Something is stirring in the game of snooker, with the opportunity that has been afforded to Reanne Evans to compete against the men in the qualifying stages for the World Snooker Championship. She jumped at the invitation when it was offered to her and now needs three wins to take an historic step forward for women in the world of snooker, to be the first woman to play during the televised stages at the famous Crucible venue.
Within the game itself she is a familiar face as the ten-time ladies' champion, but in a typically male-orientated sport at the higher echelons of the game (ie. the tournaments and stages that attract a mass television audience), she is largely unknown to snooker followers. All of that could change if she could reach the first round proper in Sheffield.
Twenty-nine-year-old Evans from Dudley is a determined woman as evidenced by her reaction to the opportunity that she has been granted: "It shows that everybody gets a chance if they work hard enough and can achieve their dreams." She is also all too familiar with some people's views regarding the ability and 'right' of women to play the game, saying that there are still some snooker clubs that are men only.
Who she will play in the qualifiers is yet to be decided but there is the possibility, given the number of ex-world champions that still need to qualify themselves if they are to make the first round, that she could face one of them, making it an intriguing scenario.
The WPBSA, snooker's governing body, are continually looking for opportunities to widen the sport's appeal to the general public and to stretch its boundaries, knowing the challenges that they face from a global audience with so many sporting options at their disposal. With that in mind, they have made changes to the qualifying rules for their World Championship showpiece that will run through April into early May. Players not seeded in the top 16 will have to all start in the same round, with 128 players in all participating in the qualifying stages. Some discretion has been given to effectively offer 'wildcards' in much the same way as Wimbledon does in its tennis tournament each year, allowing such as (unseeded) former world champions to enter, in addition to leading amateurs.
The chairman of the WPBSA, Jason Ferguson hopes that Evans' progression will lead to more female players moving through the ranks. Clearly feeling that there is no reason why there should not be equality within the game, he said: "Men and women can compete - I actually believe it's one of the most accessible sports in the world."
Evans has qualified for the main stages of a ranking event in the past, when she played in the Wuxi Classic event in China in 2013. She is not unfamiliar with playing against men in the so-called lesser tournaments, having already brushed shoulders with them this season on the Players Tour Championship in Bulgaria, Portugal and Germany. She can also boast the scalps of Ken Doherty and Joe Swail in the past. She also has something in common with Ronnie O'Sullivan, in that although she plays mainly right-handed, she can also play with her left if required to do so. Unlike Ronnie's amazing 13 maximum 147 breaks in professional competition though, Reanne has yet to go beyond a 140 in competition (although who's counting?).The qualifiers will be held at Ponds Forge, Sheffield, between the 8th and 15th April with 16 places up for grabs in the final 32 televised stages. Steve Davis, John Parrott and Jimmy White are already included in the players to be involved, with the potential for Dennis Taylor and Joe Johnson maybe becoming interested in competing as well.