Ronnie O’Sullivan: he says what he wants

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Over a week has passed since six-time Snooker World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan attracted controversy for his disparaging comments regarding Lewis Hamilton amid calls for the British F1 phenomenon to be knighted.

O’Sullivan took aim at Formula 1 racing as opposed to Hamilton himself and in particular the nature of a sport that depends largely on the quality of the machine one is driving. This, as O’Sullivan argues, has nothing to do with Hamilton’s sporting prowess, as his car is built and maintained by an army of top engineers, mechanics and ground crew; meanwhile the whole operation is managed and financed by German automotive giant Mercedes-Benz. This is as opposed to O’Sullivan’s own sport where he says, ‘everyone has the same equipment and it’s a level playing field.’

He went on to explain who he would consider to be ‘true’ modern sporting greats, citing distance runner Eliud Kipchoge, tennis’ Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, golfer Tiger Woods, footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and darts player Phil Taylor as those who are, in his opinion, the best of the best.

Predictably, this has elicited a fierce defensive display from F1 fans, other drivers and journalists who have slammed the comments, with the Daily Express publishing two different articles on why Hamilton does deserve a place in the New Years’ Honours list and why O’Sullivan is ‘wrong about F1’. But I’m a Ronnie fan, not a F1 fan, and this kneejerk response from the F1 community, whilst understandable, does perhaps miss the real meaning of O’Sullivan’s comments.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that Ronnie O’Sullivan is a sporting purist. When you listen to him talk about snooker for more than two minutes it becomes clear that he, on a fundamental level, cares more about playing well than winning. After winning his sixth World Championship in 2020, making him the player with the most ranking titles in the history of snooker, he conducted an interview with BBC sport wherein he talked about his relationship with the game. The most successful snooker player ever said that he’d never be truly happy playing the game because he can’t play ‘perfectly’ every day. This is not him being overly modest. In fact, at the heart, most of his high-profile moments show a sincere love of simply playing the game the best it can be played.

Who could forget his iconic interview earlier this year where, following his long and tortuous semi-final win over Mark Selby, he answered every question of the four-minute interview about the 32 frame match with comments about how he wanted to find the right ‘cue action’ and his efforts to find one over the last few days? Whilst this on the surface could seem simply like he was making a big joke, it was far more likely a subtle jab at his opponents’ total failure to play in the way Ronnie respects.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is a sporting purist who cares more about playing well than winning

In the match itself, Selby repeatedly forced O’Sullivan to slog through long safety battles in frames which O’Sullivan had essentially already won on points. This was a purposeful move to break O’Sullivan’s momentum and tire him out. To many this may seem a perfectly ordinary strategy but to a purist like O’Sullivan it is at best unsportsmanlike and at worst totally against the spirit of the game. 

As with the Selby interview, O’Sullivan has also shown on many occasions that he will not mince his words no matter how controversial they may seem. Several times over the last few years he has accused young, up-and-coming snooker players of ‘not being good enough’ and this explains why veteran players such as John Higgins, and himself continue to be up amongst the top and regularly make it to finals.

Beyond snooker, O’Sullivan is also a keen runner and general health nut. He regularly endorses aspects of his healthy lifestyle on his Instagram page and in 2019 he published the healthy recipe book ‘Top of Your Game’ which is dedicated to food that will improve physical and mental performance.

Returning to Hamilton now, it is far clearer to see why Ronnie O’Sullivan made these comments. To him, the fact that it is Hamilton’s car which essentially does the leg work, with him simply manipulating it, is a diminishment that O’Sullivan seemingly cannot look past. It is more a mental challenge than physical that he sees. The sporting greats he names must, in order to win, be masters of their physical and mental games, actively transforming the will to motion into the execution of motion itself. The fact that Lewis Hamilton is statistically the best driver ever means nothing to him. After all, Ronnie’s the best at what he does and he’s still not satisfied with his own game.

Image: via Creative Commons.

2 thoughts on “Ronnie O’Sullivan: he says what he wants

  • Except that formula one driving is physically more demanding in every possible way compared to snooker, not to mention dangerous… And that’s too say nothing of drivers seeking the perfect lap, perfect car setup, perfect strategy, perfect weekend etc etc. I love both sports, and have followed both since the 80s. What he said is disrespectful and naive.

    Reply
  • Hamilton’s a hypocrite and wanker. Enough said.

    Reply

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