Nutcharut Wongharuthai, a 22 year-old from Thailand commonly known as ‘Mink,’ seems the perfect flagbearer for helping snooker become more visibly diverse and representative of further than just its largely male, British base.
The championship was staged at the Ding Junhui Academy in Sheffield with the final streamed on Facebook. The first prize was £6,000.
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This may have been a world away from the Players Championship final on Sunday, in which Neil Robertson pocketed £125,000 watched by TV viewers around the world, but Mink’s reward is a place on the professional circuit next season where she could be pitted against the sport’s star names.
Mink’s promise has been plain to see. Three years ago she reached the last women’s world final to be played before the pandemic hit. She made a 147 in 2019, recently reached the quarter-finals of a Q Tour event, beating several male players en route, and won the women’s British Open last month.
Winning the world title will considerably raise his own profile and can hopefully generate wider interest in snooker as a whole.
There is no men’s game. The professional tour is open to men and women equally but historically participation levels have massively favored male players.
The first women’s professional championship was staged in 1934 and won by Ruth Harrison. Amateur events for women were commonplace throughout the 1950s and 60s at Burroughs and Watts in Soho Square but after the company was taken over in the early 1970s, the premises were demolished and the women’s game entered the doldrums.
It was revived in the 1980s when snooker was a central plank in British culture and by the early 1990s Barry Hearn’s Matchroom was promoting the women’s World Championship, securing live coverage on satellite television. However, the leading players of the time, most notably Allison Fisher and Karen Corr, migrated to the far more lucrative US pool circuit. They were later joined by Kelly Fisher, who won five world titles between 1998 and 2003.
During this period, World Snooker had taken over the administration of the women’s game and staged the world final at the hallowed Crucible Theater in Sheffield. Through necessity, it was played on a spare session, which led to the event’s nadir when the two finalists – Fisher and Lisa Quick – turned up early one morning to find the match balls locked in a cupboard with nobody able to find the key. The following year, the tournament was not held at all.
The women’s tour limped on largely due to the efforts of enthusiasts such as Mandy Fisher, who founded the ladies’ association in 1981. It has been rejuvenated in more recent times through support from the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, who also champion snooker disabilities , seniors and the grass roots. There are 174 players on the women’s circuit and 15 countries were represented in the World Championship, including Japan, Hungary, Poland and Russia.
Most significantly, two places on the professional circuit have been given to the women’s tour, leading Reanne Evans, the 12-times world champion, and Ng On Yee to join the pro ranks this season. It has been a rocky road thus far. Evans is yet to win a match while On Yee has spent much of the campaign in Hong Kong due to Covid worries.
However, the hopes are that the increased visibility of female players will inspire the next generation. Even if Evans does not seriously challenge for a pro title, a girl taking up the game now because of her or Mink could do so in the future.
This has not gone down well with all male players, who point out that women are able to attempt qualification through Q School, but their complaints ignore some uncomfortable truths.
The fact is, women have historically faced barriers to participation in the UK, including bans from some snooker clubs deemed to be men-only establishments. Even when women were allowed in there was often an unwelcoming atmosphere in clubs, the like of which many parents would be loath to allow their sons into, never mind their daughters.
For years women were only seen at TV events as adornments, accompanying the presentation party at the end of finals. Their role was to stand in the background while the men got on with the serious stuff.
But times have changed. The old-style clubs have died out and much of the prejudice with it. Women are more visible in general in the sport. Michaela Tabb broke new ground 20 years ago by becoming a top referee and several more female officials have followed in her wake. Rachel Casey (Eurosport), Hazel Irvine (BBC) and Jill Douglas (ITV) present live coverage of the sport with passion and insight. WST’s event management department, who do a fine job in making each tournament distinctive, is dominated by women.
Sooker would welcome a Fallon Sherrock, who created headlines around the globe with her run to the third round of the 2020 PDC World Darts Championship. There are signs the interest is there. When World Snooker Tour uploaded footage to Facebook of Evans making a 79 break in the women’s Tour Championship at the Crucible in 2019 it received 7.1 million views, making it their seventh most watched video ever among a crowded field of classic and contemporary matches from the professional circuit.
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 27: Fallon Sherrock of England throws during his third round match against Chris Dobey of England on Day 12 of the 2020 William Hill World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace on December 27, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by
Image credit: Getty Images
The sport could have done more over the years to encourage diversity. The image of a fanbase dominated by white middle aged men may be unfair – snooker has always appealed to families and fans of all ages – but the entirely male, entirely white make-up of the WST board of directors confirms rather than challenges this view.
A more representative of wider society would help. In some ways, the women’s game is playing a leading role in assisting this process. One of the semi-finalists at the recent World Championship, Jamie Hunter, is transgender.
Jason Ferguson, the hard working WPBSA chairman, has an overriding ambition to get snooker into the Olympics. To do so, the sport must be seen to be open to all.
There have been shameful incidents in past years of female players turning up for a league match only to be told they are not allowed in the premises. This discouraging attitude led to many women feeling that snooker was not a sport for them.
When Mink takes her place on the pro circuit next season, she has the perfect chance to illustrate that the opposite is true: that snooker is for everyone.
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