As we enter the final few days of play at the Crucible, snooker has hit its annual height in popularity, for what that’s worth. Sure, snooker may not be the world’s chief glamour sport but you have to have a lot of love (or at least a quiet appreciation) for a sport that encourages such a strict formal dress code, despite being a game which most people ‘play down the pub’.
Of course it’s more than just the snazzy waistcoats and natty bow ties that attract people to snooker. It’s a game of extreme skill and precision, as are other billiard games. These are the kind of games that look so easy when you see them on the telly, but when you start to play yourself, you realise the level of practice and dedication that is required to be the best. Yet, when the world champion is crowned at the end of the weekend we expect that a lot of foolhardy people will want to try and emulate him by starting to play snooker. In all likelihood, they will never get close to being as skilful as the pros, but you can still have a lot of fun playing all sorts of cue sports. With that in mind we decided to make the latest entry into our BBS Sports Blog about wheelchair snooker and wheelchair pool too.
The best thing about wheelchair cue sports is how inclusive they are. Wheelchair billiard games are almost identical to their able bodied counterparts. This will sound a little bit stupid, but the only difference between a wheelchair user playing snooker and an able bodied person playing snooker is that one of them plays sitting in their wheelchair. In every other aspect the game is exactly the same.
There are little to no barriers and wheelchair users can just start playing wheelchair billiards without having to make adaptations to the rules. Also, since the table is at pretty near perfect height for wheelchair users and the game is about technique rather than pace or power, disabled players can play non-disabled people on an equal playing field. Pretty much the only difference between the two is that instead of keeping one foot on the ground, wheelchair users have to keep both feet on their wheelchair’s footplate and their bum firmly in their seat.
You may or may not have thought about this before, but there is no reason at all to prevent somebody who uses a wheelchair going to their local club and having a game of snooker or pool. You don’t need to find an adapted table or disabled pool club, you can play against anybody and most people don’t even need any specialist equipment (we’ll come onto this momentarily). There really should be nothing in the way and perhaps it says something about the perception of sport as something that needs to be adapted for less able people that we even feel the need to highlight wheelchair billiards at all. Or perhaps there was not need to highlight it as there’s nobody out there who’s ever thought of cue sports as not being accessible, in which case this article isn’t worth the pixels it’s written in!
It’s a little known fact that wheelchair snooker, now a relatively niche game, was actually a Paralympic sport up until the 1988 Games in Seoul, but has since been dropped. These days it’s pool that is attracting more wheelchair users in. Why this has happened is not entirely clear, perhaps the fact that pool tables are smaller makes it more practical for wheelchair users, but pool is flourishing. In fact, the pool, if you will, of wheelchair pool players is now so good that it has been suggested that should things continue to progress as they are, it won’t be too long until disabled players start competing in able bodied tour competitions. In today’s thriving scene, although pool is still not a Paralympic sport, a number of British Wheelchair Pool Player Association (BWPPA) players have already competed in open events with able-bodied pros.
Some wheelchair users with limited dexterity opt to use equipment which allows them to play their shots one handed. Many do not, and cue their shots as an able bodied player would, but the equipment is available for those who want or need it. One that we’ve come across is the Canon Aid. It sits on the table, between you and the cue ball, and you can rest your cue on it to guide your shot and strike the ball. It’s essentially just the same as using a bridge or rest that ‘d use when you can’t reach the cue ball, except that you can do it one handed. These cost about £30, so if you’d rather not shell out for that before even testing to see if you enjoy playing billiard games in your wheelchair, it’s perfectly within the rules for a friend to hold the longer rest, which will be available at the table, for you and you to play off that.
All wheelchair cue sports are very inclusive games which may just have slipped under the radar. It’s great that able bodied and less able people can play one another on a level playing field. The most likely spanner in the works is accessing the building you need to get into to find a table; the game itself should totalling accessible, but you can’t always say the same for local pubs or pool clubs.
Of all the wheelchair cue sports available, pool is probably the most accessible and certainly is the most popular, but any aspiring ‘Rocket Ronnies’ out there should be able to try snooker too. Who knows, perhaps one day they’ll be appearing at the Crucible?