Anthony Hamilton feels the lack of testing at snooker events is ‘nuts’ (Picture: Getty Images)Anthony Hamilton has been questioning his future in snooker after pulling out of the Championship League due to no coronavirus testing at the event.
Hamilton withdrew from the World Championship this summer due to a crowd being involved at the Crucible but was set to make his return to the table in Milton Keynes this week, before he found out players were not being tested for COVID-19.
The 49-year-old is in the vulnerable category due to suffering from asthma and has been strictly shielding since March, so sees the tournament as a risk not worth taking.
He is confused, though, by the fact that the Matchroom-organised Championship League will not have tests for players, but the WST-run European Masters, which starts on Monday, will see players tested.
‘Obviously Matchroom and World Snooker are run by the same person [Barry Hearn] so it doesn’t make much sense to me,’ Hamilton told Metro.co.uk. ‘ I was down to play this Sunday in the Championship League then the Monday next week in the European Masters. In 24 hours the policy changes, within the same venue.
‘You’re not supposed to say anything about it, but it’s absolutely nuts, it doesn’t make any sense at all.’
The Sheriff of Pottingham is obviously glad that the European Masters will see tests carried out as he now feels comfortable to compete.
Without tests in place, Hamilton felt his snooker career could be in genuine jeopardy.
‘Before I found out there was testing at the European I was already considering my position as a professional full stop,’ he said.
‘If there was no testing for any tournaments, I was considering my options, which weren’t looking great, if I’m honest with you.
‘For me it’s a straight choice between possibly my life and my livelihood.
‘I was considering playing in the smallest amount of tournaments to stay on tour, then reset and start again next year. That might still be an option if they isn’t testing. Just enter a couple of big tournaments, hope to nick 20 grand and start again next year.
‘I said to a friend in March that this could be the end of me snooker-wise, because I’m not getting on a flight, no way. That’s not happening so far, so that’s good. But I knew this could be the end of the career, because of the practicalities.’
Hamilton is not willing to compromise when he has genuine health concerns (Picture: Getty Images)Hamilton’s decision to pull out of the main stages of the World Championship after going through qualifying was met with criticism from WST chairman Hearn and world number one Judd Trump, who labelled him ‘selfish.’
The world number 40 chose not to play because crowds were allowed into the Crucible, which had been announced before qualifying, but the details of how that would work were not confirmed, and when they were Hamilton changed his mind.
This did not stop Hearn criticising Hamilton for his choice, telling Metro.co.uk on the day of the final in August: ‘If you’re not prepared to play in the entire tournament when you know the rules of the tournament, you don’t enter the tournament
‘He’s effectively taken away the spot of someone else who wanted to play in the entire event, it’s black and white.
‘It doesn’t sit well with me, but I don’t think it’s an actual breach of the rules, he’s getting his prize money, his ranking points and maybe he could have played couldn’t he?
‘There were no new facts or figures after qualifying started, I can only guess that he didn’t fancy qualifying, so he didn’t have to think about the Crucible stages because he didn’t believe he’d be there. But then great player that he is, he found himself there and re-evaluated things.’
Hamilton has now explained how he came to his decision and that he had every intention of playing at the Crucible from the outset, until he saw the set-up, which he considered unsafe.
The former German Masters champion has dismissed the suggestion that he was just out to win some prize money in qualifying, but is not surprised that the WST chairman saw it this way.
‘I fully expected it because we know what Barry’s like,’ Anthony said. ‘For him to be philosophical or phlegmatic about it would be the opposite of what he normally is.
‘I pulled out of the the World Championships before I knew I’d get any points or money and I thought I’d get a fine as well. At the time I probably thought it was 80% likely I’d not get the prize money, the points and I’d get a 500 quid fine on top, and despite that I thought it was the right decision to pull out.
‘I knew that there would be a crowd, but I foolishly, naively assumed that the safety measures would be more stringent. I assumed there might be a glass partition like in NHL, or maybe no one in the first six rows, something like that.
‘I only saw the seating plan on the day I was travelling to Sheffield for testing, that was the first time and that was the day I decided it was not safe. I got really anxious about it and just felt I had to do the right thing for me.
‘He [Hearn] made his mind up that that’s the way I was thinking but he’s just making his own news.
‘Come on, I haven’t been to the Crucible for 12 years, why wouldn’t I want to play? At 49 I may well not get back there again, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m doing alright for money, I’m not falling off the tour. If I didn’t want to play I wouldn’t have entered, I’m not that sort of guy.
