World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has insisted the lucrative new Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will be beneficial for the sport.
The new event, set to take place in Riyadh, will be offer the biggest prize fund on the World Snooker Tour, with £500,000 (Dhs2.4 million) of the £2.5m (Dhs11.9m) going to the winner.
It is the first time a major snooker ranking event will take place in the Kingdom and Hearn, like others who have taken events to Saudi Arabia, have faced criticism in some quarters.
But the World Snooker Tour chief believes the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters can be a success for the players, the sport and the hosts.
“We are all aware of the situation, but sport knows no boundaries in our view and we are there to spread the gospel of sport, and in this case the gospel of snooker,” Hearn said.
“There are probably half a dozen countries in the world that have human rights issues. Whether you consider that to be a transitional stage of a country’s development or whether you say ‘I am not having anything to do with them’ – I would rather communicate, have conversations and try to move forward.
“Sport can be a conduit for achieving that, given time. But it does take time.”
Hearn’s son Eddie took the Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz world heavyweight title fight to Riyadh and the veteran promoter revealed the female referees will take charge of matches in the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters, while claiming he has been impressed by the Kingdom’s dedication to promoting a sporting agenda.
“The fact we are using women referees is a major step forward,” he said.
“The Saudi government are making a push to make their younger people more active and that can only be beneficial. Sport is an issue that moulds countries together. It forms character in young people. It gives expression and an opportunity to those that may not have it. There is a bigger picture.
“It’s important to realise that every country has their own culture. There will be countries where we don’t agree with their culture and there will be countries that don’t agree with ours.
“So rather than get it over-complicated, I find it is easier for me to concentrate on what I am good at, which is the development of sporting opportunities. And perhaps, part of the by-product of the success of that venture will be a general change that makes everyone feel more comfortable.”
World number eight Kyren Wilson, 28, was among a number of players to praise the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters, telling BBC Sport: “Going to new places and growing the sport is wonderful.
“The political side and the ethical decisions are not something that I am involved in. That is down to those in control. As players we often live in a snooker bubble.
“The good thing is that the tournament has a long-term plan, with coaching structures and plans in place to get youngsters involved, which is brilliant. Using women referees in Saudi Arabia is also a big step in the right direction.”