Can snooker players be penalised for slow play?

Can snooker players be penalised for slow play? The simple answer is yes, they can, but in reality they very rarely, if ever, are. Section 4, 3(a) of the ‘Official Rules of Snooker and English Billiards’, published by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), explicitly deals with the thorny topic of time wasting. Essentially, any player who takes ‘an abnormal amount of time’ to choose and/or play a shot should, in the first instance, be warned by the referee. Once so warned, the player should be penalised, by forfeiting the frame in progress, on each and every occurrence of time wasting. However, there is no definition of what constitutes ‘abnormal’, so the application of the time wasting rule if left to individual referees.

That, in itself, has been cause for controversy; following a 10-6 defeat of Peter Ebdon in the first round of the 2013 World Championship – which lasted 438 minutes and required an extra, unscheduled session to complete – Graeme Dott complained, ‘The referees nowadays don’t say anything. They don’t want any controversy.’ On another occasion at the Crucible, in his quarter-final against Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2005, Ebdon took over three minutes for a single shot and five-and-a-half minutes to compile a break of twelve, but at no point did referee Colin Brinded intervene. Matthew Syed, columnist for the ‘The Times’, wrote that the ‘shameless’ time wasting tactics amounted to ‘cheating’; Ebdon later sued for libel, but lost.