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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.

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September: Pool’s Best Kept Secret
September 2016

We all know the old thought experiment: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Philosophers can argue all they want about the question of observation and reality, but I’m here to tell them the answer is no.

My proof is the recent World Pool-Billiard Association World 9-Ball Championship in Qatar. Pool’s tree fell and, trust me, it didn’t make a sound. Why? Because no one was there to hear it. Or see it.

In theory at least, the World 9-Ball Championship is the pinnacle competitive event in pool. It is the longest-running world championship in the sport. It truly features the best players from virtually every corner of the globe. It is a career-defining moment for the eventual champion. And it is played in darkness. I mean that both figuratively and literally. For the past seven years, the World 9-Ball Championship has been held in the desert kingdom of Doha, Qatar. Of course, it’s awfully sporting of the Qatari to stage the annual championship, which features a prize fund in the neighborhood of $200,000 and a top prize of $40,000. No one will argue that they have been good to pool. But this is the World 9-Ball Championship, the biggest event in the sport. Call me unreasonable, but somehow I expect more. You know, like professional photography. And television, or at least a quality live stream. A few spectators would be a nice touch as well.

The latest edition of the World 9-Ball Championship was a disaster from the standpoint of international reach and exposure. If not for quality daily updates from WPA Press Officer Ted Lerner, the world would have known very little about Austria’s Albin Ouschan’s big victory. For reasons not entirely clear (choices being failed negotiations and budget-trimming), the live streaming mechanism and house photography that had been utilized in the past were not utilized in 2016. The alternatives fell woefully short of adequate.

As pool fans around the world frantically wondered whether any live action would be broadcast, a local streaming option was added at the last minute, with the commentary being in Arabic. The quality was slightly better than local tournament coverage with a single stationary camera. Accompanying still photography was even worse. The Qatari federation hired a photographer to cover the action and disseminate photos to the WPA’s Internet posts and the worldwide media. They refused to offer accreditation to other working photojournalists, despite requests from at least one international magazine (that employs the letters B and D) to do so. I am fine with that decision, as long as the “house” photographs are then made available for publication.

Not surprisingly, the Qatari option was a disaster. Put aside the fact that subterranean caves are better lit than the arena in Doha, making most of the photographs almost unusable, the hired photographer simply put his lens cap on following the final shot and was not heard from again.

Now, this may sound like whining from a magazine publisher who couldn’t get photos from the World Bloody 9-Ball Championship, but the issue here is far deeper. The failure of the Qatari federation to provide adequate information, photography and video is a disservice to the sport that they insist they are helping. Perhaps they don’t really care about growing interest and visibility for the sport. Perhaps their only interest is in building pool in Qatar, or the Middle East. Doesn’t matter. With the keys to the biggest event comes a certain responsibility to the sport.

I lay a lot of blame at the feet of the WPA. There have been far too many instances over the years in which pool’s “governing body” has offered zero oversight and few demands on the promoters to whom they have granted the right to run the sport’s world championship tournaments. (Remember the prize fund “adjustment” that took place in Manila a few years back, with no reprisal?) It’s time the WPA stop treating their events like the son or daughter that parents didn’t think would ever get married. They’re delighted by the first prospect that shows even marginal interest.

It feels like the WPA is the same “parent.” I get the impression that they are just happy finding a promoter that will run an international pool tournament and pay a sanction fee. That, also, is a disservice to the sport.

The WPA owes it to its members and to the players it represents (and to the billiard industry as a whole) to make certain that promoters of its world championship tournaments commit to helping the sport grow globally. Get assurances that the event will be properly transmitted to fans and potential fans. Make sure they make the sport look good. Make sure the event gets in front of eyes that may have an opporunity to assist in the growth of the sport. Can you imagine anyone remotely interested in investing in pool’s growth trying to follow the 2016 World 9-Ball Championship?

As it stands today, pool’s inability to grow is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the sport’s world championship is treated like a Tuesday night bar league tournament, how could it possibly grow?