Japan is no stranger to hosting and embracing major sporting events – the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the next Summer Olympic Games. Could snooker also become big in Japan?
The island nation already has a proud cuesports heritage with former world champions in three-cushion billiards and 9-ball pool. Smaller table disciplines are widely played in Japan and it appears that snooker is starting to have an impact too with tables now featuring in pool clubs in capital city Tokyo.
Yutaka Fukuda has been instrumental towards the prosperity of snooker in the country. In 2000, Fukuda was part of a team that formed the Japan Snooker Association (JSA), an organisation that is still going strong today and holds national events. A TV commentator for professional snooker coverage in the past, Fukuda competed as a player when the sport was part of the 2001 World Games programme in Akita.
“Our president Mr. Maeda, the Nippon Billiards Association (NBA) and my great friend Jason Ferguson all did very well for snooker at those World Games” said Fukuda. “As these are closely connected to the Olympic Games, I believe the Japanese government would strongly support hosting another major snooker event in the future.”
Fukuda is well positioned to assess the growth of snooker in his homeland as he has been a qualified coach for many years and is currently working with pool players, including the high profile Naoyuki Oi. “In 2002 the Thai Snooker Association invited me to take a World Snooker coaching course that was led by Mr. Steve Prest. I was delighted and took no time in deciding to accept the offer. I used to live in Bangkok before, and I am grateful towards the Thai association – I owe them a lot. Japan and Thailand share a snooker friendship.”
Japan’s most promising snooker prospect is Keishin Kamihashi, who last year compiled his maiden 147 maximum break. The teenager has already played in several major international amateur events such as Q-School, the Challenge Tour and the recent World Snooker Federation Open in Malta where he successfully qualified for the knockout phase. With hopes of breaking through onto the professional circuit, youngster Kamihashi has become a frequent resident at the Q-House Snooker Academy in Darlington, England where he practices with main tour players based there.
Another positive sign is the increasing interest amongst women players. Tani Mina and Muramatu Sakura featured at last year’s memorable World Women’s Snooker Championship in Thailand where they participated individually and came together as a team to represent Japan and register a match victory in the preceding World Cup. Fukuda, who also works with women cueists, said “Since last year’s World Championship, parents are starting to think about their kids becoming a snooker player. I told them about how great the tournament was and that there is more to come in the future.”
With a plethora of Asian talents making their way up snooker’s world rankings – and seemingly with more to come – it may just be a matter of time before Japan joins the snooker party and Fukuda is excited about the future. “I met Jason Ferguson in China just before the World Women’s Snooker Championship and told him my short and long-term hopes of making snooker popular in Japan – he has the same ambition and I was really delighted.”
The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) and the Professional Billiards Association (PBA) are today delighted to jointly announce a new Memorandum of Understanding which will see both organisations cooperate in the global governance of cue sports.
The agreement will see both organisations assist each other in the general promotion of cuesports. This is to include the promotion of diversity, equality and to share best practice of sports governance, event organisation and player membership models.
The PBA was inaugurated in May 2019, together with its Commissioner Young-soo Kim, a former Minister of Culture and Sports who has a wealth of experience in the sector having previously served as the 3rd Incheon Asian Games Organising Committee Chairman. Last season’s PBA Tour saw seven prestigious events staged during the second half of last year, before its scheduled finals were postponed due to the current Coronavirus outbreak.
The agreement between the WPBSA and the PBA will also see both organisations co-operate to promote the selection of billiards sports as part of the Olympic Programme for the 2032 Games.
WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: “I am very pleased that the WPBSA will now work together with the PBA on the promotion and governance of our respective cuesports disciplines on a long-term basis. We have kept a close eye on the growth of the PBA and it has been particularly encouraging to see development of the organisation in such a clear and transparent manner.
“The high quality of events delivered by the PBA Tour to date and the number of blue-chip companies that have been attracted is most impressive and we look forward to working on projects together in the future.”
PBA Commissioner Young-soo Kim said: “It is a big honour for the PBA to cooperate with the WPBSA, which has been settled as the greatest professional sport association with a history of more than 50 years. We will try our best and cooperate to promote and develop billiards to the world, especially for the billiards to be designated as an official Olympic Games sports programme.”
Earlier this year, Ukraine’s Iulian Boiko narrowly missed out on becoming snooker’s youngest ever professional player when he lost in the final of the 2020 World Snooker Federation Open.
The 14-year-old – who would have been the first from his country to reach the sport’s top tier – went on a memorable run in Malta during January. The most lucrative amateur snooker event in the world, Boiko eliminated significant opponents such as Sean O’Sullivan and Ross Muir on his way to making the title match, before only being denied by the in-form Ashley Hugill 5-3.
