Live UK Sport returns to free-to-air TV as ITV cues up Snooker

Credit: PA

Live sport returns to UK free-to-air television for the first time since the Coronavirus lockdown as ITV4 hosts exclusive coverage of Championship League Snooker from June 1.

Airing daily on ITV4, the tournament will feature some of the biggest names in the sport competing at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, with a first prize of £30,000 and a place in this year's Champion of Champions on offer.

A stellar line-up of some of the top names in snooker who are confirmed to compete includes Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson.

Fronted by Jill Douglas, the tournament and coverage have been set up to ensure guidelines on social distancing and hygiene are strictly adhered to, and players will enter on an invite-only basis. It will be a non-ranking event with no access to the public.

The Marshall Arena was selected as the venue as it has on-site accommodation meaning no players, officials or staff will need to leave the venue once they have entered.

All 128 World Snooker Tour card holders will be invited to participate, with the top 64 who enter receiving a place in the tournament.

The initial phase from June 1 to June 8 will feature 16 groups with four players in each. All matches will be best of four frames, with two tables in operation. It will be three points for a win, and one point each for a draw. The 16 group winners go through to the second phase on June 9 and June 10, featuring four groups of four. Those four winners will compete in the final group on June 11, with the player finishing top to be crowned champion.

Coverage by ITV Sport's team will be coordinated remotely and will follow Coronavirus safety guidelines, with Jill and the on-screen team operating from their homes while commentators David Hendon, Phil Yates and Dominic Dale will cover the event from the venue.

The event will be run behind closed doors. Credit: PA

All players, staff and contractors will be virus-tested prior to entering the venue. Players will require a negative test result in order to enter the venue. They will play all group matches on one day, remaining on site throughout, and will then leave the venue.

Other safety measures in place will include:

• Social distancing measures in place throughout the venue.

• Players seated at least two metres apart during matches.

• Players using anti-bacterial hand sanitiser before matches and avoiding handshakes.

• Referees endeavouring to keep two metres away from players where possible.

• There will be no access for players’ guests.

• First aid personnel on site at all times.

Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn said: “During the challenging times of the past few weeks we have examined the opportunities which still exist and worked relentlessly towards the goal of getting our tour going again. While most other sports remain sidelined, we are ready to return from June 1st. This sends out a message to the sporting world that snooker is at the forefront of innovation.

Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn. Credit: PA

“Our first priority has to be safety and we have had detailed discussions with government in creating a set of approved guidelines for the event which will be rigorously followed. We are making this very clear to the players and everyone working on the event.

“We will be the first major sport to get back to live televised action. That’s not by chance, it’s because of the hard work and preparation we have done during the lockdown to make sure we are ready to get going again as soon as it is legal.

“Liaising with government advisors, we have prepared highly detailed health and safety documents which will be followed to the letter during the tournament. These measures surpass any others made in any other professional sport right now.

“In particular, procedures are being put in place for testing players, staff and contractors, which ensure that we are doing everything possible to keep the event safe. Players who have any doubts about their own welfare can rest assured that all precautions are being taken.

“I am confident that there is no other major sport which can meet health and safety criteria on isolation and social distancing as stringently as snooker can, so we are able to return more quickly than others.

“One of the reasons we have selected the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes is that accommodation is on site, which means that once players arrive for testing the night before they play, they don’t need to leave until their matches have finished, and they can remain isolated within the venue. It is a superb venue with ideal facilities.

“Following testing, the players will remain in an isolated environment until they are eliminated from the event. It is a group format so the group winners will leave the venue, then come back for their next group when the process begins again. Keeping players isolated at all possible times is an integral part of the procedures we are putting in place.

“These are challenging times but as always we are looking at the opportunities rather than the limitations.

“Championship League will provide 11 days of televised sport with extensive live coverage, from 3pm until 10pm each day. For the fans out there who are starved of live sport it will be a fantastic boost and a very welcome diversion from these tough times we are all going through.

“We are thrilled to be working with ITV on Championship League for the first time, with an exciting new format. The field of players and more details will be announced in the coming days.”

Controller of ITV Sport Production, Mark Demuth, said: "We know fans have been missing live action since the lockdown has been in place, so we're delighted to bring snooker back, marking the return of live sport to free-to-air TV. Behind the scenes, our team has been working with the event organisers to ensure strict adherence to guidelines to safeguard the well-being of all involved, which is our priority."