Sir Rodney Walker, the chairman of World Snooker, has mounted a vigorous defence of his decision to grant Ronnie O’Sullivan an exemption from having to fulfil his media commitments at this week’s saga Insurance Masters.
Typically unpredictable, O’Sullivan actually appeared for a press conference after beating Stephen Maguire 6-4 on Saturday night.
He said he was doing so because, “I think the press are a good bunch of guys. I’ve never had a problem with them and I want to show I’m not avoiding them but if I’m pushed too far then I won’t be able to fulfil my commitments. "
O’Sullivan is, of course, mired in controversy having walked out mid-match against Stephen Hendry at last month’s Maplin UK Championship.
“I can’t cope with stuff,” he said. “Anything can push me over the edge.
“I don’t regret what I did but I can’t say too much as it’s still going on. I physically don’t feel able. My health has to come first. The last thing I want to do is crack up in front of tens of millions of people.”
Several players are unhappy at what they see as preferential treatment for O’Sullivan.
Shaun Murphy, the 2005 world champion, said: “Graeme Dott did his press conference after discovering his wife might have had cancer.
“Paul Hunter fulfilled his obligations at the World Championship last season when he was dying from cancer.
“How much more serious can it be? There have been plenty of times when I haven't wanted to talk to reporters but at the end of the day we are all entertainers and have a duty to promote the sport.
“What would happen if we all had the same attitude? World Snooker’s silence has done nothing to appease anyone. I cannot imagine any other sportsman doing what Ronnie did. Can you imagine Roger Federer walking off Centre Court at Wimbledon?
He shouldn’t come to events if he doesn’t intend to see them through.”
This cut no ice with Walker, who had a three hour meeting with O’Sullivan last week and criticised Murphy in surprisingly personal terms, referring to his religion.
He said: “I was saddened when I read Shaun’s remarks. He’s someone I have the utmost respect for.
“But I was surprised because as a devout Christian I would have thought he would have shown a little more compassion, particularly as he didn’t know the circumstances that led me to make the decision in the first place.”
Walker insisted O’Sullivan was only being excused media activities at the Masters, and added: “Ronnie doesn’t get preferential treatment but he has specifically made a request. I felt if I’d said there would be no exception that he might not have turned up or played but found himself in a very difficult emotional situation.
“It’s not a blanket exception. It’s for this tournament only. It’s clear for anyone to see that Ronnie is in a very emotional state. He’s shared with me the issues in his life causing the problems and I took the view that the right thing to do was help him.”
So where does this leave us?
Certainly no nearer to discovering what O’Sullivan’s ‘problems’ actually are.
Certainly no nearer to appeasing the game’s other top stars who feel he is being treated leniently.
And certainly no nearer to understanding the game’s troubled genius who, for all his off table turmoil, was magnificent in compiling three centuries to build a 5-3 first session lead over Ding Jun Hui in their Wembley Arena final.
One thing’s for sure: we haven’t heard the last of this.