The Economic Case for Giving Ronnie O'Sullivan a Knighthood
Social Mobility, Levelling Up, Global Britain, and Snookernomics
Last night Ronnie O’Sullivan won the Snooker UK Championship for the eighth time. This is a remarkable achievement in itself but it also makes him the oldest winner of the tournament as well as the youngest. He also holds the joint record for winning the World Championship seven times. The man has won everything in snooker, on multiple occasions. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he is still at the top of his game at the age of 47. It is not an exaggeration to say that he is not only the greatest snooker player of all time, he is also the greatest sportsman of all time. The guy is seriously special.
However, I was struck by this tweet last night. I’ve long felt it odd that snooker isn’t treated the same way as football, cricket, or tennis and that while snooker players have received honours, no player has ever received a knighthood. This isn’t just because snooker is my favourite sport. There is a strong economic case for giving Ronnie O’Sullivan a knighthood as part of a wider move by the government to recognise the importance of snooker.
While obviously not as physically demanding as other sports, snooker does bring health benefits. It provides a social activity for people (mainly men, but it's great to see more women get into the sport thanks to trailblazing women going professional). This can help to tackle isolation and the related mental and physical health conditions associated with it such as stress and depression. Therefore, snooker can play a role in keeping the nation in good health and reducing the burden on the health and social care system.
Snooker is also a vehicle for social mobility. The most successful players have tended to come from working class backgrounds and have gone on to have very lucrative careers. It’s not like tennis or some other sports which require expensive equipment and coaches which tend to act as barriers for children from poorer backgrounds. Snooker does tend to be much more affordable. I’m not saying that this is a viable route for most people to pursue – you still need talent and dedication – but it should not be overlooked.
It can also play a role in ‘Levelling Up’ the UK. For example, Sheffield is regarded as the ‘Home of Snooker’ as that is where the World Championships have been held since the 1970s. This has been hugely beneficial for Sheffield and the surrounding area in economic terms over the decades. Given that the UK Championship is held in York and many other tournaments take place in smaller towns and cities we would expect the economic benefits to have a positive impact on these places as well. As such, if snooker thrives and expands it will be towns and cities outside of London which stand to benefit as a result.
Finally, snooker can play a part in the government to realise its Global Britain ambitions. Thanks to the efforts of Barry Hearn, snooker is big business. It might no longer be as wildly popular in the UK as back in the 80s, but it is becoming increasingly popular around the world. Players like Ding Junhui (who lost in yesterday’s final) from China have helped to raise the profile of snooker in Asia. This means that snooker is an important UK export and has the potential to expand further both in Asia and also the US which would be very lucrative for the sport and the UK.
The government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners. However, economic growth comes about when a country focuses on what it’s good at, the government creates the right conditions for these industries to thrive, and plays a role in promoting their interests abroad.
Rishi Sunak has used government funds to increase the number of chess boards in communities. For the reasons discussed above, taxpayers’ money would be better spent on increasing the number of snooker tables. What is more, knighting Ronnie O’Sullivan in the New Year would help to boost snooker’s profile around the world.
Thanks as ever for reading. If you’d like to support Opportunity Lost you can do so here. I’ll probably write another post towards the end of the week. In the meantime, stay safe and warm.