Phil Haigh ✍️
Four players missed the main stage of the European Masters through visa issues last week, and although that was a huge disappointment for them, it could have been much worse, says WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson.
Chinese players Li Hang, Chang Bingyu, and Lei Peifan all won their qualifying matches but withdrew before the main stages began in Furth, Germany, handing their last 64 opponents a bye.
Hossein Vafaei tweeted about having problems with a visa, but then deleted the post and did not withdraw, however, he was indeed having issues and didn’t turn up for his clash with Xiao Guodong, who got a 5-0 win as a result.
It was a real shame for four players who had won a match to reach that stage and could not go and compete for the chance to lift the trophy and – more pressingly – earn some money and ranking points.
Ferguson has explained some of the issues around sorting out visas for players outside Europe which have proved very difficult to overcome early in the season.
While it was disappointing to lose four players, if could have been as many as 24 to miss out in Germany.
‘It was a nightmare. Initially we were at risk of losing around 24 players. I can’t begin to tell you how stressful it was,’ Ferguson told Metro.co.uk.
‘Overseas players are stuck in the UK. What they would normally do is go back to, say, Beijing, apply for a visa then apply for a Schengen visa to go into Europe.
‘Now you’ve got players based here on UK visas, which are expiring. So they have had to get their UK visas sorted out, then once they’ve got those, apply for their German visas.
‘We got involved heavily, WPBSA player liaisons, we got the parliamentary group involved as well, who made contact with the German ambassador.
‘We lost three of the Asian players in the end, and Hossein from Iran, but it could have been a lot more.
‘We were battling away, we got as many senior people involved as we could. Parliament, the Home Office, we were getting as many people involved as possible, but it’s really challenging for overseas players.’
On why most players got their visas sorted but a handful missed out, Ferguson added: ‘Most of it was down to the delays in getting UK visas. Players were applying for them at different times, some got back a bit late and there wasn’t time to get the Schengen visa to get back into Europe.
‘Sometimes it’s players getting visas in late. Sometimes it’s down to where a certain player is.
‘A lot of players on tour haven’t been able to see their families for a long time, due to Covid, so some chose to go home. Which we knew would slow things down and that took its toll this time as well.’
On the topic of overseas players, there are a few who have won their places on the World Snooker Tour for this season and beyond but we are yet to see them.
The likes of Bai Langning, Mohammad Asif, Dechawat Poomjaeng, Mohamed Ibrahim and Victor Sarkis have all got two-year tour cards, but are yet to compete, but the WPBSA chairman says all are planning to play and expects to see them in the weeks and months to come.
‘Yeah we are expecting to see all of them,’ he said. ‘With Bai it’s a problem with going back to China and getting visas, getting organised and getting over here, that sometimes involves sponsorship as well.
‘I’ve got no doubt that all the players are coming though. The one that will be a little more delayed is Victor Sarkis of Brazil. He’s looking to relocate to Europe.
‘All the guys that have won tour cards have confirmed that they want to take up their tour cards, there’s no issue on that. I think I’m right in saying they’ve all joined the WPBSA.’
No longer in the WPBSA is Brazilian standout Igor Figueiredo who could no longer commit to competing in the tournaments in the UK and Europe while his family were back in South America.
WST announced earlier this week that Figueiredo is no longer a professional and Ferguson hopes to see him back on the scene again.
‘We’ve just lost Igor, which was a shame because he was a big inspiration for everyone in South America,’ said Jason.
‘There’s a WPBSA membership each year which allows you to play on the tour. That is an annual renewal and he got in contact to say he wasn’t going to take it up.
‘It takes its toll on you. Imagine having a family as far away as Brazil while you’re here, it’s tough. He’s taken the decision to stay over there and not come back and I can’t say anything other than to thank him for the time and commitment he gave us, we enjoyed having him around.
‘He’ll be missed, but you never know, he might pop up at the Seniors. We hope so.’
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