I love the World Cups, and I spend hours (sometimes days) watching Kozoom when our Grand Slams are being played. But with regret, I have to say that something seems to be missing from these events. It's not at the top of the pyramid: the world's privileged 12 and those in contention to join the elite will always show up, and they treat us to mouth-watering 3-cushion. It's not at the base either: there's no lack of appeal to recreational players. They are always there, even if they know they'll never make it to the main draw. Never speak badly of the "billiard tourists"! They are an important link in the food chain.
So the problem is - you guessed it - in the middle.
Playing World Cups will cost you (a lot of) dollars or Euros, and your chances of recovering it in the form of prize money are slim to none. This is why a very large percentage of the good-but-not-top-class players don't bother anymore. They will play their national championships, they will play their league matches, but you haven't seen them at World Cups in ten or fifteen years.
Let me throw some random examples at you. Zola Hansen, Knudsen, Haack-Sörensen, Carlsen, Andersen, Nelin. One small European country, and half a dozen of these Danes can play 1.3 or (much) better. I could easily add names from Germany, France, or the Low Countries. We've lost them.
Cataño, Salazar, Garcia, Lizarazo, Lopera, Diaz, Campiño. All from Colombia. all terrific players, some still young. I could easily add names from Ecuador, Mexico or Peru. We've lost them.
If nothing changes, we will never again see the talented South-Americans in Hurghada, Guri or Luxor. We will have to do without dozens of seriously classy players from Western Europe. I think that would be so regrettable, both for these players and for the sport. More random names for you: Ly The Vinh, Philipoom, Burgman, Patino, Sang Um Pil, van Erp, Nilsson, Takeshima: they can make 40 in 17 on a good day. If you can do that, you can get into a main draw, even eliminate a seeded player.
What can we do, to get at least SOME of these 1.3 and 1.5 guys back into the World Cup cycle? We can't just GIVE them the money to travel to a World Cup, can we?
No. But we can make them earn it: in a satellite tournament.
- Let's say that a few months before a World Cup, any member federation can ask the UMB for permission to organize a satellite.
- Let's say the cost of sending a player to a World Cup can vary from 1200 Euro to 2000 Euro: travel, hotel, UMB inscription and meals. From Western Europe and to Egypt / Turkey, the low end, from the America's and to Asia, the high end.
- Cataño and Campiño will not make the trip, they choose not to or can't afford it. But I am convinced they would pay 40 Euro to play in a local tournament, where the first prize would be a ticket to the next World Cup, all expenses paid. It would take about 50 hopeful Colombians to make that happen. Believe me, there are a hundred in Bogotá alone who would take that gamble.
- Another satellite could be organized in Seoul, or in Ho Chi Minh city, in Athens, New York, Izmir, Duisburg or in Antwerp. As long as you find forty of fifty participants, willing to risk 40 Euro and play billiards for a few days, you will send one very good player to a World Cup. Find five national federations interested, and you will significantly improve the field of a World Cup. Countries that have not sent participants in a decade might reconnect with top 3-cushion.
- The UMB would not have to spend any money on these satellites, all they would do is guarantee a few spots in the qualification stages of World Cups. Satellite winners would be placed where they belong: in the pppq, ppq or in the pq, according to their world ranking. The current invitation, seeding and wild card system would not change at all.
- In a knock-out format, a satellite would take three days on two tables. No need to rent a venue or install billiards, you could play them in any billiard room. The UMB could provide the format, or leave that up to the local organization.
The winners of these satellite tournaments would be very strong players, that is almost guaranteed. You are not going to be the last man standing in Vietnam, Colombia, Belgium or Turkey if you are 0.8 average. But then...
Even if you are a 0.8 or a 0.6 player, wouldn't you try your luck, for 40 Euro, to be flown to Guri and be drawn against Sung Won Choi or Murat Naci Coklu in a qualification match? I would.
There is a wealth of talent in South America.
Burgman and van Erp: no longer in World Cups.