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SIPA USA/PA Images Ding Junhui of China (file pic).
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Defending champion hints at UK Championship withdrawal if fans allowed back in
Ding Junhui believes the idea is ‘too risky’

DEFENDING CHAMPION Ding Junhui has refused to rule out the prospect of withdrawing from the UK Championship in Milton Keynes if spectators are allowed back into the venue.

The PA news agency understands tournament officials are exploring the possibility of welcoming some fans for the final stages of the tournament next week, in line with the latest Government rules.

Indoor sporting events in tier one and two locations are conceivably able to host a maximum of 1,000 fans or 50% of capacity – whichever is lower – subject to stringent guidelines.

But after beating Jamie Curtis-Barrett 6-1 in his first-round match, Ding insisted: “New cases are getting higher every day and you just can’t take the risk for the players — no players, no tournament.

“I think it is not good timing because we are in a room, it’s not like football grounds which are outside. There’s much more chance to catch the virus than outside in a stadium.

“It’s too risky. If they put some crowd in there I will think about that and other options.”

Snooker has been at the forefront of coronavirus initiatives and took part in a pilot which saw some fans allowed in for the opening day of the World Championship at the Crucible in July – but the plan was forced to be abandoned after just one day.

One of the qualifiers for that event, Anthony Hamilton, withdrew from the tournament citing health concerns, handing an unprecedented first round walkover to eventual finalist Kyren Wilson.

Ding, the world number 10, is plainly ill at ease about continuing to play through the pandemic, but acknowledged withdrawing would be a tough decision to have to make.

Speaking through a face mask following his win, Ding added: “I’m not sure yet, but if it’s the semi-finals or the quarter-finals I have no chance to pull out – you have to go for it,” he added.

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“But I wouldn’t be fully concentrating on the table – if somebody coughs behind me or whatever happens, I would be thinking about something else, not playing snooker.”

World number one Judd Trump said he shared some of Ding’s concerns about the prospective return of crowds but would broadly welcome the move.

After polishing off a 6-1 win over Paul Davison, Trump said: “I think everybody should be at the same point before they welcome crowds back.

“It should be the whole of the UK, rather than different places facing different situations, because anyone can just drive across to a different town or city and come and watch.

“[But] I know World Snooker did an amazing job last time to make sure the players were safe, so if they think it’s ready, then I’d feel safe if they had crowds back.”

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