in the city, attracting white collar players aged 16-35, who view snooker on an aspirational level. Players like Liang Wenbo, Li Hang, Yan Bingtao, and Hong Kong’s Marco Fu seem to be inspiring generations of young, hungry Chinese players.
The emergence of talented players like Fu and Wenbo and the meteoric rise of poster boy Ding Junhui has brought a lot more attention to the game and caused the Chinese government to pump more money into the sport. This has led to better facilities, more media exposure, and continued success, albeit on a slower scale. In 2016, 210 million people in China are believed to have watched the World Championship final between Ding Junhui and Mark Selby.
Though he was defeated, Ding made history by becoming the first ever Asian player to reach the final of the World Championships. One thing is for sure, he definitely won’t be the last! Indeed, the 30-year-old is currently the biggest star in Chinese sport, and it’s only a matter of time before his influence and success inspire the first Chinese world champion.