A couple of years ago, before the pandemic, I hosted a dinner for Hallam alumni who lived in an overseas city where I’d been doing a lecture tour. It was a great evening, drawing together Hallam alumni from several decades ago as well as very recent graduates. They all got on very well. At one point in the evening, some of the later 1990s alumni were reminiscing about their time and one said, “and there was no Wi-Fi in the library”. A 2015 graduate looked horrified. “What”, she said “there was no Wi-Fi?”. It seemed unimaginable to her. But there are so many things which now seem unimaginable to the young. I tried to explain to my own children once the delights of watching the BBC’s snooker programme, Pot Black on the black-and-white TV set which sat in the corner of my parents’ sitting room. It gave me the excuse to quote one of the immortal television commentary lines: “for those of you watching in black and white, the pink ball is next to the green”. My children didn’t find the line as funny as I had recollected it (this was a constant feature of my jokes, or, as the children called them “your so-called jokes”).
The Snooker World Championship, of course is indelibly associated with Sheffield and The Crucible – although the association depends on a regular re-tendering for the location rights. In a more conventional year, the final fortnight of April would see the heart of the city transformed with the paraphernalia of the championship and the city centre hotels would be doing a roaring trade. This year, in different circumstances, the Snooker World Championship is one of the first events which the government is using to test the return of spectator sports after the pandemic.
This test-case involves the application of any number of protocols, including one about asymptomatic testing for local audience members. Sheffield Hallam was approached to ask if we were able to deploy our own asymptomatic testing centre on City Campus – a few snooker tables’ distance from The Crucible – to allow this testing to take place. After a few days of discussion, covering issues of campus safety and the guarantee that the use of the centre by audience members would not impact on our ability to test students and staff – we were delighted to be able to help out. It’s fair to say that without Hallam, there’d be no snooker tournament in Sheffield this year.
In some ways this might sound trivial, but it’s not. The Snooker World Championship is important for Sheffield. It’s important for the city’s economy, but also for its global projection. Snooker is global business. In the twenty-first century, globally connected world, these niches matter for cities. By securing the 2021 Snooker World Championship, we help to protect the city’s global presence.
It’s also important for the city’s economy. In 2021 that may mean smaller audiences and fewer out-of-town visitors, but the championship is still important, not least to Sheffield Theatres, such a vital institution to the city, and one which has suffered badly from over a year of rolling lockdowns.
This year’s championship is also important for government, who want to understand the issues involved in opening up sporting events to live audiences as we adapt to a new, post-pandemic ‘normal’ across the full range of social and cultural activities.
It’s important too for us. We are proud to be a university of place, and we are committed to our civic role. Sometimes, that is perhaps a slightly vague notion. Opening up our testing centre to make the Snooker World Championship possible is a tangible example of what being a civic university means: it means being able to work together with local partners to deliver added value for the community. It means responding to the needs of place. I’m delighted that we have been able to help.