Women’s billiards association awards 1948 – Unknown (no credit attached), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Many sports are becoming much more inclusive these days. We saw it recently with women’s football when the English Lionesses brought home the trophy after defeating Germany in the final. More and more people are taking notice of women’s football now that the whole tournament has concluded, and they’re seeing that women can play sports just as well as men. But what about in the realm of snooker? Even today, there are very few women who actively compete in professional snooker.
Why is it that women are excelling in numerous other professional sports areas, but snooker seems to have fallen by the wayside where they are concerned? We’re going to take a look at this and find out what is stopping women from actively competing within the snooker world. What about the men? Do they welcome women to playing snooker? Or is this definitively a male-only sport that cannot be contested by the opposite sex? Let’s find out more as we ask where the women are in professional snooker.
Steve Davis Doesn’t See Women Matching Up to Men
DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Steve Davis is known within the snooker world as one of the best to have ever played. He dominated the scene back in the 1980s, achieving eight World Snooker Championship finals in nine years, went on to secure six world titles, and maintained the world number one ranking for a total of seven consecutive seasons. Yet he believes that he will never see a woman compete in the final stages of the World Snooker Championship.
As it happens, women do have the right to compete against men if they are ranked high enough. And there are female snooker players around, with women-only tournaments existing as well as a way of promoting the game in general.
Back in 2016, the women’s snooker champion Ng On-yee became the first Asian woman to be invited to partake in the men’s World Championship in Sheffield. The 25-year-old player hailing from Hong Kong earned a spot at the qualifying tournament. Prior to that, England’s own Reanne Evans MBE was offered a wildcard entry to the World Snooker Tour for the 2010-11 season. Yet despite this being the case, neither they nor other women who have entered such events have made an impact.
And Davis believes that the “obsessive” nature of men for an “absolutely irrelevant” activity provides them with somewhat of an advantage. Speaking with the BBC World Service’s Sports Hour, he commented:
“The male of the species has got a single-minded, obsessional type of brain that I don’t think so many females have”.
And Evans herself has put her thoughts forward on the same topic, suggesting:
“I think women find it difficult just to concentrate on snooker. I’ve got my little girl and you’re always thinking about them. I just think men maybe find it easier to focus on one thing at a time. Maybe that’s a slight advantage there.”
Yet it is also the case that the men’s game has a lot more financial backing behind it. Therefore, male players are afforded the luxury of only having to work a part-time job or even no job at all, giving them the time and space to practice playing snooker. There is very little, if not any, money involved in women’s snooker, though. As things stand right now, there are currently no professional women snooker players, despite the top-tier competitions being available to both males and females.
Evans does dominate the women’s field, having won the Ladies World Championship for 10 successive years since 2005. But even she admits that her gameplay level is unable to match that of the top male players.
“Men are ideally suited to doing something absolutely irrelevant in life as [putting snooker balls into pockets with a pointed stick]. They’re the ones who have train sets in the loft. They have stamp collections to die for. Right?”, said Davis. “These are stupid things to do with your life. As is trying to practise eight hours a day to get to World Championship level”.
Rebecca Kenna Sees Intimidation Factor For Women
The game of snooker has long been associated with being played in smoke-filled pubs by men having a couple of pints and engaging in some friendly competition. Women generally didn’t partook in such activities when the game first came about – that is if they were even allowed given many never clubs were men only venues.
With a situation such as this, it is easy to see why any woman would be intimidated to step up to the table and grab a cue. Yet one woman who wasn’t afraid to do that is Rebecca Kenna.
In 2021, she made her debut in the World Snooker Championship, flying the flag for the women’s side of things. Kenna was to take on Brandon Sargeant at the English Institute of Sport, having received an official invite to the event alongside the aforementioned Reanne Evans. Her aim was to come out on top of four matches so that she could make it to the Crucible as the first woman to do so. She lost the game to Sargeant in a 6-4 finish and in the end, she lost out in the qualifying draw as well.
Despite this, Kenna had no issue with getting into the game of snooker, although is able to see why it is not so much of a temptation for young girls across the world. Speaking with Metro.co.uk, she said:
“On the weekends I was with my dad in the pubs and clubs so if I was in a pub, I’d be on the pool table, generally it’s the boys playing and I’d beat them all, then eventually I asked to be on the big snooker table. I was definitely the only girl in there playing. It wasn’t intimidating for me, but I can see why other girls wouldn’t give it a go. I grew up playing football, basically did everything that boys did. It didn’t bother me in the slightest, I’m not that kind of person. But I can see why it’s a problem for other girls because other girls aren’t doing it, so that’s something that needs to change”.
Back in 2021, Kenna was ranked number four in the women’s world rankings, although missed out on the two-year tour cards to the top two women in the world – the aforementioned Evans and On-Yee. That’s quite the positive move, but there are still those naysayers who are against women competing against men and within snooker in general.
