Ronnie O’Sullivan will headline Hong Kong’s top snooker tournament when it returns after a five-year hiatus, organisers said Friday, but the world champion will compete inside a Covid-secure “bubble”.
The Hong Kong Masters will take place on October 6-9 at a 10,000-seat venue and the local governing body said it could be the largest-ever live crowd at a snooker competition.
The last edition of the Masters, in 2017, saw Neil Robertson beat O’Sullivan in the final. Both players will return, alongside Judd Trump, Mark Selby and John Higgins.
The Chinese city is trying to reboot its pandemic-hit sports scene but Vincent Law of the Hong Kong Billiard Sports Control Council said its “harsh” virus measures, which follow a more lenient version of China’s zero-Covid strategy, had left many top international players baffled.
“They don’t understand why Hong Kong, an international city, is still lagging behind in anti-epidemic policies,” Law told reporters.
The six overseas players will need to be isolated from the community in a Beijing Olympics-style “closed loop”, which Law admitted was not something they were delighted about.
It means players must limit interactions with fans and cannot venture beyond the competition site and their hotels, although details are still being negotiated with the government.
The tournament will also feature Hong Kong’s Marco Fu and Ng On-yee, the three-time women’s world champion.
A recent uptick in infections has threatened to cast a shadow over Hong Kong’s sport scene, which is angling for a comeback after two years of relative international isolation.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s athletic and swimming bodies slammed local authorities for imposing last-minute restrictions on the size of two major upcoming races.
One running race had to be cancelled, while the future of the other — a cross-harbour swim in October — remains uncertain.
Law said he was less worried about the Hong Kong Masters, saying that for locals it was no more risky than attending a stadium concert.
But the event’s appeal to visitors is still uncertain — tourists to Hong Kong currently have to undergo three days of hotel quarantine.