A Dying Sport In Britain, Snooker Finds A New High-Class Home In China

Nearly half the world's top snooker tournaments are now held in China, where prize money is much higher than in the sport's original home in Britain. But money alone doesn't explain snooker's newfound popularity with Ch

Billiards tables are popping up in China (Desmond Kavanagh)
Billiards tables are popping up in China (Desmond Kavanagh)
Zhu Chong

BEIJING - These days "outsourcing" is a nightmare word for Western politicians, as factories and their well-paid jobs disappear to the east. But when it comes to sports, some Western athletes have stars in their eyes when they gaze eastward. The latest such sport happens to be snooker.

The Haikou World Open was held on Hainan Island last week and the China Open is slated to be held in Beijing in two weeks, followed by several other top international tournaments. China now boasts hosting dibs on five of the 11 world-class competitions, with just three left in snooker's historic stronghold, Britain.

Virtually all the world's top players, including John Higgins and Mark Selby, will be competing in China, where prize money is large. The Haikou challenge offers first-prize winnings of $118,000, more than double the just-finished Welsh Open.

Mark Selby put it very clearly. "I hope there will be a lot of world class snooker tournaments held in China. I'll consider settling and living here. And I'll learn Chinese." Almost every one of the world's top 16 snooker players has got a Chinese sponsor.

The "Cheapest Game"

In London, snooker rooms are slowly vanishing. In the Essex town where legendary player Ronnie "The Rocket" O'Sullivan hails from, there is only one snooker room left. Most snooker fans in Britain are over 60, with young people in the UK today opting for football, cricket, or tennis.

There are multiple reasons for the fading attraction for fans, including reluctance by television networks to follow live snooker matches, which can go on for seven or eight hours. And since 2005, when the World Snooker Association banned sponsorship by tobacco companies, the sport has been short of oxygen. Prize money is famously low: "It should be called the Cheapest Game," O'Sullivan says.

However, snooker seems to be suited to the Chinese. It does not involve physical confrontation, but rather emphasizes skill, dexterity, and wits. It is a game with a certain stamp of Chinese tradition, even if it was invented on the other side of the planet. Before the Communist takeover of China, the old pool hall was a seedy kind of place where playboys and bar girls hung out. It was also where gang killings took place, as described in "Midnight" by the Chinese novelist Mao Dun, or in the film "A Brighter Summer Day" by the Taiwanese director Edward Yang.

After 20 odd years of post-revolution interruption, the game regained its mass popularity in the late 1970s. Even though open-air pool tables are still low-end chaotic places, the popularity of the game is extending across society.

According to the data, China has as many as 60 million snooker amateurs, among which 25 million play it often. Nearly a million Chinese say they are at it every day.

Back to its gentlemanly roots

The timely appearance of Ding Junhui, China's most successful player ever, who has already compiled more than 200 century breaks (scoring 100 points or more during a game without missing a shot), has further promoted the development of snooker in the country.

Even before the appearance of Ding, the broadcasting of UK snooker tournaments, often late at night on the state-owned CCTV, had very high ratings. But it was not until Ding won the China Open championship in 2005 that the sport truly opened up across the Chinese market, as both the number of competitions and advertisement revenue increased.

Yao Ming's role in promoting the NBA in the Chinese market and Liu Xiang's promotion of track and field, plus the recent return of basketball to the Chinese market thanks to Jeremy Lin, are all excellent examples of the importance of a local sports star in promoting an athletic discipline. It simply allows for the local audience to have a sense of belonging.

"The decline of snooker in the UK and its rise in China also reflects the economic development of the two countries," says Gan Lian Tong, the sponsor of the Haikou World Open as well as the Vice-Chairman of Xingpai Group, a snooker equipment corporation. "With broadcasting and media promotion, the game is returning gradually to its elegant and gentlemanly roots in China. The pool rooms are shifting from the open streets to indoor sports facilities and even to posh clubs."

The sport profits from the fact that there is still relatively little development of professional sports in China, which means that the CCTV can devote hours to airing games.

When John Higgins and other players saw that China's state television would rather air a live snooker tournament at the expense of an ongoing football match, they couldn't believe their eyes. "This is unthinkable in Britain," the Scottish reigning world champion noted. "The probability of a snooker player appearing in advertising is about as high as buying a winning lotto ticket."

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Desmond Kavanagh

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!