“It will normalise it a bit more”, said Kenna on seeing women playing snooker on TV. “I think the tour cards for women will see a massive increase in girls playing now because they’re going to see a girl playing on TV”
And she has also experienced the sexist rules herself, which in 2019 led to her quitting a snooker league. Kenna would turn her back on her local league in Keighley, when it started operating a “men-only” policy, leaving her out of being able to participate in two fixtures.
“To be told you can’t play the sport you love because of your gender is ridiculous and it’s quite upsetting”.
Kenna went on to state that the league in Keighley is not the only one that bars women from entering. And Evans has also commented on being refused entry into a snooker hall for the exact same reason in previous times.
Deep Rooted Cultural Differences Acting as a Barrier
Even though the official snooker rules do not state that women are banned or restricted from participating in professional games, Kenna states that it is actually the presence of certain deep-rooted cultural differences which make it so difficult. And the participation levels of women in snooker reflect this.
“…the fact is we haven’t had the same opportunity, you can tell by the numbers, it’s not the same participation levels, it’s obviously not the same. Some people won’t be told, though”, she remarked when asked about the people who say that men and women have equal opportunities in snooker. “If a girl goes into a club and dares to pick up a cue you can guarantee that all the boys and men will look at her and think, ‘what’s that girl doing there?’”.
She commented that it is the same as if you’re based in England where there are many more opportunities to practice with the multitude of snooker tables on hand. Whereas if you’re based elsewhere, you may not have the same access to such for practicing and playing purposes. “It’s cultural things that need to change”, said Kenna.
That being said, the separate women’s snooker tour is developing nicely in its own right. Yet it is the main tour where everyone wants to be seen playing and get the chance to earn their rightful prize money for it. In 2021, the successful World Champion, England’s Mark Selby, took home £500,000 in prize money. In comparison, Reanne Evans picked up £6,000 for winning her last women’s world championship.
Finances just aren’t there when it comes to the women’s snooker scene.
“A lot of the girls love playing but look at the finances and they can’t afford the hotel, the travel, is it worth going just for the experience?”,
said Kenna when speaking about the World Championship.
“That’s why participation isn’t great”.
The COVID-19 pandemic also hit the women’s tour quite significantly, cancelling events in 2020 and into the start of 2021. Yet thanks to the restrictions being lifted and that aforementioned boost of two tour cards for the season, things have started looking up for the scene once more.
The Future of Women’s Snooker
The Women’s World Championship was claimed by Nutcharat Wongharutai (also known as Mink Nutcharut) in 2022, making her the first Thai player to ever secure the title. From it, she has claimed that two-year card to compete on the main professional World Snooker Tour, starting from the 2022-23 season. Some have picked the 22-year-old as the perfect representative to help broaden the appeal of snooker for women.
While Mink’s £6,000 first-place payout is a world away from the £125,000 that Neil Robertson gained for coming in first position in the Players Championship final, the promise shown in her has been exceptional. It was just three years ago that she reached the last women’s world final prior to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, she made 147, and more recently, she reached the quarterfinals of the Q Tour event, beating out several male snooker players along the path.
Amateur events were commonplace for women throughout the 1950s and 60s at Burroughs and Watts in Soho Square, but once the company was taken over in the 70s, the premises were demolished and women’s snooker was left to flounder. It was revived in the 80s and started gaining a little more traction in the 90s. Unfortunately, the leading female players at the time – Allison Fisher and Karen Corr, most notably – turned to the US pool circuit with the promise of bigger bucks. Kelly Fisher joined them a little later, too.
Women’s snooker once again started to flounder and reduced down to quite a limp while the men’s scene continue its rise. It is now making its big comeback though, with people like Evans, Kenna and Mink potentially being able to inspire little girls to pick up a cue and try to pot some balls. Various male players have been up in arms over the fact that women can attempt qualification through Q school. However, their argument is one that fails when you consider outright logic and history. Women have consistently faced barriers to snooker participation in the United Kingdom. But times are changing.
Even though there are a few men only snooker halls and leagues left in the country, those old-style clubs have largely died out now. Women are much more visible in sport in general, both on and off the sport pitch. And there are signs of interest from sports fans as well. When the World Snooker tour uploaded footage to its Facebook page of Reanne Evans making a 79 break in the women’s Tour Championship in 2019, it received 7.1 million views. That made it the seventh most watched video ever – quite the feat considering the page also has a plethora of historic videos and contemporary games to view.
Doubtless, a lot more could have been done within the sport over the years to encourage women’s participation. Then again, when the board of directors for the WST is entirely male, what more could you expect? Fortunately, when Mink enters into the professional circuit next year for the 2022-23 season, perhaps she can bring much more focus to women in the game, taking another step for equal opportunities.