Following an invitation to the Snooker Shoot Out, Boiko built upon his success when he won the recent EBSA European 6-Red Championship in Portugal; the first Ukrainian born cueist to claim a European title. He defeated former world number eight Darren Morgan 5-3 in the final and will be the continent’s nomination for this year’s SangSom 6-Red World Championship.
Boiko’s rise through the ranks corresponds with snooker’s increasing popularity in Ukraine and much of eastern Europe as a whole.
Iulian’s father, Serhii Boiko, is one of those who created and oversees the Ukrainian Snooker Federation – the country’s national association. Serhii spoke with us, discussing what has been achieved there so far and their hopes for the future.
Can you tell us how the snooker association in Ukraine was formed?
Our federation was founded in December 2013. It was organised by Iulian’s practice partner Sergey Isaienko, Iulian’s first coach Piotr Chirkin and me.
How popular is snooker in Ukraine and what coverage does it receive? Are there many snooker clubs and tables in the country?
Snooker’s popularity has increased in the last two years as we have started broadcasting snooker on TV here. It is very popular for spectators as many are watching it on Eurosport, although we would still like more people to play it.
There are around 10 snooker centres in Ukraine. In Kyiv we have 20 snooker tables in 5 clubs, in Lviv there are 12 tables, up to 15 tables in our federation’s snooker academies in Kropyvnytskyi region and up to 20 tables in other regions.
What competitions do you hold in Ukraine, both for nationals and players from abroad?
We hold regional, national and international events.
There are about 150-200 regional tournaments every year which include under-16, under-21, women and senior categories. We also hold up to 10 national tournaments for all categories.
Every year we host an Independence Day Cup in August which is also open to international players. In 2019 we had entries from 16 different countries take part and three professionals – Michael Georgiou, Craig Steadman and Jamie O’Neill. The tournament had prize money of €6,000 and was held in perfect conditions with brand new cloth on each table. We had eight live streaming cameras and television coverage for the final stages.
Do you have qualified referees and coaches in Ukraine?
We have experienced coaches and during the recent European Snooker Championships in Portugal, Andrey Makkeiev and I became certified EBSA and WPBSA coaches. Ukraine has four certified referees.
What are the federation’s short and long-term goals for snooker in Ukraine?
We have several plans and aspirations for the future. We have created an under-16 snooker academy that has 100 students and one of our goals is to increase that number of players and quality of their game. We are now developing women’s snooker too and already we have 20 girls practising.
Support will continue for our best players – seven-time national champion Sergey Isaienko and Iulian. We aim for them to participate in most of the amateur and semi-professional competitions with a goal of reaching the main tour.
The federation also hopes to hold a Challenge Tour event and we have created all the conditions for this.
Located in Southeast Europe and with a population of just over two million people, North Macedonia is the latest nation to join the expanding global snooker family.
This landlocked country successfully completed its first national snooker championships earlier this month at the Gran Club in the capital city of Skopje. Following five events held throughout the season – featuring cueists from ten different cities and as young as 10-years-old – the top two from the overall rankings were tied and a play-off match was required to determine the inaugural winner.
In a dramatic and exciting conclusion, Pavle Danilov ousted Dejan Sipkovski in a deciding frame to claim the trophy. Sipkovski took the first and third frames, but Danilov levelled up each time. In the fifth and final frame Danilov required penalty points with one red left, but the situation turned, and he came through to record a 3-2 triumph on the final pink.
Prior to this tournament, the Snooker Association of North Macedonia (SANM) hosted a national junior championship that was won by 16-year-old Filip Neshkoski.
A vision of snooker in North Macedonia
President of the SANM Lazar Lazarevski has overseen several ambitious projects inside the past twelve months. In an exclusive interview, he discusses the work that has already been achieved and the plans for Macedonian snooker in the future.
Could you tell us a little bit about the creation and history of the SANM?
The Snooker Association of North Macedonia is a realisation of a long-standing dream. There was a desire amongst the snooker community here to have an organised body that can finally begin the proper systematic process to promote snooker and get it affirmed as a sport in Macedonia.
The association was formed last August by a group of five snooker clubs inside the country. We had a presentation ceremony that was attended by the President of the Olympic Committee Macedonia and a representative of the Agency for Youth and Sport. At the presentation we announced our goals of hosting national championship events and joining regional and continental snooker associations. We also stated our intentions to encourage players, referees and coaches through various projects and workshops, and community inclusion for those with Down Syndrome.
