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Is the Crucible Too Small for the World Championship?

Every year, snooker fans from around the globe descend on Sheffield in order to head to the Crucible in order to watch the World Snooker Championship. The problem is, it is nowhere near as many people heading to the venue as snooker bosses would like, given the fact that the old theatre can only welcome less than 1,000 people through its doors for each session.

That is obviously dwarfed by the likes of Premier League stadiums, with even the smallest able to accommodate tens of thousands of people. Yet the problem for snooker is that even other snooker venues tend to be able to house more spectators.

About the Crucible

crucible theatre sheffield outdide sunny day
The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield by Peter Tarleton, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Crucible Theatre opened in 1971 and was the premier theatrical venue in the city of Sheffield at the time. The name is a reference to crucible steel, which was first produced in Sheffield in 1740 and was one of the major drivers of the industrialisation of the city. It was built by M J Gleeson and the World Snooker Championship arrived there in 1977 and has taken place there ever since.

The auditorium is able to welcome in 980 people, but the way that its designed is perfect for both stage shows and as a snooker venue, with no spectator being more than 22 yards from the action, which is absolutely ideal.

The theatre went through some refurbishments between 2007 and 2009. Having been given the Theatre of the Year Award in 2001, around £15 million was invested in improving it and it opened just twice: for the 2009 World Snooker Championship and the 2009 World Snooker Championship.

The nature of the theatre and how close the audience is means that it is considered to be an extremely special place to play. There is excitement around the event like no other, with sports such as squash and table tennis also attempting to have events there with less success. Snooker, meanwhile, has lasted a long time in the Sheffield theatre.

What People Say About It

crucible theatre sheffield inside panoramic
Bvayb, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Writing in an article for the Guardian, the sports Journalist Peter Mason referred the theatre itself as ‘greatly underwhelming’. It is, he said, an ‘uninspiring, ugly place – both inside and out’. Mason’s opinion seemed to be largely based on the idea that the theatre is mostly made up of breeze block and even the bar area is ‘hotel-foyer characterless’.

What simply looking at the theatre can’t tell you, though, is that the the atmosphere ‘completely changes’ when you step into the auditorium. There is, Mason maintains, an ‘undeniable frisson about the place’ thanks to some ‘undefinable quality within its walls’.

Not everyone who talks about the Crucible does so in such glowing terms, however. Hossein Vafaei is an Iranian snooker player who decried the state of the place after the 2024 World Snooker Championship, complaining that it ‘smells really bad’.

He said, “History is very important but nobody invests any money in this historical venue. You want to go somewhere really nice. If you walk around the Crucible it smells really bad. I’m honest. Everything is so bad”. It’s possible that what Vafaei was smelling was sour grapes, having played in the tournaments three times and was knocked out by Judd Trump in the first round in 2024.

The Iranian complained that the practice room was nothing special, ‘like I’m practicing in a garage’. Vafaei’s complaints weren’t so much about the size of the Crucible but how it felt to be a player in the competition.

He said, “The players are feeling like stars but here nobody looks after the players, after the match, before the match here, no-one cares who you are”. He isn’t alone in feeling as though a move away from the Sheffield arena is all but inevitable, with John Higgins, who was crowned world champion four times there, said, “It just feels the sport is bigger than one venue to hold the World Championship”.

A New Venue in Sheffield?

In 2022, plans were announced for a new venue to be built in Sheffield that would be attached to the Crucible via a bridge. There is a fear amongst some that the Crucible could start to look decidedly small if nothing is done about it, with events like the Masters growing all of the time. The new building was designed by architect James Burland, the person behind Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, and would be directly next to the current theatre.

The new location would host as many as 3,000 people, which is more than triple the capacity of the Crucible itself. It could also be built with snooker players’ needs in mind.

A big part of the problem with the Crucible is that the backstage area is quite small, so the organisers can only do so much to make it as comfortable and welcoming as possible for the players.

The Chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, Jason Ferguson, said, “This is a concept and an idea to try and grow this event in some way. At this stage, it’s very early discussions but we are coming up with a concept of what would be a huge benefit for the city and a true international destination”. The Crucible would still be used for some matches, but the new venue would look to host most of them.

Saudi Arabia

snooker balls racked painted with flags from around the world

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become more and more involved in numerous different sports in recent years, with the nation state attempting to sports wash its appalling human rights record. The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia became the new owners of Newcastle United in the October of 2021, for example, with the launch of LIV Golf also being funded by the murderous regime.

Whilst most sports fans are not overly keen on the situation, players have much lower moral standards and the organisers of various sports are also more than happy to hold their nose and take the money from wherever they can get it.

In the May of 2024 it emerged that Saudi Arabia could be involved in helping to pay for the expansion of the Crucible, rather than attempting to steal the event for themselves. It was confirmed earlier in the year that Riyadh Season had become an official partner of the Snooker World Championship, with some fearing that there might be a move to shift the entire tournament out there.

After all, the World Masters had already been played in the country, complete with a Golden Ball that could only be potted if a player managed a 147 break and was worth $500,000. Now it seems like the Crucible might remain the chief location for the snooker, just not in its current form.