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Snooker: Williams in hot water after scathing Crucible attack John Skilbeck

Mark Williams embarrassed snooker chiefs on the eve of the Betfred.com World Championship by launching a withering attack on the flagship Crucible venue and saying he hoped the tournament would move to China.

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn swiftly responded by saying Sheffield, home to the World Championship since 1977, was now "Snooker City", and he also hailed the atmosphere generated in the Crucible as being "unique and magical". Hearn said there was no desire on his behalf to take the tournament overseas.

But the biting criticism from Williams was more potent than the reply, which did not even mention the Welshman by name. It is understood Williams could face punishment in the form of a fine, with disciplinary chiefs at the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association looking into his criticism.

Williams (37) was champion in 2000 and 2003, but he yesterday slated the 980-seat Sheffield theatre in a series of comments on Twitter.

Trouble

Williams said he was "in trouble" for his remarks, which began with him writing: "World Championships just around the corner. shame its played in the crucible, s*** hole, hopefully it will be in china soon."

The world No 4 then responded to a follower who pointed out the history of the venue, which is contracted, via Sheffield City Council, to stage the tournament through to 2015. Williams wrote: "sheffield is a nice place, the crucible is a s*** hole. £hate it"

Knowing his comments could spark disciplinary procedures, he added wryly: "its only my opinion about the crucible WSA (World Snooker) so dont send me any letters or fines. £lotsoflovewillo."

Minutes later, he wrote: "wow im in trouble for my last tweet about the crucible. world snooker been on the phone. not sure if its cause i nearly swore, or said i hate playing at the crucible, or want the world champs to go to china."

Hearn was not immediately aware of Williams' outburst but was prompted to respond, and he scotched the prospect of the tournament leaving Sheffield.

He said: "We've had fantastic support from Sheffield City Council... and the BBC, and as long as that continues I'd be happy to keep the event at the Crucible until the day I die.

"It's an outstanding venue and the refurbishment which recently took place has greatly improved the facilities.

"There's is so much history associated with the Crucible, it is synonymous with snooker and the World Championship.

"There's something unique and magical about the atmosphere in the arena which couldn't be replicated anywhere else. The vast majority of people involved in snooker would say the same."

China is hosting a growing number of ranking events and has experienced a major boom in snooker interest, with Ding Junhui heading a contingent from the country in the World Championship this year, with last year's semi-finalist joined by Cao Yupeng, Liang Wenbo and Liu Chuang in the draw.

Williams, who has been punished by the snooker authorities for a previous Twitter comment, is due to play Liu in the first round in Sheffield, in a match beginning on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Ken Doherty is "over the moon" to be back in Sheffield for the World Championship after twice sampling the pain of missing out.

The 42-year-old Dubliner triumphed at the Crucible in 1997 and was runner-up both a year later and in 2003.

He starts his latest campaign against Australia's 2010 world champion Neil Robertson today, and after failing to qualify in 2009 and last year, Doherty is taking particular satisfaction at earning his place on merit.

The pleasure was made all the more great by the fact he was on the brink of losing to Anthony Hamilton in the final qualifying round last Saturday, when Hamilton led 52-12 in a deciding frame. Doherty produced a sparkling 62 break, and he described the feeling of coming through that close shave as "absolutely beautiful".

resigned

"I'd more or less resigned myself to losing," he said. "There was so much at stake. To come through like that with a great clearance was fantastic.

"I've missed it for two of the last three years, so to be back is great. I'm over the moon."

Doherty has carved out a media career as a sideline, working on BBC and on Irish radio. But his heart is in snooker.

"Playing is my priority. If I'm not there, I'd be watching at home on TV. I might as well be there, he said. "I love being around the game and if I'm not playing I still love being around. I enjoy the BBC work but my priority is to keep playing as long as I can.

"You look at the likes of Jimmy White and Steve Davis -- they still have the hunger and love to play, and I'm the same."

This morning sees defending champion John Higgins begin his bid to win a fifth Crucible title when the Scot plays Wenbo. Northern Ireland's Mark Allen faces Yupeng in the evening.

World Championship,

Live, Eurosport/BBC1, 10.0 and 7.0/1.30

Irish Independent