Barry Hearn looking to guide country out of lockdown by hosting safe World Championship

BARRY HEARN reckons staging a safe Betfred World Championship would be one of his greatest triumphs.

Snooker’s top tournament starts at the Crucible on Saturday with a 33 per cent-capacity crowd, which will increase in the latter stages.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, 45, begins the defence of his title this weekend but all eyes will be on how the Government-backed pilot scheme works within the restrictions.

Provided there are no Covid-19 outbreaks over the 17 days of action, then there could be a full house for the two-day final on the May Bank Holiday weekend.

That would be the first capacity crowd at a major UK sporting event since last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Promoter Hearn said: “If we get to that stage for the final, it’ll be a triumph.

“And a triumph in my 50 years of being involved in sport which would be unequalled in my view.

“The whole country has been through and is still going through a disaster of seismic proportions.

“Sport can lead the way out of this and lead us back to normality.

“To be a small part of that journey is a huge triumph for the sports we are involved in.

“We need a smile back on the nation’s face. Live sport gives us that. A crowd lifts you instantly.

“To have a real atmosphere — not just clapping provided by an ‘effects’ button — would make us feel alive again. It would awaken the inner soul and get us buzzing.”

The 2021 tournament is part of the Government’s Event Research Programme (ERP) and EVERY fan will be tested for coronavirus.

Ticket holders must take a rapid lateral flow test at a local authority asymptomatic testing site and then provide evidence of a negative result upon arrival.

Snooker bosses are also requesting punters take one pre-event PCR nose and throat test before arriving for their session — and one five days after the event.

Both PCR tests can be undertaken at home.

According to the World Snooker Tour, data from the ERP will “help to gather essential evidence” for the Government’s roadmap for lifting nationwide lockdown restrictions. Bottom line, if it all goes well then the return of fans to sporting events will be sooner rather than later.

Hearn had his fingers burned last August when Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed lockdown requirements just TWO HOURS into the opening day.

Crowds returned for the last two days as O’Sullivan beat Kyren Wilson 18-8 in the final — but they were already down a significant amount of money through lost ticket sales.

Hearn, 72, said: “Punters will have to make extra effort than normal this time.

“But those at the Crucible will not just be present when snooker history is made, but sporting history, too.

“They will be in attendance at one of the most significant moments of the Covid crisis. Any player who catches Covid will not take part.

“We lost Gerwyn Price, the world No 1 darts player, when he contracted Covid. And Judd Trump missed the snooker Masters through a positive test.

“Everyone is treated exactly the same. Everyone in the building will have had a negative test.

“I’m very proud to be in this position of responsibility.

“We are a major sporting event but there is also the bigger picture.

“Hopefully, after this event we will have enough data to convince everyone that the days of full crowds can return.”

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