History of The WPBSA
From Williams to Ferguson
The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association was established in 1968, taking over as the controlling body of the professional games of snooker and billiards from the Billiards and Snooker Control Council.
All sports governing bodies have political issues to resolve and snooker has certainly been no different, although it as the three ball game of billiards which acted as a catalyst for the new body being founded.
Rex Williams, a world billiards champion and the unsuccessful challenger to John Pulman for the world snooker title in the 1960s, had set up the Professional Billiard Players Association to give players more of a voice. The B&SCC stripped him of his world billiards title after he failed to take part in a defence of the crown within a stipulated five month period. Williams’s PBSA staged their own event and were renamed the WPBSA.
Williams remained chairman of the WPBSA until 1987 and again took charge from 1997 to 1999, but in this period the original purpose of the governing body, as effectively a players’ union, had changed and it became a rules and regulatory body and promoters of the game’s top events. These various forces were often in opposition with each other and the many off table rows began to detract from snooker’s credibility with sponsors and the public.
Rex Williams, Jason Ferguson
When Barry Hearn took over control of World Snooker Ltd he called on a former chairman, Jason Ferguson, to preside over a very different WPBSA, which is now back to its original function as a players’ body and keepers of the rules, but also undertakes important work with the game’s grass roots.
Ferguson achieved a highest ranking of 28 as a player. As an administrator he has travelled the globe to spread the word for cue sports. So frequently has he journeyed to China that he has even learned to speak Mandarin.
Ferguson has been active in linking professional snooker together with the amateur ranks, building close ties with national governing bodies around the world. He has also helped to oversee an expanded coaching programme and initiatives to get snooker into schools.
The WPBSA also administers a Benevolent Fund, established in 1983, which helps players and their dependents who require financial support because of illness.
Ferguson is well suited to the political challenges of his role: he was previously Mayor of Ollerton and Boughton in Nottinghamshire.
Working for snooker
Whether it is representing the views of the players, making sure the integrity of snooker is protected, taking the sport into schools as an aid to numeracy, acting in partnership with governing bodies around the world to deliver change and progress or championing possible future inclusion in the Olympic Games, the WPBSA of today works tirelessly for the game around the globe.
Its first overseas academy, the Asian Academy was established in Bangkok, Thailand, beginning the growth of snooker in Asia.
The Beijing academy
As China’s influence in snooker has grown, the Chinese Billiards and Snooker Association has worked in partnership with the WPBSA on a number of initiatives – not least the Academy in Beijing set up in 2013.
This top-of-the-range training and coaching facility established with technology partner Rigour uses their ‘Hawkeye’-style hardware and software to track balls and shots as an aid to practise.
It offers not only a training base for the China team of players, coaches and increasingly referees but any leading professionals staying in Beijing or passing through. English professional Mike Dunn used it to good effect preparing for the 2014 China Open, which saw him reach a first major semi-final, and there are hook-ups with local schools under way.
Today and for the future
The WPBSA was also a prime mover behind the current ‘Cue Zone Into Schools’ programme in the United Kingdom, an extension of the interactive show with qualified coaches seen at major tournaments including the World Championship, the UK Championship and the Masters.
Six-time world champion Steve Davis and experienced trainer Chris Lovell have been at the forefront of an experiment that is set to be rolled out further, in which six-foot tables are left in schools, a fun and child-friendly form of the sport that not only improves skills on the table but assists with numeracy and literacy in schools.
One head teacher of a school taking part, seeing the enthusiasm with which the concept was greeted, said: “We are a school that has very low levels of numeracy and literacy on entry, there is a gap to be closed there. This doesn’t replace traditional methods, but it complements them, and engages students and gives them something to be excited about.
Chris Lovell takes snooker into schools
“This is a way of introducing functional maths games, participation levels have been very high and we have had kids queuing up to play and learn. It has been very effective.”
Jason Ferguson, chairman of the WPBSA, has laid the groundwork for another serious attempt at trying to elevate snooker’s prestige further still by getting it accepted into the Olympic Games, a painstaking process that could not see the sport admitted before 2024 at the very earliest.
Inclusion at Colombia’s 2013 World Games, often the springboard for inclusion into the blue-riband event, certainly did the cause no harm and India’s Aditya Mehta walked away with the gold medal after a 3-0 final victory over China’s Liang Wenbo.
Snooker will once again take place in the World Games in 2017 in the city of Wroclaw, Poland. The event being staged as a test event for aspirational sports looking for future Olympic inclusion.
Cue sports of which snooker forms a major part can boast participation levels both in terms of numbers and countries that appear to meet the International Olympic Committee’s criteria at every level. With worldwide over 500 million TV viewers, more than 200 million players and in excess of 100 countries with national governing bodies, the WPBSA is working closely with umbrella organisation the World Confederation of Billiards Sports to obtain Olympic recognition.
The road is a long one, but young snooker players everywhere can cling on to the dream of one day having a gold medal hung around their neck on sport’s biggest and grandest stage.
For snooker to continue to be one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, it must preserve its integrity and reputation. Gambling has been described as the greatest threat of our times to professional sport, and snooker can pride itself as having been at the vanguard of the effort to combat and deter wrongdoing and malpractice.
In 2010 the WPBSA agreed with incoming World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn that everything humanly possible had to be done for the game both to be clean, and also seen to be clean to the watching world with corruption a live issue across sport.
A new WPBSA Integrity Unit was formed, with the emphasis on a three-pronged approach to eradicating any betting-related corruption from snooker; intelligence gathering (including confidential hotlines), investigation, and prevention via education of players on the blanket ban on snooker betting at risk of long or life bans, and associated rules.
First headed up by David Douglas in 2010, the Integrity Unit is currently run by Nigel Mawer, a former Detective Chief Superintendent at New Scotland Yard.
Activities cover a range of disciplinary issues, from early concession of frames and breaches of social media protocol at one end, to serious investigations and sanctions over breaking the betting rules at the other, either through in-house panels or outsourced independent tribunals.
The WPBSA’s work in this area has received international recognition as an example of how sports should tackle anti-corruption strategies. The WPBSA has been promoted by the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS) to many sports around the world.