This is a story about titles.
A local publisher had a writing contest. The publisher called it "The World Writing Championships". Entries came in from around the state and a few from other states in the U.S. I think they even got an entry from Sweden or Norway; one of those Scandanavian countries. I happened to win the title. I now have a plaque declaring me "2015 World Writing Champion". I'm very proud of this.
(Of course this is fictional! You had to ask? But you see where I'm going with this, right?)
Outside of perhaps boxing, no other sport obsesses with the word "world" more than pool. It's been going on for years and years. When I started covering the sport in the early '80s, promoters added "World" to their tournament titles about as freely as they added the term "based on entries" to their payout lists. What were essentially regional events with $4,000 top prizes were routinely dubbed "World All-Around" or "World 9-Ball".
The result, of course, was that every player's resume was freckled with world titles. Match introductions often pitted "seven-time world champion" against "nine-time world champion". And neither player would be 30 years old!
I always attributed the trend to the sport's general insecurities. If you don't get much press coverage, telling a reporter (or potential sponsor) that your claim to fame is the Toledo Open championship doesn't have much umph.
Thankfully, when the men and women pros had established tours in the 1990s and the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) was formed, the trend faded somewhat. There was one World 9-Ball Champion every year, and no one argued that point.
The confusion has resurfaced recently with the World Tournament of 14.1, a straight pool event held in New York City each year since 2006. The tournament was the brainchild of player/promoter Charlie Williams. Williams' motives are noble. Straight pool is a great game, and the event allowed fans of the game - both players and spectators - to get together annually for a few long runs.
For four out of the first five years, the event drew the imprimatur of the WPA and was sanctioned as the "World Straight Pool Championship." That stamp of approval comes with guidelines. Some of those guidelines revolve around prize money (as they should), but, more importantly, some of those guidelines dictate who gets to play in the tournament. And that's the way it should be. National federations from around the globe should be involved in sending their champions to any event for which a world title is at stake.
In recent years, due to difficulty in drumming up a large enough purse, Williams lost WPA sanctioning and cleverly changed the name of the event to the World Tournament of 14.1. The tournament is open to any player around the world, but that certainly doesn't make it a world championship. The title, however, clouds that distinction. And that's no coincidence. The promoter wants it that way.
Now, it may seem like we've been over this before, and this argument is old news. But this isn't a diatribe against the World Tournament of 14.1. And it's absolutely not a knock against Thorsten Hohmann, winner of the 2015 tournament. It's actually against news outlets, websites and fans that insist on trumpeting Thorsten Hohmann as the "four-time World Straight Pool Champion". In truth, only once (2006) was Hohmann's win in New York a sanctioned world championship.
It may seem trivial, but if you had a chance to follow the recent World 9-Ball Championship from Qatar, the difference crystalizes. The 9-ball event in Qatar may have only paid $30,000 to the winner (long gone are the days of $70,000 and more to the champion), but the structure of the tournament had the legitimacy that a world championship deserves. The very top players from every nation competed. Players who weren't invited battled in a killer qualifying tournament for the few open spots.
By contrast, the field at the World Tournament of 14.1 was filled in part by doctors, lawyers and laymen who just happened to like the game and had the wherewithal to post an entry fee.
Again, this is no knock against Thorsten Hohmann, a gifted and legitamate world champion (straight pool and 9-ball) who loves straight pool and may well be the best straight pool player of his generation.
But I think Hohmann would be the first to admit that the difference between the World Tournament of 14.1 and WPA World 9-Ball Championship in Qatar was well, otherworldly! It's important to the credibility of the sport to maintain these distinctions. And this is where I believe the WPA is important to our sport. Someone needs to be in control of determining what is a world championship and what is not. And followers of the sport should be aware and in support of this system.