The 2016 IBSF World Snooker Championship, which will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, is now less than two months away. To learn more about the sport of billiards in Egypt, the Arab world, and Africa, Daily News Egypt met with Mohamed Kammah, president of both the Egyptian Federation of Billiard Sports (EFBS) and the African Billiards and Snooker Federation (ABSF) and the secretary-general of the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF). Kammah discussed how billiards is received in Egypt and the Middle East region, in addition to his hope of attracting more female players and one day becoming an Olympic sport.T
Why are you working to improve the sport of billiards in Africa?
It is important to be aware that billiards is not just one sport, it is three: carom, snooker, and pool.
My passion for billiards came from playing snooker, and I won a national championship for doubles. I also participated with Hesham Bekhaty in the World Snooker Masters, held in Birmingham, UK in 1991. Afterwards, I realised that the sport of billiards abroad is much more advanced. This realisation led to me wanting to make a change in the status of billiards in Egypt, in comparison to countries in Europe, Australia, and other locations where the sport is highly regarded.
This is why I worked to become in charge of the competitions committee in the EFBS, then a board member of the EFBS, then secretary general of the EFBS and the ABSF as well as the head of the competitions committee at the Arab Federation for Billiard and Snooker.
Eight years ago I became president of the EFBS and also at the ABSF, while in 2006 I became secretary general of the IBSF. In addition to achieving these titles, I also organised many international championships.
What are the differences between snooker, carom, and pool?
All three games are different from each other in many aspects, including the size of the table, the rules, and the queue (stick). Carom, for example, does not include pockets and is played with three balls, while snooker is played using 22 balls, and pool with 15.
A good way to compare the difference between the three is to compare it with another sport that uses similar instruments, like the differences between tennis, squash, and badminton.
In Egypt, there is only one federation for all three games, but there is also the Arab Billiard’s Federation, which also includes all three games.
This is unlike the situation abroad or even in Africa, where there is a federation for each game not just a combination of all three sports into one federation.
The Arab Billiard’s Federation’s headquarters is located in Jordan, and presided over by an Egyptian, Amr El-Kharadly.
Since you’ve taken the helm in the sport, how has it improved in Africa?
When I became in charge of the ABSF, only three countries were registered: Egypt, South Africa, and Mauritius. Now, the number of registered countries has increased to include Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Algeria will also join this year, and we expect that Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe will join soon.
As their countries were only recently registered, African champions were not initially recognised by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Federation (WPBSF). Eventually, after successfully competing for a period, African champions could participate in the professional circuit. Also Africa’s first and second champions in the six-red qualified for the Six-Red World Championship, representing Africa.
As there are championships held in many places across Africa, there are sponsors for the ABSF. We now have a website, a Facebook page, and publish news about the sport and the organisation on Twitter. The African Snooker Championship is now held annually, including prize money to motivate the players.
When is the African Snooker Championship held?
It is scheduled to be held in April of each year. Tunisia was supposed to host it this April, but due to security concerns the championship will be held in Egypt.
Can you discuss the development of the sport in Egypt?
There are championships held for carom, but there were not for snooker initially. In 2014, we signed a contract with the IBSF for Egypt to host the World Snooker Championship for teams, women, men, and masters from 2014 until 2019.
Unlike the World Team Squash Championship, which was supposed to be held in Egypt but was cancelled last December for security reasons, the IBSF is always supporting us to organise the World Snooker Championship in Egypt.
Where is the headquarters of the IBSF located?
It was previously located in Ireland, but then it moved to Egypt and is now located in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai). However, the ABSF’s headquarter is in Egypt.
Can you discuss the participation of women in the sport?
We care about the participation of women in the sport, and want to see the number of players grow.
The sport, although not included in the Olympic games, is recognised by the International Olympic Committee. One of the conditions that must be met in order for it to be included as an Olympic sport is to have more women participate in the game.