How popular is snooker in North Macedonia and how much exposure does it receive?
Snooker’s increasing popularity is visible, both in the Balkan countries and here in North Macedonia. This is because of the excellent media coverage we get from the national championship on the internet and the effect of Eurosport television where the professional players are becoming more familiar to our sporting audience. We are also close to agreeing with the National Olympic Committee that some of our domestic matches will be broadcast on the Olympic Channel.
We see more and more young children being enchanted by the magic of snooker, and I am increasingly surrounded by parents who support the affinities of their children, which makes me especially happy.
What facilities are there in North Macedonia for people to play snooker?
Currently we have a modest number of tables across the country, some of which are in the clubs and some that are personally owned. One of the goals of the Association is to be able to increase the number of tables, especially for competitions, which we hope will be supported by the government body in the future.
Earlier you mentioned your plans for coaching in the country – how is this going?
Our largest snooker club – the Gran Club – started a collaboration with WPBSA coach Nigel Bond eight years ago. He has visited us on five occasions, and we have developed a close friendship with him.
To have a professional ranking event winner provide us with an unselfish investment of his time represents a huge privilege and great motivation for both us as an association and the players themselves. Nigel’s visits are extremely fulfilling with individual coaching and group training workshops for players and coaches.
We now have four active coaches, three of whom are certified and work under the European Billiards and Snooker Association (EBSA) programme.
North Macedonia recently had representation at the EBSA European Snooker Championships. Can you tell us about that?
For the first time, Macedonian players and a referee took part at the European Snooker Championships in Albufeira, Portugal.
Our junior champion Filip Neshkoski is a great hope for Macedonian snooker. His love of the sport saw him create a makeshift snooker table out of a wooden door! Filip won a match in the under-18 event and therefore recorded the first official victory for our country. National champion Pavle Danilov and Vlatko Janev represented us in the 6-Red and main championships with Pavle winning Macedonia’s first match at senior level.
We must also mention our international referee Ana Srbinovska who was at the championships from the first day and made a great impression.
What are your future hopes for snooker in North Macedonia?
Snooker is certainly on the right path, both globally and in our country, but we should not be fooled into thinking that the road to snooker success is short or that a Macedonian player will soon be on the professional circuit.
The hope remains that with systemic training of young players we can firstly expect some success on Balkan soil and later, European. Why not? We have great examples of countries which don’t have long traditions with snooker that are doing well – Ukraine, Poland, Finland.
However, with this aside, personally as a President of SANM – and a great lover of this sport – I would get immense satisfaction if we succeed to include as many young people as possible in this noble sport, whether as a compliment to their education, a hobby or as a basic profession. The psychological benefits of playing the sport are unquestionable and snooker can be practised by anyone.
Andrew Pagett is set to snooker’s top tier after he defeated Heikki Niva in the final of the 2020 EBSA European Amateur Snooker Championship.
A former Crucible Theatre qualifier who last featured as a professional in 2015, Pagett becomes the fourth different Welshman to claim the prestigious continental event, in this its 29th edition. Former winners of this championship include Mark Allen (2004), Luca Brecel (2010) and Scott Donaldson (2012).
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the entry and schedule for this year’s tournament in Albufeira, Portugal was reduced.
Pagett began his campaign by topping his group without dropping a frame and qualifying for the subsequent knockout rounds. There he dispatched compatriot Ben Fortey 4-2 before eliminating Northern Irish national champion Declan Lavery 4-1 with breaks of 56 and 79 to reach finals day. During the last four, the 37-year-old registered runs of 50 and 57 as he overcame fellow ex-professional Ross Muir of Scotland 4-2.
In the other half of the draw Niva advanced to become the second player from Finland to reach the European title match, following in the footsteps of 1997 and 2013 champion Robin Hull. On his route Niva ended the hopes of English amateur champion Ben Hancorn and Belgian national champion Kevin Hanssens via deciding frames in the quarter and semi-finals respectively.
The final brought together the top two seeds from the round robin phase. Looking to gain promotion onto the main tour for the first time, 24-year-old Niva calmed his nerves by taking the opening frame. However, it would be the only time he led as Pagett strung together the next four frames – which included a tie-break finish in the fourth – to move one away from glory. The outsider reduced his arrears when chalking up frame six, but the Caerphilly cueist wasn’t to be denied as he sealed the next to win 5-2.
Pagett has featured and performed very well on this season’s Challenge Tour, recording an event victory and finishing third in the overall standings. However, he will no longer need to attend the play-offs as this latest triumph ensures that he will be nominated to receive a coveted two-year World Snooker Tour card.
