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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 April 2006, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Snooker on the ropes - Hurricane
Alex Higgins
Higgins won the world title for the first time in 1972 and again in 1982
Alex Higgins claims snooker will never return to its heyday of the 1980s and 1990s and blamed years of mismanagement for the sport's fall from grace.

The game's standing has declined in recent years, with the amount of events and prize money dropping significantly.

"The people that have run snooker over the last 20 years have run it into the ground," Higgins told Radio Five Live. "There's no way back for the game now."

The former world champion added: "Even darts is more popular with the public."

World Snooker chairman Sir Rodney Walker disputes the last assessment but agrees with Higgins that snooker has struggled financially.

"Over the last 20 years, the sport has gone a long way down," Sir Rodney told the Sportsweek programme.

"It's a well-known fact that when I became involved just over two years ago the sport was virtually bankrupt."

He claimed his organisation had lost £3m in four years and had continued to suffer following the loss of sponsors Embassy and Benson & Hedges because of a ban on tobacco advertising.

Problems still dog the game, with leading players expressing their unhappiness with World Snooker on the eve of this year's World Championhip about the deal it struck with online casino 888.com.

They claim the agreement has cost some of them personal sponsorship contracts.

But Sir Rodney, who was once chairman of UK Sport, insisted things are starting to look brighter for the game.

Higgins, 57, has battled throat cancer in recent years
Higgins, 57, has battled throat cancer in recent years

He said World Snooker had made a profit of around £1.25m in his first year and would generate a profit in excess of £500,000 this year.

"That will enable us, I'm confident, to begin to introduce more new tournaments and increase the prize money for next year," he said.

Higgins, nicknamed the Hurricane because of the speed of his play, won the world title twice.

He beat John Spencer in the 1972 final and then defeated Ray Reardon in an emotional clash a decade later, compiling a 135 total clearance in the final frame to win 18-16.

The Belfast-born 57-year-old is now semi-retired, but he has not ruled out a comeback to the top flight.

He is hoping to compete in a couple of events next season and says he has been hitting century breaks regularly in practice and exhibition matches.

One of the game's most controversial characters, his last big tournament appearance came in the 2005 Irish Professional Championships, where he lost in round one to Garry Hardiman.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Snooker legend Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins


Interview: World Snooker chairman Sir Rodney Walker



SEE ALSO
Snooker stars in silent protest
13 Apr 06 |  Snooker
Higgins comeback ends in defeat
25 Oct 05 |  Snooker
Walker fears cost of tobacco ban
29 Jul 05 |  Sport Homepage
Walker sets out ambitions
08 Mar 04 |  Snooker


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