Defending champion Judd Trump has told title rival Ronnie O’Sullivan he should join qualifier Anthony Hamilton in withdrawing from this year’s World Snooker Championship if he harbours genuine coronavirus concerns.
Hamilton, a chronic asthmatic, pulled out on Thursday citing health fears, following O’Sullivan’s claim that the sport’s top stars are being treated like “lab rats” over the decision to allow a limited of number of spectators into the tournament.
Trump, who will begin his quest to become the first first-time winner to retain the title against Tom Ford on Friday morning, branded the dissenting duo “selfish” for not pulling out earlier and giving other players a chance to share in the game’s biggest payday.
Trump said: “I have been around the game long enough to know that if there is a World Championship coming up he (O’Sullivan) is going to try and get the headlines. Of all people, Ronnie is probably the only one who doesn’t need the money, so I find it quite hard that he can enter it and have a go at what is going on. Just pull out and let someone else have a go.”
O’Sullivan had expressed sympathy for Hamilton, who said he had grave reservations about competing at the Crucible despite battling through the final qualifying round on Monday night.
On Thursday, Hamilton issued a statement via World Snooker Tour in which he confirmed his withdrawal following a “personal risk assessment”, adding his apologies to Scott Donaldson and Sam Craigie, the two players he beat in qualifying.
The lateness of his decision angered Trump, who said: “I find it very hard on the other people that he has taken the opportunity from – I think this was announced with enough time to know there was going to be a crowd at this tournament.
“There is a lot of money to be played for in this tournament. A lot of low-ranked players struggle to put food on the table and especially with things going on, you’ve got to try to earn a living. People need to think of the bigger picture sometimes and try not to be selfish and give others the opportunity to provide as well.”
Tournament officials confirmed that eighth seed Kyren Wilson, who had been due to face Hamilton on Friday, has been given a bye into the second round. But the Nottingham player will still be allowed to keep his £20,000 prize money and ranking points.
World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn also expressed his frustration, telling talkSport: “You’ve got to love Ronnie O’Sullivan’s comments. They come up every time he wants a bit of publicity, looks for a nice little angle -’lab rats’ is just a phrase to guarantee a headline.”
Hamilton had first expressed misgivings about the decision to make the Crucible a pilot event for the reintroduction of fans in the wake of his win over Donaldson on Monday night. He had called the move – which makes it the first and so far only indoor event to allow fans since the lockdown – “ridiculous” and admitted he had serious concerns about playing in the qualifiers.
In the WST statement, Hamilton said: “It has been a really difficult decision for me. I was extremely impressed by the way that WST and their partners ran the qualifying rounds, they made the players feel totally safe. However, due to my health condition, after careful consideration I have decided not to play in the final stages.”
The controversy cast a shadow over the start of the tournament, for which Trump starts as a strong favourite to shatter the so-called ‘Crucible Curse’ after winning a record-breaking six titles in the current, abridged season alone.
Trump, who credited World Snooker Tour officials with doing an “amazing” job to put on the tournament, insisted he was ready to change that record after belatedly making his world title breakthrough in thrilling fashion last year.
“I think it’s different this year because we didn’t think the event was going to be on, so it’s a double bonus really,” said Trump. “There’s no pressure any more. I always wanted to win the worlds and I finally did it. To win it for a second time would be amazing, but I won’t be bothered if I don’t. I’ve won enough tournaments to be satisfied with my season.”
Former champion Stuart Bingham also starts his campaign on Friday morning against qualifier Ashley Carty, while Ding Junhui and Mark King will now have the arena to themselves in the Friday afternoon session.
Trump and Ford, the world No 26, return to conclude their first-round match on Friday evening, when veterans Mark Williams and Alan McManus will also begin their best-of-19 encounter.