Snooker: O'Sullivan seeks protection from fans at world championship

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FILE PHOTO: BetVictor Welsh Open Final

(Reuters) - Six-times champion Ronnie O'Sullivan has said he hopes players at the World Snooker Championship will get protection from some "over-excited" fans at the event that begins on Saturday amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheffield's Crucible Theatre will welcome back fans for the tournament, starting with 33% capacity in the first round and no restrictions on capacity for the final in May, event organisers said earlier this month.

The tournament is a part of the British government's Events Research Programme, where pilot events are being held to assess whether larger gatherings can be held in closed settings without social distancing.

All spectators who wish to attend the April 17-May 3 event must undertake a COVID-19 test before as well as five days after, but the 45-year-old O'Sullivan said organisers should look to get rid of "all the risk there is".

"You're here to do a job. The first thing is to pass the COVID-19 test. If you don't, you can't play, so as sportsmen we can't work if we get ill," O'Sullivan, who won the title last year for his sixth crown, was quoted as saying by the BBC.

"It's not that you don't want to mingle with the fans. It's just that you don't want to pull out of the tournament.

"Hopefully, the players get a little bit of protection from World Snooker so we don't have to fend off over-excited fans or someone who might have had a drink that wants to get in your space."

O'Sullivan, who could equal Stephen Hendry's record of seven Crucible titles, takes on debutant Mark Joyce later on Saturday.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)