Disability snooker has made significant strides since the formation of World Disability Billiards and Snooker (WDBS) three years ago.
A subsidiary company of snooker’s world governing body the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), WDBS has hosted regular weekend events including a mix of competitive tournaments and open days since 2015 for people with disabilities to enjoy snooker. Open to people with physical disabilities (wheelchair and ambulant), as well as learning and sensory disabilities including hearing and visual impairments, WDBS events aim to be as inclusive as possible.
Through a combination of extensive promotion both through social media and local disability groups, as well as word of mouth from people who have enjoyed being involved at events, WDBS has seen significant growth in recent months. The WDBS Welsh Open in July saw an impressive 55 entries received for the weekend competition, a record subsequently shattered at the Fizz Open Disability Snooker Championship in September with over 80 players competing across the weekend.
As well as those participating in the weekend tournaments, WDBS has also welcomed several local disability groups to its Friday Open Days, with many people with disabilities given the opportunities to try snooker under the guidance of accredited WPBSA World Snooker coaches.
Through its close relationship with both the WPBSA and World Snooker, WDBS has been able to create new opportunities for players outside of its own events, for example to compete at able bodied tournaments on the World Seniors Snooker Tour and World Snooker Q School.
Players have also been able visit professional events, receiving backstage tours and the opportunity to meet their heroes and key figures in the sport, including international Paralympic broadcaster and snooker MC Rob Walker and former world professional champion Shaun Murphy who have both visited events.
The highlight comes each April at the professional World Championship in Sheffield when players are invited to be a part of the annual World Snooker Disability Day, Including an exclusive backstage tour of the Crucible Theatre and the chance to take part at ‘Cue Zone’ with the BBC presentation team.
The long-term ambition of WDBS remains to see snooker restored to its rightful place at the Paralympic Games. It is a little-known fact that snooker was one of the founding sports of the Paralympic Movement at Stoke Mandeville and was included at the Games as recently as 1988 in Seoul when the late Mick Langley claimed the gold medal.
Key to securing a Paralympic return is for WDBS to encourage greater international participation and there has been significant progress in achieving this goal in recent months.
Earlier this year WDBS held its inaugural Belgian Open, the first WDBS event outside of the UK as featured during the BBC’s coverage of this year’s professional World Championship in the spring. WDBS has also welcomed players from Hong Kong, Poland, Belgium and India to UK-based events in recent months with new enquiries being received on a regular basis.
Through its membership of the World Snooker Federation, snooker’s International Federation supported by the WPBSA, WDBS has established close relationships with approximately 50 national and regional federations across the globe. WDBS is keen to work with both other countries to host new disability tournaments and also to provide opportunities for disabled players to compete in major able-bodied tournaments.
Snooker has of course seen its most significant growth in the professional game in China over the past decade and earlier this year WDBS Chairman Nigel Mawer and WPBSA Sport Development Manager Chris Hornby visited the China Administration of Sports for Persons with Disabilities (CASPD) in Beijing to explore future partnership opportunities.
Following successful talks, a unique open day was held at Beijing’s WPBSA-CBSA World Snooker Academy in early August with the support of the Beijing Disabled Persons’ Federation, WPBSA, CBSA, and Beijing Rigour Culture & Media. More than 40 disabled people were given the chance to try snooker through fun activities and exercises arranged by CBSA coaches and WDBS will continue to work with its partners to provide further opportunities in the future.
Nigel Mawer, vice-chairman of the WPBSA has chaired WDBS since its formation in 2015 and Is proud of the growth that he has witnessed during that time.
“I am extremely proud of how WDBS has developed and grown over the past three years,” said Mawer. “I would like to thank every single player, parent/family member, carer, official and director who has helped and supported us on our journey this far. Although WDBS is still in its infancy as an organisation and we have a lot of work still to do to reach our ultimate goal of getting snooker back into the Paralympic Games, we have already come a long way since our first event in Gloucester.”
It is however perhaps the coming years that are most exciting as WDBS looks to capitalise on the expansion it has witnessed so far.
“Our aims over the next few years are to grow the number of countries involved and add more international events to our existing calendar,” continued Mawer. “We see snooker as sport for all and WDBS will continue to raise the standards and create new opportunities for disabled players to challenge alongside any other player to compete as professionals. WDBS is also working hard to introduce grassroots projects internationally to develop the next generation of disabled snooker players. We are hoping to use technology in ambitious and innovative ways to remove barriers and bring players with disabilities together more easily. We have big plans and I am looking forward to see where we will be in another three years.”