Ronnie O’Sullivan has let snooker down by being ‘borderline aggressive’

Ronnie O’Sullivan was involved in several controversial incidents during his World Championship quarter-final defeat (Picture: Getty)

Ronnie O’Sullivan let himself down badly at the World Snooker Championship on Wednesday. And he did the sport no favours in the process.

Frankly, O’Sullivan’s behaviour during his quarter-final meeting with Stuart Bingham at the Crucible was beyond the pale.

It started in the afternoon’s second session of the match when he persistently asked one of the game’s top referees, Desislava Bozhilova, to keep respotting the black after he had potted it, with the ball appearing to be rolling off its spot.

In his view, the slight difference meant he was now not on a red that should have been pottable.

Eventually, the ball did stick on the spot, with the red now being on, but an unsettled O’Sullivan elected not to go for the pot, playing safe instead.

This was hailed in some quarters as a great act of sportsmanship, but the jury is well and truly still out on that one and they won’t be returning for a decisive verdict any time soon.

All this was merely a warm-up. O’Sullivan’s real shows of petulance came in the evening.

Desislava Bozhilova and Ronnie O'Sullivan at the World Snooker Championship 2024

Desislava Bozhilova and Ronnie O’Sullivan clashed at the snooker World Championships (Picture: Getty)

First he appeared on a Eurosport interview shortly before play resumed for the final session, with the match score level at 8-8.

He was asked to explain the events surrounding that respotting and he wasn’t shy in being forthcoming.

‘To be honest with you, some of the referees, I think they’ve got it in for me. So I just wanted to prove (to) her that she got it wrong,’ he said.

‘And I thought, do you know what, I didn’t feel good about having to pot the ball after that. I just wanted to make the point. The point was made.

‘I’m not that hungry to win in that way. I’m more of a principles person. Once the principle has been made, I can sleep at night.’

My mind went straight away to that old Groucho Marx line: ‘Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.’

Desislava Bozhilova and Ronnie O'Sullivan at the World Snooker Championship 2024

Ronnie O’Sullivan was involved in several controversial incidents with snooker referee Desislava Bozhilova (Picture: Getty)

It should be noted that World Snooker Tour said Bozhilova acted correctly throughout the incident.

The mood music in Sheffield didn’t suggest a night of peace and harmony, and we certainly didn’t get it.

With the scores still level at 10-10, O’Sullivan was at the table when fans started coming through the Crucible’s red door, straight in the eyeline of his shot.

By and large, this is a natural part of the swing of World Championship life at this place. Fans were returning for the resumption of play between John Higgins and Kyren Wilson on the other table.

O’Sullivan stopped and sat down for a couple of minutes, which in the circumstances was understandable.

But when the situation had been calmed and the door eventually closed, referee Bozhilova asked him to carry on.

He seemed reluctant, so she countered: ‘We might wait twenty minutes.’

Then came the reprehensible part of O’Sullivan’s behaviour. He told Bozhilova to ‘chill’ and accompanied it with a patronising hand gesture.

The official, who behaved with admirable dignity throughout, simply replied: ‘I’m chilled.’

As it happened, the door did briefly open again for a few seconds, but the issue soon passed and all was quiet again.

And that is quite enough about the door from me. It’s not even really about the door.

Ronnie O'Sullivan at the World Snooker Championship 2024

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s wait for an eighth world title goes on (Picture: Getty)

At best, O’Sullivan came across as rude and condescending to the referee. At worst it bordered on being aggressive.

You just can’t behave like that in the middle of a sporting event that’s being shown to millions of television viewers around the world.

O’Sullivan is the greatest player to ever hold a cue. He’s brought untold numbers of people to the sport with his brilliance, indeed his genius.

But that doesn’t give him licence to behave in this way. It left a sour taste for so many of us watching on.

O’Sullivan has previous of course. Just two years ago, he picked an unseemly fight with referee Olivier Marteel during his world final against Judd Trump.

The referee on that occasion warned O’Sullivan for making what he believed to be an obscene gesture. O’Sullivan angrily pointed his finger at Marteel, saying: ‘Don’t start.’

That was a dreadful spectacle too, but O’Sullivan’s poor behaviour was lost in the enormity of him winning a seventh world title.

Stuart Bingham at the World Snooker Championship 2024

Stuart Bingham deserved his 13-10 win over Ronnie O’Sullivan (Picture: Getty)

There are no such distractions this time. O’Sullivan is out of this tournament after losing 13-10 to Bingham and he must be called out.

O’Sullivan’s long history with mental health issues are well documented, not least in last year’s compelling Amazon Prime documentary, The Edge of Everything.

He deserves sympathy for that, and on the whole he receives it from a generally benevolent and forgiving snooker public.

But when he crosses the line like this, it’s simply not on. I spoke to many fans following Wednesday’s play here and the vast majority found they could not condone O’Sullivan’s actions, even those who generally admire his sporting excellence.

That’s the thing. This wasn’t really a day for nuance. There is no defence here. Not really. Not if we’re being sensible and decent.

We all have moments we regret in life. None of us are saints. But equally, we all know deep down when we’ve gone too far.

O’Sullivan did that here, and some. Lest we forget how many sports fans would simply have been tuning in because it was O’Sullivan playing. In so many ways, he is still the sport’s figurehead. He set a very poor example again in Sheffield and many in the game are simply tiring of it.

It’s not as if O’Sullivan is some impressionable teenager any more, or even a man in his twenties or thirties. In fact, he turns 50 next year. Isn’t it time he simply grew up?

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