IT HAD been a long time coming but the slow road out of sporting lockdown has finally begun.
And my goodness it was so wonderful to see the fans back.
One by one they arrived at the Crucible Theatre – 213 of them for the morning session – and they came wearing masks, keeping a respectable distance and clutching proof of their negative Covid tests.
Some were not so happy – there was a small protest in the morning – but others were so eager to see Ronnie O’Sullivan defend his title they were on site from 8.30am.
Significantly, after 123 days of empty stands and soulless stadiums, this was the first live crowd at any UK sporting event this year.
If this pilot scheme goes well, there could be a full crowd for the two-day final next month.
In total, there were 632 tickets sold for Saturday's first day and for the hardcore snooker-loopy punters, this precious day could not have come soon enough.
Jenni Hayes, an information security manager from London, had tickets for all three Saturday sessions and plans to return for the Bank Holiday final.
Jenni said: “I’ve been coming here for years. But as I walked through the Winter Gardens, even with my mask on, it made me really emotional just being back.
“Everyone has had a tough year for one reason or another. Being able to see people again – I live and work by myself at home – was so nice.
“Hopefully it goes well. Hopefully this paves the way for theatres reopening as well as the rest of the sport. It’s a big emotional deal.”
Outside of this famous venue, there was a minor demonstration against the protocols. About 100 yards away there was a low-key middle-class protest against government-imposed restrictions.
About 25 people (plus two cute dogs) gathered outside of Tudor Square to make their feelings known.
Homemade placards were flashed in anger. One read: “Medical Apartheid is wrong.” Another one said: “Say no to Vaxx passports!”
This motley crew even started to sing “BBC lies” in scenes similar to the Trump-inspired anti-media conspiracy theories witnessed during a fractious US Presidential election last autumn.
For the record, there are no controversial vaccine passports being used for these 17 days of action.
Besides, the only Trump they should be worrying about is the world No.1 Judd and he plays his first match on Tuesday.
Now this is snooker. Everyone coughs when they watch snooker. It is part of the sport’s soundtrack. It even has its own name in these parts – the Crucible Cough.
These days, of course, when someone does loudly splutter in public it can usually clear a room, such are the worries about the spread of coronavirus in a global pandemic.
Suffice to say everyone had been tested upon arrival for Covid-19. They had all agreed to the event consent form and stuck to strict social-distancing rules – which remain in place across the building until Thursday.
Data from all pre and post-event PCR Tests will be fed back to the DCMS as part of their Event Research Programme, which will influence the Prime Minister’s Roadmap out of full lockdown this summer.
Jason Ferguson, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, said: “This is critical, not just for snooker, but for sport and everything else indoors.
“A lot of eyes will be on the World Snooker Tour this week.
“It means so much to us but trust me, it means a huger amount to the wider industry.
“For the players, it also means so much to walk out there in front of somebody.
“I feel so sorry for those players who qualified last year for the Crucible but walked out to an empty arena.”
It was certainly an eventful morning in Sheffield but not everything went according to plan.
For some bizarre reason, the 10am session between defending champion O’Sullivan and debutant Mark Joyce was not shown live on TV.
Despite all the build-up and the relevancy of fans returning, the BBC made the baffling decision not to broadcast the opening session, showing an episode of Saturday Kitchen instead of the Rocket in full flow.
Then the cue ball had to be replaced by the referee on table one after just THREE shots because it was not up to professional standards.
Source: Read Full Article