In Europe, women participate in the sport, but in Africa women only participate in a few countries. In Asia, not many of the countries encourage women to practice the sport, including the Arab Gulf countries, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
In 2014 we tried to organise a national championship for women in Egypt. Unfortunately, we failed because no female players registered. After this, we contacted different sporting clubs and discovered Gantan El-Askry from the Shooting Club, who was the first woman to represent Egypt in an international snooker championship. We also discovered Maha Helmy from the Heliopolis Sporting Club, and Salma Moussa from the Zamalek Sports Club.
We are now hosting these three women who play in the national billiards team.
I really hope that a national championship for women will be held in the near future. It is my goal to hold a championship that will include up to 100 to 150 female Egyptian players.
In addition, we must also pay attention to the inclusion of junior players in the age groups of 16, 18, and 21 in order to be considered an Olympic sport.
Are there any further steps being taken to encourage women in Egypt to practice the sport?
We are constantly in contact with Egyptian clubs, since we are calling to organise a national championship for women.
We cannot organise a national championship for fewer than 16 players. So, when we discover a woman playing in a club, we look to sponsor her and work with her so that she can become qualified for the world championship, without qualifying directly.
What do you mean by “qualifying directly” for the world championship?
As the number of Egyptian women who play the sport are very few, they could be qualified directly into the world championship.
As each country has a limited quota, applied by the IBSF to participate in the world’s championship, until we have the sufficient number according to the regulations then we will organise a national championship as a qualification tournament, in order to select the best of the best.
How could the sport benefit from media coverage in Egypt?
The role of the media should be to highlight the sport and present it as an ethical one.
In the past, the media attacked the sport and presented it within the same construct of gambling, which is frowned upon. This comparison is incorrect. The sport applies the same mental effort as is done so in chess.
The relationship between the media and the sport is much more advanced in other countries, including the United Kingdom, where snooker and pool player Ronald Antonio O’Sullivan was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Thanks to the championships that we are organising and an improvement in the way media handles coverage of the sport, the situation is improving.
Where did this problem originate from?
In Egyptian black and white movies, billiards was considered an aristocratic sport and was tied to royalty.
Former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was against the elite and the things that represented them. He put strict tariffs on and prohibited the import of many items that were tied to the upper class, including billiards.
While the sport’s standing improved under Anwar Sadat, it was not until Hosni Mubarak that the sport gained a licence in affiliation with the Ministry of Tourism. The sport was allowed to exist in restaurants with billiard rooms attached, which was considered an important step after it had been completely banned.
Now we are trying to obtain a licence from the Ministry of Youth and Sports to establish a billiards club.
Can you tell us about the latest achievements of Egyptian male players in snooker?
Egyptian champion Ahmed Galal won the 2015 African Six-Red Championship, which was held in Tunisia.
Walid Hamdy and Hatem Yassen won the masters’ and men’s division, respectively, at the 2015 African Snooker Championship, which was also held in Tunisia. South Africa won the gold medal in the women’s division.
These champions were honoured by the Egyptian minister of youth and sports. This is considered an accomplishment as this is the first time this kind of recognition has occurred for snooker in Egypt.
Hatem Yassen has also moved to the WPBSF. He is sponsored by the Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Sports, which is also an accomplishment.
Where is Egypt ranked internationally?
We are ranked ninth in carom, and fourteenth in snooker.
In terms of the 2016 IBSF World Snooker Championship, how could it benefit local tourism?
In the 2014 IBSF World Snooker Championship, 32 countries were represented. In 2015’s championship, held in Hurghada, 48 countries participated. Our target this year is to increase the number of participating countries to 60. Saudi Arabia was the first country to register.
The people who came to attend the championships in 2014 and 2015 are coming again this year, whether they were players, a foreign delegation, or audience. They saw and newcomers will see that Egypt is a safe place and it successfully hosted a world championship. This is definitely in favour of domestic tourism’s reputation.
The championship also includes a free day when there will be a fashion show. The winners in this show will receive free plane tickets and accommodation to visit Egypt again.
You have mentioned that EgyptAir will participate in the 2016 IBSF World Snooker Championship. How?
About a month ago we signed an agreement with them to apply a 20% discount on the cheapest airline tickets for everyone, including players, audience, and delegations, who will attend the championship. The maximum amount for sponsorship is $500, 000.