KOCHI: In the past decade, the amateur circuit had been the highest level of snooker in India. The arrival of Indian Open, the first ever world-ranking tournament in the country, in 2013-14 changed the scenario and put India on the world map.
The fifth edition of the event concluded on Sunday and with that, the five-year agreement between the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India (BSFI) and World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) expired. But BSFI officials are confident that the Indian Open is here to stay for years to come.
“The Indian Open will continue. Our next endeavour is to get more sponsors. We have a brand now, we have visibility and deliverables. We have to go to big private sector companies which is required. Like in kabaddi, we need corporates to come in,” Captain PVK Mohan, president of BSFI said.
The £323,000 event has been hosted in five cities so far and it is a huge leap from the amateur tournaments held in India.
“We have a lot of amateur tournaments. I guess it is a chicken and egg situation and if the TV viewing improves, we will have sponsors coming in. We are hoping for that and the only way out is to have ranking events. The amateur circuit is not going to work. It should be like a feeder zone for the professional circuit. That’s how we look at it,” said S Balasubramanian, BSFI secretary.
The Indian Open has brought some top professionals to India over the years. Current World No 1 Mark Selby has played in three editions. Former world champions John Higgins and Stuart Bingham are among many prominent players who have taken part.
The biggest challenge for the officials has been to attract sponsors. “The big challenge was getting in funds when we started. Even today it is a big challenge. Every sport is facing this except for cricket. Getting in sponsors is a difficult task,” Balasubramanian said.
Captain Mohan said they had faced problems getting sponsorship in the second edition in Mumbai. He didn’t want to quantify how much money is required but revealed that expenses run into crores.
It is one thing to bring a world ranking tournament to India and another to sustain it.
“TV is very important. It is the key in sport. It doesn’t matter what kind of top class athletes you have and these guys who come here are top class athletes. It has to get TV coverage,” said Patrick Kinghorn, who is a TV presenter for the event. He is a familiar face to the Indian TV audience, having hosted many sports events.
Kinghorn believes the Indian Open has the quality to attract TV audience. “In terms of quality and depth of the competition, we have former world champions playing in this tournament,” Kinghorn said.
In a bid to strengthen the Indian challenge in the tournament, the organisers are planning to bring in new rules.
“We have from this year announced prize money for Indians who win one round. Somebody who reaches the final will get `25 lakh plus prize money. This will encourage more top players to participate,” Mohan said.