Saudi Arabia sports push embraces snooker, with a golden ball

Saudi Arabia sports push embraces snooker, with a golden ball

Saudi Arabia sports push embraces snooker, with a golden ball

Ronnie O’Sullivan poses with the trophy after winning against Judd Trump on day 7 of the 2024 Spreadex World Grand Prix at Morningside Arena on January 21, 2024 in Leicester, England.

Tai Chengzhe | Visual China Group | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia will hold its first major invitational snooker event in March as the kingdom continues to make sizable investments into a growing number of sports.

The “Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker” will take place between March 4 to March 6 at Boulevard Arena in the capital of Riyadh.

The inaugural event will feature some of the world’s top snooker players, including Ronnie O’Sullivan — widely recognized as one of the most talented players in the sport’s history — 2019 world champion Judd Trump and 2023 world champion Luca Brecel.

Games of snooker — a cue sport like billiards that is very popular in the U.K. and China — will take place under current World Snooker rules but with the introduction of a 23rd ball referred to as the “Riyadh Season” ball. This golden ball will be worth 20 points but will only be pottable on completing a maximum break.

It isn’t clear when this ball would be introduced to the standard table set-up, but it does mean the highest possible break at the event will be 167 — rather than the traditional maximum score of 147.

“We are thrilled to be hosting our first-ever professional snooker tournament in the Kingdom,” said Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority.

“Snooker is watched and played by millions around the world and we look forward to welcoming some of the greatest players and snooker fans to our country and showing them what Saudi Arabia and Riyadh Season has to offer,” Alalshikh said in a statement published Jan. 18.

Why Saudi Arabia is pumping billions of dollars into pro soccer

Saudi Arabia has spent an extraordinary amount on sports investments in recent years, pouring money into soccer, Formula Onegolftennis and boxing.

Critics have repeatedly accused the kingdom of “sportswashing,” or using sports to distract from human rights abuses in the country. Saudi officials have consistently denied these claims.

‘A hefty prize’

Seven-time world champion O’Sullivan spoke of his excitement about playing in Saudi Arabia shortly after winning the World Grand Prix title for the third time on Sunday.

“What’s the prize for a 167? Have they announced it?” O’Sullivan said in an interview published on the World Snooker Tour’s YouTube channel. “I’m sure it’ll be a hefty prize.”

He added: “Listen, the Saudis can do what they like — they’re a powerful outfit. I think it’ll be good, it’d be great to get out there and play, every other sport seems to be doing stuff in Saudi so it’d be great to get out there.”

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plans to make its domestic soccer league an international hub of superstars suffered a setback last week.

England international Jordan Henderson on Thursday abruptly ended his playing time in Saudi Arabia’s Pro League and chose to sign for Dutch side Ajax on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

Henderson’s early departure from Saudi Arabia prompted many to speculate about the potential reputational damage to the country’s top domestic league.

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