We’re a soft touch – Barry Hearn wants tougher punishments for protesters

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Former World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has called for tougher punishments for protesters after play was disrupted at the World Championship in Sheffield.

A man wearing a ‘Just Stop Oil’ T-shirt interrupted the match between Robert Milkins and Joe Perry on Monday evening by jumping on to one of the tables and tipping orange powder over the cloth.

A woman was prevented from executing a similar stunt on the other table after being tackled by quick-thinking referee Olivier Marteel.

Cazoo World Snooker Championship 2023 – Day 3 – The Crucible
A Just Stop Oil protester jumps on the table and throws orange powder on during the match between Robert Milkins against Joe Perry at the Crucible (Mike Egerton/PA)

South Yorkshire Police later confirmed two people had been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage.

Just Stop Oil identified the protesters as Exeter University student Eddie Whittingham, 25, and Margaret Reid, 52, a former museum professional from Kendal, Cumbria.

It was the second time in three days that a major domestic sporting event had been disrupted, after 118 people were arrested at Aintree on Saturday as they tried to scale the perimeter fence at the Grand National.

Hearn, whose company Matchroom Sport acquired World Snooker Limited in 2010, told talkSPORT: “Sport’s an easy target. Aintree we saw on Saturday… How long before The Open or Wimbledon or whatever?

“And it is a concern because, whenever someone intrudes on the field of play, wherever it is, your first thought is not that this could be a protest, but it could be something quite harmful.

Barry Hearn
Barry Hearn has called for tougher punishments for protesters after the World Snooker Championship was disrupted (Richard Sellers/PA)

“The problem is there’s not enough deterrent out there for these people to do anything but get away with it. It might cost them a few hours of their freedom but there’s no serious deterrent and, for that reason alone, expect more of these, not less.

“It therefore puts the onus on promoters like us to say right well, we’re going to have to double up our security, treble up our security, maybe we have to do more body searches… but eventually it puts them off going. Of course all these costs have to be paid for.

“Custodial sentences is my way. I’m a zero-tolerance type of guy.”

The opening session between Milkins and Perry will now be played on Tuesday evening, when their second session had been scheduled. Their concluding session will be played on Thursday morning.

In a statement released on Monday evening, Just Stop Oil said the protesters were “demanding that the Government immediately stop all new UK fossil fuel projects and are calling on UK sporting institutions to step into civil resistance against the Government’s genocidal policies”.

Asked about the incident, Home Office minister Chris Philp told GB News: “It is a concern because, when sporting events get disrupted, it is very serious for the athletes and the sportsmen and women who are competing, and it disrupts the event for spectators as well.

“So I do take this very seriously. It shouldn’t be happening. I hope those concerned get prosecuted.”

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