Snooker chief Barry Hearn has once again insisted the sport isn’t reliant on Ronnie O’Sullivan, but maintained the former world number one is more than welcome to defend his title at the World Championships if the Rocket decides to return for the season’s showpiece tournament.
Speaking after world number one Mark Selby clinched his third snooker Masters betting title in six years with a 10-6 victory against Neil Robertson, Hearn insisted O’Sullivan would need to make a decision by the end of February whether or not he would defend his title at the Crucible in April.
"He still has a choice of entering the World Championships. The closing date is the end of February; he's got to make a decision before then," revealed Hearn.
But Hearn was adamant the sport hadn’t lost any of its appeal by O’Sullivan’s continued absence.
"If he decides to he's welcome with open arms, because he adds so much. And if he doesn't, I just want to remind him that he wasn't in the Masters, we sold more tickets and we got bigger TV ratings.”
O’Sullivan was a notable member of the audience during the semi-finals of the Betfair Masters, fuelling the growing rumours that the Snooker betting favourite could be getting the taste back for the sport he has often lost interest in.
While there is no doubt that snooker is in a good place at the moment, having O’Sullivan at the World Championships would make it one of the most interesting tournaments in recent history.
Whether or not that would lead to the former world number one returning to the game full-time would be a question that could wait until the end of the tournament.