Ronnie O’Sullivan says snooker stars are being treated like ‘lab rats’ by allowing crowds back into the Crucible.
The World Snooker Championship, which starts on Friday, will be the first indoor sporting event to have fans in attendance since the Covid-19 lockdown in March.
Qualifier Anthony Hamilton, who suffers from asthma, warned this week the ‘ridiculous’ decision could lead to a person dying ‘for no reason at all’.
And five-time world champion O’Sullivan agrees with Hamilton, calling the situation ‘dirty’.
‘Unless you’ve got a death wish, if you care about your health and are taking it seriously, I totally get how he feels,’ said 44-year-old O’Sullivan.
‘This is a bit of a test. They’re treating this snooker event like lab rats. It’s like they’ve thought, “You’ve got to start somewhere, start with snooker players — less insurance to pay out for Anthony Hamilton than there is for Lewis Hamilton”.
‘They want crowds in there, they want things back to normal but I don’t think it’s a risk worth taking. For me, it’s a bit of a dirty situation.’
The World Snooker Championship was selected by the Government as one of the pilot events for the safe return of spectators, along with Surrey’s cricket friendly against Middlesex last weekend and Saturday’s Glorious Goodwood race meeting.
The Crucible will be open at around a third capacity, with 300 spectators permitted into the 980-seat arena at any one time, although many tickets remain unsold.
O’Sullivan, who originally threatened to pull out of the tournament if crowds returned, said: ‘I have the option not to play but I’ve decided to play. I don’t really want to say why. I’ll have to stay mute on that one. We all run a bit of a risk. I’ll pitch up to play and if I don’t feel comfortable, we’ll have to decide at that point.’
The 32 players will be tested for Covid-19 before the tournament and again before the quarter-finals, but they can choose their own accommodation after World Snooker relaxed their rules.
Spectators must wear a face covering when they are walking inside the venue, but do not have to wear a mask when they are sitting in the auditorium.
‘I was in a lift the other day and someone started coughing and I was looking for my mask and wanted to get out of there,’ admitted O’Sullivan. ‘No one’s going to feel comfortable with someone coughing. I know people who have died from Covid-19, so obviously I am taking it a little bit more seriously. A lot of people go, “If you’re young and you’re fit, you’ll be all right”. But I just don’t want to get it, mate.’
O’Sullivan, who lost to amateur James Cahill in the first round at the Crucible last year, has been drawn against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh of Thailand for his opening game on Sunday. He said: ‘The one good thing about the draw is Thepchaiya is the one opponent I don’t mind losing to.
‘He is such a nice guy and if I lose I can congratulate him and say, “Best of luck for the rest of the tournament”, and really mean it. He is the most lovely man.’