The first two ranking events of the season were won by non-British players. China’s Ding Jun Hui captured the Northern Ireland Trophy and Neil Robertson of Australia the Royal London Watches Grand Prix.
In the current UK Championship qualifiers, all three Chinese players – Liu Song, Liang Wenbo and Tian Pengfei – won their matches in the first qualifying round, as did the two Thais, Issara Kachaiwong and Passakorn Suwannawat.
New Zealand veteran Dene O’Kane won his first match in a ranking event for five years in beating Matthew Couch. The 43 year-old has returned to the main tour this season. He missed the first two ranking events and was a first round loser in the Malta Cup but is now back to winning ways.
Last season, Hong Kong’s Marco Fu became only the second Asian player to reach the Crucible semi-finals.
Tony Drago and Alex Borg (Malta), James Wattana (Thailand), Mohammed Shehab (UAE), Roy Stolk (Holland), Shokat Ali (Pakistan), Patrick Einsle (Germany) and Robin Hull (Finland) are meanwhile flying the flags of their respective countries.
Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien, Michael Judge, Joe Delaney and David Morris represent the Republic of Ireland on the main tour.
This is all to the good. It is, after all, the ‘World’ Snooker tour. Despite this, it is so British dominated – not least having all the qualifiers played in the UK – that is has been historically difficult for players from overseas to make an impact.
Only Doherty, who lives less than an hour from the UK, and Canadian Cliff Thorburn have won the World Championship from an otherwise Brit-heavy roll of honour.
Ding, Robertson and the other non-British players have made huge sacrifices to pursue their snooker careers.
Imagine a player from, say, Essex being told they would have to move to China to play professional snooker. How many of them would want to make that step?
Yet Ding and co have said goodbye to their families and moved to a country where, for some, they have an entirely different language to learn and different culture to adjust to.
Credit to them. They all take the game seriously. Ronnie O’Sullivan told me at Aberdeen that Kachaiwong has to be scraped off the table at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield, such is his love for the game.
Snooker’s future lies in its ability to expand globally. There’s been plenty of ranking events staged outside the UK – Belgium, Holland, France, Malta, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, Germany, Dubai, China, Thailand, Hong Kong – but, sadly, almost all of them have fallen by the wayside.
Ding’s success should consolidate China as a permanent stopping off point for the circuit. Perhaps Robertson’s emergence will kick-start interest in Australia.
Eurosport’s extensive coverage of the main tour has seen interest in countries such as Germany, Poland and Romania soar to unprecedented levels. Worldsnooker.com, the governing body’s website, even has 14 registered users in the Vatican City.
Let’s hope that snooker’s non-British stars continue to improve. The more nations represented on the circuit, the more secure snooker’s future appears to be.