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Rory McLeod: Snooker’s Only Elite Black Player

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Although snooker is popular in countries with a significant black population, it’s rarely played by black people in it. As of 2023, there’s only one elite black snooker player and that’s Rory McLeod. He has been in the game for over 20 years. 

He’s been vocal about this glaring gap, but his pleas seem to fall on deaf ears. How did he get into the sport? Here’s what you should know about Rory McLeod.

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Rory McLeod’s Early Days

Rory McLeod playing to qualify for a Q-School. Image Source: Twitter licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Rory McLeod was born on 26 March 1971 in Northamptonshire, England. His parents are Jamaican, which makes him half-English and half-Jamaican. Rory studied at Victoria Junior School, Westfield Boys School and Sir Christopher Hatton School.

His interest in snooker began in school. He was able to play more at his friend’s house and then went on and joined the Embassy Club at the age of 13.

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Becoming a Professional

Rory became a professional player when he was 18 years old. He played a few tournaments but was forced into a break due to financial constraints. Speaking to the Daily Mail, he explained this situation.

“I could not get a sponsor. I knocked on many doors but it just wasn’t happening. After that, I didn’t participate in any professional tournaments for nearly 10 years. It was a kick in the teeth.” McLeod said.

During that period, he worked as a barber, a pub landlord and an electronic serviceman to finance his snooker career. He still found time to practise snooker, but his efforts to get enough money to return didn’t pay off.

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Playing Snooker Fulltime

Despite not having money to join the tour, Rory decided to play snooker full-time. “At 29 I said, that’s it, I’m just going to play snooker,” he told the Daily Mail. His efforts finally bore fruit. 

In 2001/02, McLeod got to the main tour professional ranks. In his career, he’s reached the last 16 ten times.

In 2005, he played at the World Open and won against Paul Hunter and Shaun Murphy. In the following year, he missed out on the same competition but played in the UK Championship in 2008. McLeod faced Ronnie O’Sullivan.

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In the same season, McLeod became the first black man to qualify for the Snooker World Championship. Additionally, McLeod reached his highest ranking at that time of 39.

In 2009, he beat Andrew Higginson and won the Masters Qualifying Event and played in the final of the Masters 2010 but lost to Mark Williams. He went on to play at the UK Championship but didn’t make it past the first round.  

In 2011, McLeod played in his second World Snooker Championship. He won his first match against Ricky Walden and was knocked out by then-world number one John Higgins.

In the subsequent tournaments, McLeod performed well but didn’t win any. After 18 years at the top level, McLeod left to focus on Q-School, an amateur snooker tournament allowing players to participate in the World Snooker Tour. 

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Snooker and Race

As the only black elite player in snooker, McLeod expressed his disappointment in the sport for not doing more to bring in players of color. Speaking to Sky Sport, he claimed that the governing body is “doing nothing” for black people.

“They could be doing a lot more than what they’re doing because they’re actually doing nothing. I’m the representative for Black people in snooker and I haven’t seen anything being done in my direction.”

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association Chairman, Jason Ferguson, refuted those claims. He said that snooker endeavours to provide equal opportunity to everyone.

“I’m very disappointed in Rory’s comments. To say that we’ve done nothing is completely unfair. We are an opportunity for all, providing an opportunity all over the world to qualify for the World Snooker Tour. We don’t judge anybody within the sport and look at where they come from and what they do.” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

Rory continues to be the only black elite player in snooker. His involvement and achievements will go down in history. We can only wait and see whether that’s enough to change the narrative for black people in snooker.

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