Barry Hearn Unveils How Ronnie O’Sullivan Will Lead Snooker’s Middle East Expansion

Barry Hearn talks more on the exclusive deal with Ronnie O'Sullivan as ambassador for snooker in Saudi Arabia, aiming to inspire and nurture talent in the region.

Louis Hobbs
Louis Hobbs

Last Updated: 2024-04-25

Naim Rosinski

7 minutes read

Securing the Future: Sheffield's Legacy and Beyond

Exciting details have surfaced regarding the ground-breaking partnership between the World Snooker Tour (WST), snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan, and Riyadh Season in Saudi Arabia, as revealed by Matchroom Sport promoter, founder, and President Barry Hearn. Hearn's insights provide valuable insight into the ambitious plans to elevate the sport of snooker in the Middle East and beyond.

As the tenancy agreement between The Crucible Theatre and the World Snooker Tour approaches its 50th anniversary in 2027, speculation has swirled about the future of the World Snooker Championships. Barry Hearn unequivocally stated his desire for the championships to remain in Sheffield but emphasised the need for a venue that aligns with evolving spectator demands.

"I'm not going to be a dinosaur and not change with the times," Hearn told, highlighting the importance of adapting to meet the needs of fans and players alike, as well as noting if money talks, Sheffield may no longer be the answer. 

Expanding Horizons: The Saudi Arabian Connection

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has emerged as favourites to land the prestigious tournament, and following last week’s announcement with Riyadh Season, this isn’t a surprise. 

On the partnership, Hearn revealed that discussions with Saudi Arabia had culminated in a landmark partnership between the WST, Matchroom, and Riyadh Season. The Middle Eastern Sports Tour was named the official partner of snooker's premier tournament less than a week before the tournament commencing, signalling a significant shift in the sport's global footprint.

Ronnie O'Sullivan: A Beacon of Inspiration

Riyadh Season has also secured a three-year ambassadorial agreement with snooker icon Ronnie O’Sullivan, encompassing his participation in all WST events hosted in Saudi Arabia, alongside visits to the Kingdom for exclusive coaching sessions aimed at nurturing emerging talent.

"Riyadh Season sees Ronnie as the face of cue sports over there," Hearn explained, shedding light on the decision to forge a three-year ambassadorial deal with O'Sullivan.

According to Hearn, O'Sullivan's role extends beyond competition; he will serve as an anchor to inspire young Middle Eastern prospects. “He’ll play in all future competitions in Saudi and the Middle East. They have a really young audience and want to use him as an inspiration to lead other youngsters in the region sitting around eating pizza and drinking Coca-Cola,” the 75-year-old remarked. 


Image credit: WST

Exclusive Deal to The Rocket

When asked if other players were considered as potential ambassadors for the tour, Barry Hearn clarified that the focus was solely on O’Sullivan. "No," Hearn explained, "They only wanted Ronnie as the leader. They see him as the face of cue sports over there." 

Highlighting the exclusivity of the arrangement, Hearn emphasised, "It’s a three-year deal, obviously a shed load of money for him, it’s probably a dream for true for him [Ronnie O’Sullivan]." This decision underscores the significance of O’Sullivan's stature in the world of snooker and the pivotal role he is set to play in advancing the sport's presence in Saudi Arabia.

Building Infrastructure: The Ronnie O'Sullivan Academy

Drawing parallels with Anthony Joshua's impact on boxing in Saudi Arabia, Hearn outlined plans to establish the Ronnie O'Sullivan Academy, serving as a focal point for the sport's development in the region. The initiative includes the opening of snooker clubs and the deployment of Matchroom coaches to Saudi Arabia.

“We’ve opened 16 gyms over there since Anthony Joshua did his first fight, and we’ll be looking to open a similar amount of snooker clubs with Ronnie as the spearhead. The Ronnie O’Sullivan Academy will be opened this year, which will be the focal point and we’ll be sending some of our coaches over to Saudi full-time,” Hearn affirmed, underscoring the organisation's dedication to nurturing talent and fostering growth.

Embracing the Future: A 20-Year Plan

Hearn emphasised the long-term commitment to growing the game of snooker in the Middle East, with every tournament set to receive extensive televised coverage within the region. This concerted effort aims to instil a passion for snooker among Middle Eastern audiences, with a comprehensive 20-year plan in place to ensure sustained growth.

“We’re making sure every single snooker tournament will be televised within the Middle East, so they’re going to have a blanket coverage of all things snooker. They have a 20-year plan already to make everyone over there fall in love with snooker,” Hearn noted, illustrating the ambitious scope of the endeavour.

Ronnie O'Sullivan: Rising to the Occasion

Acknowledging O'Sullivan's reputation, Hearn expressed confidence that the snooker star would embrace his new role wholeheartedly.

"Ronnie is a funny boy, he lives a selfish life, but I understand he's earned the right. But he’ll relish this sort of thing, I bet he goes above and beyond with this partnership," Hearn remarked, predicting that O'Sullivan would exceed expectations in his ambassadorial capacity.

With the Riyadh Season partnership poised to usher in a new era of snooker in the Middle East, Hearn's vision promises to elevate the sport to unprecedented heights, forging lasting connections and inspiring generations to come.

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Louis Hobbs
Louis HobbsLead Journalist

Meet Louis Hobbs, our esteemed authority on all matters sports-related. With a wealth of knowledge and experience, Louis effortlessly emerges as our go-to expert. His particular expertise in the realms of darts and snooker sets him apart and brings a level of insight that goes beyond the ordinary. Louis also holds a deep affection for all things related to US sports, with a special emphasis on basketball and American football, which stand out as his particular favorites. His content may not resonate with you, if you don't consider Lamar Jackson the most skilled player in the NFL.