‘But unfortunately for me Barry’s got all the platform to say this and that and I didn’t think it was worthwhile putting my point out there, you get in a tit-for-tat with him, you’ll come off second best.
‘He was obviously angry that there was a space in the tournament, which was my biggest concern as well. The last thing I wanted was to leave a bye in the World Championship. It’s my favourite tournament, favourite venue, I hated the thought of doing it, but I had to look after my own well-being. I was too anxious to play in that environment.
‘The idea that [Judd] Trump and Barry have decided that they knew what I was doing, that I was just trying to win the 20 grand is 100% untrue. I know how it looks, but it’s not what happened.’
Hamilton will be back in action on Monday (Picture: Getty Images)Hamilton felt the criticism that came his way from those within snooker was unfair, to say the least, but is perfectly comfortable with his decision and feels the response to it was just sensationalism.
‘You can’t have a boring answer these days, it’s got to upset somebody, there’s no place for common sense,’ he said.
‘It’s maddening because it’s your peers you don’t want to upset because I respect them, I respect them as competitors. The public I really don’t give a toss about, but your peers I do worry about, but they’re going to make their own mind up.
‘If somebody like Steve Davis was going to jump all over it then that would bother me. He called it right on the BBC, said that he thought I got anxious late on and that’s exactly what happened. He’s a lovely human being and could see the human angle more.
‘As long as your mum and dad, your best mates are fine with you then it’s happy days.’
The Sheriff is a very well-respected player on tour (Picture: Getty Images)It is easy for some to think Hamilton is taking an ultra-cautious approach to the pandemic, but not only is he in the vulnerable category, he has experienced serious personal trauma due to the virus and his safety-first approach is very understandable.
‘I’ve had some personal bad stories with friends and friends’ family during this,’ he explained. ‘A friend of mine, 35, athletic, non-smoker, rugby player, came close to losing his life, very close. He was in hospital for five or six weeks and was gasping for his last breath basically.
‘I’ve got a couple of friends who have had parents die from catching COVID. There have been some really sad, heart-breaking stories that I’ve experienced personally, so it all just hits home to me that it’s as serious as it gets.
‘The worst part of it, is it’s the loneliest end ever. I can’t think of anything worse, personally. So I don’t need asking twice to stay indoors.’
Hamilton has not taken the decision not to play snooker lightly (Picture: Getty Images)On and off the snooker table, Hamilton has been taking the pandemic extremely seriously as a result of what he has experienced.
The World Championship qualifiers were played in a bubble environment in Sheffield, which was as safe as possible and presented pretty much the only change of routine the Sheriff has had for six months.
Hamilton explained: ‘My life since March: I couldn’t get into my club because of lockdown. When I got back in it was too busy so I changed clubs to Dunstable because they don’t open till 2pm.
‘Now I get up early, drive 45 minutes to Dunstable, play for two or three hours on my own. Then I chip off and don’t see anybody but my flatmate who is also shielding. Don’t do any shopping, just deliveries. Not been in a café, a pub, it’s full on. Just take a year out of your life, get it done and look back and think, “that was horrible, but I’m still alive.”
‘The qualifiers, because it was a bubble it was completely safe, you couldn’t feel more safe, it was perfect. Everyone was tested, everything was clean, it’s one of the only places in the world you’d know you were 99% safe and as a result it was relaxing.
‘I was very happy to see how professionally they were doing it. So to be doing no testing, especially when the numbers are spiking up again, is disappointing.’
Hamilton is desperate to get back to normal, ‘to go to the pub again and just have a laugh’ but is not prepared to compromise on his health and the health of others.
His time away from playing, which has not been helped by a nagging back injury, has given him time to reflect on how society has dealt with the virus and how it is all presented in the media.
One of the deeper-thinkers in the world of snooker, Hamilton is well worth listening to.
‘This pandemic has shown us a lot about the public that you didn’t want to find out,’ he said. ‘But you only get to hear the idiots talking. There are billions of people that are out there that are respectful, but you don’t get to hear their voices.
‘Middle of the road headlines are not headlines. We’re learning about humanity and empathy, people who have got it and people who haven’t. People who don’t wear masks, for example, just don’t give a shit. It’s the world we live in now.
‘There’s a lot of people talking about civil rights with the masks especially, I’m not being funny, but it’s a pampered generation of the liberal western world during the last 30 years. We’ve had such an improvement in lifestyle and income, it’s made a load of people that expect to be respected for doing nothing.
‘Hopefully we can just get through this in six months.’
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