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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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November: Train Wreck
November 2023

There is a scene at the end of the classic war movie, “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” in which a British officer surveys the bridge that the British prisoners of war had constructed for the Japanese and then destroyed. The image is one of total carnage — the obliterated bridge, the troop-packed train cars that plunged into the river, dead soldiers and prisoners on the beaches along the river.

In utter disbelief, he shouts, “Madness. Madness!”

The literal train wreck that ends the movie comes to mind given the figurative train wreck that the pro side of pool has witnessed in the past month.

What I’ve learned over the years is that nothing leads to dissension and greed more than success. So, why would I be surprised when the biggest and most active year in the annals of professional pool dissolved into infighting and chaos before the calendar even had a chance to turn.

As detailed in Wing Shots (pg. 12), the World Pool Association, the world governing body for the sport since the 1980s, made good on its promise to battle mega-promoter Matchroom’s ambitious — and nonsanctioned — World Nineball Tour by suspending players with WPA member federation affiliation who compete in nonsanctioned events starting March 1, 2024.

In an Oct. 9 press release, the WPA announced that layers who defy the WPA ban and participate in nonsanctioned events following that date would lose their ranking status in the WPA and would not be allowed to represent their respective national and continental federations in national, continental or global events under the WPA.

Events that would fall under WPA-sanctioned tournaments would include the quadrennial World Games, the China Open, the Qatar Open, all WPA-sanctioned World Championships and continental competitions like the Southeast Asia Games (SEA Games) and European Pocket Billiard Championships.

The big players in this turf war, of course, are the powerful European Pocket Billiard Federation (EPBF) and the Asian Confederation of Billiard Sports (ACBS), the new continental federation member of the WPA, replacing the long-standing Asian Pocket Billiard Union this year. The bullying ACBS immediately made its presence felt by announcing bans on Asian players well ahead of the WPA meeting, including the banning of Singaporean pool players because of an infraction by the Singapore Billiard Federation in the staging of a rogue snooker tournament.

Now, I’ve long been on record as supporting the need and benefit of a global governing body like the WPA. All sports have them, even sports with hugely profitable private entities, like the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. They help organize and build the sports in various parts of the world, making the sport all-inclusive and developing talent. The EPBF, for all its warts, has helped develop an incredible stable of great pool talent. You think the great Polish players, the Josh Fillers and the Niels Feijens of the world, got where they are on their own? No, they are largely the products of national federations that afforded them opportunities, like training and coaching and annual stipends and travel support.

I get that. And I respect the need to protect that.

But where the WPA loses me is by insisting on maintaining a stranglehold on these players after the federations’ jobs are done. Let the players move on to more ambitious and lucrative opportunities without forcing them to make a choice between love of sport and love of country. The Polish federation has had at least a hand in the development of perhaps the strongest and deepest team in the world. Good for you. But now you insist on stifling them by threatening them? The entire Polish team was forced to pull out of WNT tournaments in Asia or they would lose not only financial support, but the ability to play at all in Poland. So, instead of competing against their top contemporaries on the biggest stage, with the top televised production and in an arena filled with enthusiastic Vietnamese fans, players like Wiktor Zielinski, Miezko Fortunski and Wojceich Szewczyk were sentenced to a $6,000 top prize EuroTour event in Slovenia with a half dozen hotel maintenance workers serving as the audience. Watching these players force smiles on their faces and thanking their federations had me scrambling for an air sickness bag.

Closer to home, the Billiard Congress of America, the North American federation to the WPA (which, incidentally, was a dissenting vote in the WPA edict), is trying to figure out what American Poolplayers Association 7s will represent the U.S. in world championships in 2024, since virtually all U.S. players immediately pledged their allegiance to Matchroom’s WNT going forward.

The only saving grace is that there are still five months before the WPA bans go into effect. Is there any hope that Matchroom (who is not beyond criticism for its part in this folly) and the WPA can figure out a truce? Matchroom will never allow itself to be directed by the WPA, nor should it. It partnered with the WPA on all its events for years and the WPA offered very little for the courtesy. But there are alternatives here for peaceful coexistence. Get into a room and don’t come out until this is sorted.

Why? Because, as usual, the only losers in this game of chicken are the players, and, of course, the game itself. Professional pool has never been more exciting, more competitive and more visible than it was in 2023.

It’s time for pool’s leaders to show us that they can push their personal agendas to the side and do what’s in the best interest of the sport.

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