Reanne Evans and snooker’s gender divide

The glass ceiling remains intact. Try as she might, Reanne Evans, snooker’s most decorated female player, has failed to make a meaningful impact on the men’s tour thus far.

Last month’s defeat to the legendary Jimmy White at the Shoot Out was the latest missed chance for Evans to make a statement, to give a taste of the quality that has won her 11 world titles in the women’s game.

Although opportunities have been relatively sparse, that defeat at the hands of White, 56, is the latest example of Evans’ inability to produce the goods when it really matters.

A one-table setup, a large, boisterous audience, live TV coverage, and Evans’ touch deserted her, an inexplicable miscue the defining moment of a nervy encounter, allowing White to secure victory in the fast, high-octane format that is the Shoot Out.

Of course, it would be wrong to place too much emphasis on Evans’ or indeed fellow female player Emma Parker’s performances at the Shoot Out.

Such a variant event is not an accurate measuring stick of any player’s true ability; the bright lights and baying crowd a far cry from snooker’s usual dignified confines. But such chances are ones that must be seized if a woman is to break up the boy’s club that is the professional tour.

Evans’ record in professional ranking events leaves something to be desired. She has participated in the World Championship qualifiers for four years in a row, failing to reach the Crucible each time.

In 2017, she overcame Robin Hull 10-8 in the first round of qualifying, a victory she described as the ‘best win’ of her career, but succumbed meekly to Lee Walker in the next.

She took part in Q School, a means by which players can qualify for the tour, in 2018, but could not emerge victorious. Results in the other scattered ranking events in which she has competed represent a failure to perform to her true ability.

Lack of incentive

The gender divide in certain sports is something of a hot topic. In a sport such as snooker — or indeed darts, where the best female players too have struggled to compete — where physical aptitude plays second fiddle to mental resilience and tactical shrewdness, why is it that the chasm between the most successful female player of all time and even the lowest ranked players on the men’s circuit is so large?

Evans herself has pointed to the lack of prize money within the women’s tour as a reason for why many females struggle to attain the same standards as their male counterparts.

“We need to attract more [players], improve the game and build our own ladies’ tour up, then maybe — in a couple of years — give the top four ranked players places in invitational events or on the [main] tour,” she said in a BBC Radio 4 interview in 2015. “At the moment ladies don’t want to be pushed into the deep end.”

In the four years since those remarks, while the prize money on offer in the men’s game has burgeoned, landing the women’s world title still nets only a measly four-figure sum, peanuts compared to the record £500,000 cheque on offer to the winner of this year’s main World Championship.

The sad and brutal truth is that sponsors and investors will continue to shirk the women’s tour as long as the main professional game remains in such good health.

All in the head?

“The male of the species has got a single-minded, obsessional type of brain that I don’t think so many females have” – Steve Davis

But perhaps mere facts and figures do not do this particular issue justice, but rather key psychological factors play an important part in this debate. Six-time world champion Steve Davis believes that entrenched differences between men and women mean that female snooker players will always be at a disadvantage.

“The male of the species has got a single-minded, obsessional type of brain that I don’t think so many females have,” Davis said in a 2014 interview with the BBC.

He added that women lack “that single minded determination in something that, it must be said, is a complete waste of time — trying to put snooker balls into pockets with a pointed stick. Men are ideally suited to doing something as absolutely irrelevant in life as that.”

Evans even went so far as to back up Davis’ view at the time:” I think women find it difficult just to concentrate on snooker,” she said “I’ve got my little girl and you’re always thinking about them. Maybe men find it easier to focus on one thing at one time. Maybe that’s a slight advantage there.”

The question lies in whether or not such underlying psychological discrepancies are scientifically inherent, or if they are merely borne of the constructs that society has demanded women adhere to for centuries.

For Evans, the quest continues to disrupt the top table of snooker’s established male elite. There is a sense that all it could take is one breakthrough moment, one string of results or a big-name scalp for Evans to convince the world, and indeed herself, that snooker itself is not discriminative, but we as a society often are.