Bulgaria goes mad for the green baize

Fri May 8, 2015 10:09am EDT
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By Angel Krasimirov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Ten years ago there was not a single full-sized snooker table in Bulgaria and the majority of people in the Black Sea state would not have heard of the sport, let alone played it.

But the country has now hosted a Challenge Tour Event three years in a row and Bulgarian Ivaylo Pekov recently became only the second eastern European to compete in the world snooker championship qualifying rounds.

“Snooker? What’s this? That was the reaction of the Bulgarians until the middle of last decade,” Bulgarian snooker federation chairman Oleg Velinov told Reuters.

A Georgian businessman made the first snooker tables in Bulgaria and after professional tournaments were screened on television snooker broadcasts quickly became among the most-watched program's in the Balkan country.

Viewing figures already out-strip those for well-established sports like volleyball, which is Bulgaria’s most successful team sport.

Poland and Russia have also hosted Tour events as snooker looks to tap the potential market in eastern Europe.

“Everything changes so fast,” Velinov said.

“We invited (former world champion) Shaun Murphy to play an exhibition match in 2007 and we’re just happy to see such a great player. Nowadays, he’s competing in European Tour events in Bulgaria.”   Continued...

Ivaylo Pekov, 21, the only Bulgarian who competed in the World Snooker Championship plays a shot during a practice session in Sofia, Bulgaria April 30, 2015.   REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov