HONG KONG, July 17, 2007 - The world's top players say Asian snooker has grown rapidly over the years with growing numbers from the continent taking up the sport professionally, but more needs to be done to promote it.
The masters of the baize think Asia should host more ranking tournaments, judging by the reception they received at the just concluded Euro-Asia Masters Challenge, a non-ranking tournament, played before capacity crowds here.
At the moment, only two ranking tournaments are scheduled in the coming season in Asia -- in Shanghai and Beijing.
The sport's top players want to see more tournaments should be held in the region to further popularise the game.
Former world champion Ken Doherty said more Asian players are competing on the professional circuit than ever before, and he would like to see more. "Since I have been a professional (from 1990) I've seen the likes of Ding (Junhui), and James (Wattana) and Marco Fu of Hong Kong," he said.
"There are five professional players from Asia. It's just been fantastic. "We got more Asian players on the tour now and that can only be good for the game," added the Dubliner, who lifted the world title in 1997.
"The game is growing more and more especially in China. I have never played before such a big audience like Hong Kong. "It's very refreshing to see. Maybe we need a lot more tournaments out here if the demand is there for it and it seems to me that demand is there."
The 37-year-old, who reached the semi-finals in Hong Kong, said it's evident that more people in Asia were watching the game and following the fortunes of their own players.
"The good thing about it is that more people watch it and follow it because they have their own people to follow like Thailand for James, China for Ding and Hong Kong for Marco.
"Hopefully that will encourage more players to come through the amateur ranks and play in the professional ranks. It will give it a stronger representation."
Asked whether there was a chance for more ranking tournaments being held in Asia, Doherty replied: "Absolutely, there's certainly a possibility. "We had two ranking tournaments in Thailand one year and also the World Cup was held there. Definitely, there's more scope and opportunity for more ranking across Asia and I'd certainly be in favour of it.
"Because once you've got good TV and good crowds, you can't ask for anything better than that."
Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry also strongly believes Asian snooker is experiencing unprecedented growth. "It can only get bigger I think. We now have two ranking events in China and it would be nice to see more ranking events in Asia like in Thailand or Hong Kong or somewhere else," said the former world number one.
"Ding has definitely raised the game in China. A lot of aspiring players want to play like him and they want to follow him."
Fellow Scotsman John Higgins, who won the Hong Kong tournament by defeating Wattana 5-4 in the final, said he was amazed by the 3,000-plus crowd at the stadium each night. "There's nowhere in the world that can generate that sort of publicity and that sort of atmosphere," said the two-time reigning world champion.
"It's my first time in Hong Kong and it's been one of the best events I have ever been at." Former world number three Wattana said Asian snooker was in a healthy state with more players from the continent plying their trade in the British-dominated sport.
"You have players like Ding now and Marco Fu and a few Chinese players playing on the pro circuit. You are going to see some good results I hope and some newcomers coming up," he said. "I hope snooker continues to grow in the future."
* * * * *