Billiards has a rich and long history with evidence showing it was widely played already in the 1600s. The sport is even mentioned in Shakespeare’s masterwork ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and it is believed that it was played by all social segments.
In the Middle East, team sports are much more popular than individual sports, and none can compete with football. Nevertheless, billiards and snooker are doing just fine in the Arab world today.
As a matter of fact, Qatar’s team performed phenomenally in the 2014 Pool World Cup and went against all odds with an impressive victory over the highly renowned Chinese Taipei team in the round of 16, before suffering a close defeat against Austria.
“Billiards is gaining popularity in Arab and Gulf countries,” says Mubarak Al-Khayarin, president of the Asian Confederation of Billiards Sports (ACBS) and executive director of the Qatar Billiard and Snooker Federation (QBSF). “Players from Qatar are now competing in international competitions and achieved third place in the last Asian junior level championship.”
As executive director, Al-Khayarin supervises the administrative committees and communication between the federation and the Qatari Olympic Committee. He is also the head of the federation’s technical committee and supervises all camps, trainers and players under the QBSF.
Qatar 25th 9-Ball World Championship
The USD 200,000 WPA World 9-ball Championship was held at Al Arabi Stadium in Doha from 7 to 18 September. The second stage and final stage of the championship began yesterday with 128 best players from the world, drawn from 40 countries vying for the coveted crown. The winner of the 2015 World 9-ball Championship will receive USD 30,000. The runner-up will get USD 15,000.
The players were divided into 16 groups of 8 playing a race-to-9, alternate break, double elimination format. Four players from each group will make up the final 64, which marks the start of the always tense and dramatic single elimination phase of the tournament. Matches will then become race to 11, alternate break. The final, which takes place on September 18, will be a race to 13. Defending champion Niels Feijen of Netherlands, Darren Appleton of England, Thorsten Hohmann of Germany and Finland’s Mika Immonen are some of the top players competing for the crown.
Part of the fun of this year’s World 9-ball Championship has been witnessing the rise of some great new talents from unlikely places who are ready to make a name for themselves. Greece’s Alexander Kazakis jumped out to a 4-0 lead over defending champion Niels Feijen only to see the Dutch great claw back into the match and take it to down to a one rack decider. But the 24 year old Greek held his nerve to stave off Feijen’s fight back, and book his spot in the knockout rounds.
One of the biggest surprises of the day came from a country not normally associated with producing world class pool talents. Abdulrahman Al Amar, a 27 year old from Saudi Arabia, played a brilliant match against the Philippines and world number 12 Johan Chua. Al Amar, who is ranked number one in Saudi, and third in the Middle East, battled toe to toe with the Filipino and outfoxed Chua at the end to win 9-7. It’s only the second time ever that a player from Saudi Arabia has advanced to the Final 64.
Searching for talent
The target set by the QBSF is to gain between five and seven new players every year. An average of 25 players sign up every year, and around five eventually demonstrate skill and talent. The QBSF searches for talent in two places: schools and pool clubs. Al-Khayarin explains the process: “As QBSF, we have an official sponsor for the pool tables, and after the championships, the tables are distributed to schools to attract junior players.
We send trainers on weekly and monthly basis and we even hold tournaments among schools. It’s a strategy that has been in place for around three or four years now as a fruit of cooperation between the QBSF, schools and the Supreme Council for Education. We have already spotted several promising talents among the students and we are currently preparing them for regional and international competitions.”
Five years ago, there were 10 private billiard clubs; today, there are 21 says Al-Khayarin. “On weekends, they hold tournaments and we send our trainers to spot potential talents. Generally speaking, the Qatari team is doing well. One of our players is currently ranked 12th internationally.” QBSF have acquired several gold medals at Arab and GCC levels. They won first place in the last GCC championship, which was held in Qatar. They also acquired first place in 2012 in Iraq.
“At the Asian level, we won two silver medals and one bronze medal. At the junior level, we acquired two bronze medals. Last year, one of our players acquired third place internationally.”
Keeping the players is a challenge the federation faces, as some tend to leave for one reason or another, but according to Al-Khayarin, it does not seem to affect the sport in Qatar to a huge extent. “We work hard with the players but sometimes the players have to move on to pursue a career or travel abroad to study. Team sports also attract some of the young players. Generally speaking, it is more of an individual issue rather than a trend.”
Looking for support
The QBSF holds one or two tournaments every month and every year there are four major snooker tournaments and three major billiards tournaments held. And although the media in Qatar gives the sport quite a lot of coverage, the sport still faces challenges in terms of sponsors.
“We couldn’t have progressed without government support,” Al-Khayarin notes. “The serious and pressing issue we face is the acquisition of financial support or a sponsor to support tournaments and Qatari players. This is due to the fact that the game is not as popular in the GCC as team sports. We hope that the official billiards and snooker sponsors will promote the sport to gain more popularity,” Al-Khayarin says and adds:
Some companies do support us, but they are all foreign companies. I wish local companies would support individual sports like they support team sports. We have proven ourselves at GCC and Asian levels.
Al-Khayarin is grateful to the sponsors of the 9-Ball World Championship that was recently held in Doha (see box) some of whom were Star Hospitality group of companies. “I would like to thank Star Hospitality for their cooperation with us and we look forward to future cooperation with them.”
Al-Khayarin is also happy with the QBSF’s relationship with all Arab and GCC federations describing them as positive and fruitful. When he was elected as the chief of the ACBS, Al-Khayarin said his main agenda was to make the sport spread its wings throughout the region, especially in countries where it was in its infancy. Al-Khayarin hopes the success of the WPA Championships and the participation of more players from the GCC region is a firm step in achieving that goal.
AT A GLANCE
Mubarak Al-Khayarin, Executive Director of the Qatar Billiard and Snooker Federation (QBSF)
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Sociology
Background: Before joining QBSF, Al-Khayarin was a member of the Arab committees and Gulf Federation for Snooker and Billiards. Being a former player himself, he retired in 2000 and joined the training and management cadre at the QBSF. Al-Khayarin joined the Asian Confederation in 2012 as a Secretary General, and in 2014 became president of the ACBS, which consists of president, vice president, secretary general and treasurer. Those four are elected.
Current achievements: As president of the ACBS, Al-Khayarin has brought about many changes, the most notable of which is the addition of the 6-Red Snooker and Teams Championships.
Favourite sport: Snooker
Favourite teams: Al Rayyan and Real Madrid
Favourite countries: The Chinese city of Guangzhou for business, and Austria for pleasure.