Preceding this event, exciting Ukrainian prospect Iulian Boiko won the European 6-Red Championship. The 14-year-old progressed through his group and then six knockout round matches, culminating in a 5-3 final success against former world number eight Darren Morgan. Courtesy of the title, Boiko will represent the European Billiards and Snooker Association at the 6-Red World Championship later in the year.
Earlier in the festival at the Salgados Palace Hotel, the Republic of Ireland’s Aaron Hill completed an unprecedented double by conquering both the European under-18 and 21 categories. The latter rewarded the Cork teenager a debut on the full-time professional circuit.
2020 EBSA European Amateur Snooker Championship
Results – from the quarter-finals onwards
Heikki Niva (Finland) 4-3 Ben Hancorn (England)
Kevin Hanssens (Belgium) 4-0 Zsolt Fenyvesi (Hugary)
Ross Muir (Scotland) 4-2 Daniel Womersley (England)
Declan Lavery (Northern Ireland) 1-4 Andrew Pagett (Wales)
Niva 4-3 Hanssens
Muir 2-4 Pagett
Niva 2-5 Pagett
Aaron Hill completed an unprecedented continental double after defeating Hayden Staniland 5-2 in the final to win the 2020 EBSA European Under-21 Snooker Championship in Portugal.
Just days after retaining the European under-18 title at the Salgados Palace Hotel in Albufeira, the latest part of Hill’s trophy duo earns him a coveted professional World Snooker Tour card for the first time. He becomes the first player to claim both EBSA junior category championships in the same year.
The Irishman continued his fine form from earlier in the week, emerging through an entry of over 90 players who were representing 27 different countries. He began his campaign by relinquishing just one frame in the round robin phase, topping his group and qualifying for the knockouts.
Hill would however endure a scare in the last 32 when opponent Patrik Tiihonen of Finland made a 101 break to move 2-0 up before he strung together four consecutive frames to progress 4-2. The Cork cueist highlighted a run of 97 in eliminating fellow countryman and last year’s runner-up Ross Bulman 4-1 in the last 16 and then dispatched England’s number one ranked under-21 player and national champion Mark Lloyd 4-0 in the quarter-finals. In the last four he ended the challenge of Belgium’s Ben Mertens 4-1.
Waiting for Hill in the final was Staniland, who was the first Englishman to reach the title match since 2016. Staniland showed nerve to survive a trio of deciding frame finishes in the knockout phase, including victory against Frenchman Brian Ochoiski in the semi-finals. In this the 24th edition of the competition, had Ochoiski advanced, it would have been the first time that a player from the United Kingdom had not featured in the final.
Staniland was largely confined to his seat for the opening mini-session of the best-of-nine frames final, though, as Hill helped himself to breaks of 59, 69 and 76 to boss his way to a 4-0 lead. The whitewash was averted by Staniland after the break and with an effort of 53 in frame six, he briefly threatened an unlikely comeback. However, despite a couple of wobbles in frame seven, Hill composed himself to get across the line and secure a 5-2 success.
The 18-year-old joins a roll of honour that lists former champions such as world ranking event winners Mark Allen, Michael White and Luca Brecel. He is the third player from the Republic of Ireland to conquer Europe’s premier youth accolade, following in the footsteps of Thomas Dowling in 1997 – the inaugural edition – and Josh Boileau in 2016. Hill is now guaranteed a place on the sport’s top tier for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons.
Elsewhere in the tournament, England’s Sean Maddocks – finalist in the under-18 championship and the WSF Junior Open – bowed out to Ochoiski in the last 32. WSF Open runner-up Iulian Boiko of the Ukraine qualified as one of the top seeds, but his hopes were dashed by Harry Andrew Gosney (England) in the last 16. Winner of this season’s Challenge Tour Event Seven Dean Young (Scotland) was defeated by Julian Leclercq (Belgium) in the last 32.
Action continues in Portugal with the European 6-Red and Open Championships – the winner of the latter event will also collect a professional tour card.
2020 EBSA European Under-21 Snooker Championship
Results from the quarter-finals onwards
Harry Andrew Gosney (England) 3-4 Hayden Staniland (England)
Dylan Emery (Wales) 3-4 Brian Ochoiski (France)
Mark Lloyd (England) 0-4 Aaron Hill (Republic of Ireland)
Ben Mertens (Belgium) 4-1 Daniel Holoyda (Poland)
Staniland 4-3 Ochoiski
Hill 4-1 Mertens
Staniland 2-5 Hill