A passion for snooker has swept Iran in recent years, a trend fans attribute largely to the country’s first internationally renowned star Hossein Vafaei, known as the “Persian Prince”.
Ever more enthusiasts in the Islamic republic have taken to the cue sport played on a billiards table, and Tehran last week hosted an Asian regional tournament.
“In the past, Iran did not have much of a place in the Asian and world championships in billiards and snooker,” said referee Mohammad Afghil Morshedi, 34, of Iran’s Bowling, Billiard and Boules Federation.
But in recent years, said Morshedi, the sport — invented by British officers in colonial-era India — “has gained many enthusiasts… and now we are among the top three teams in Asia in winning titles and medals”.
Much of this is due to one man, he said: “Mr Vafaei is the brand of this sport in Iran.
“Whenever the name of Iran is brought up in snooker, his name will come up too. He’s the flag-bearer of this sport in Iran.”
Vafaei, 28, is Iran’s first professional snooker player, and the first to win a world ranking title, in 2022 in the English city of Leicester.
“I’m happy to make history for my country, that was a very good moment for me and snooker,” he said at the time.
Vafaei, who hails from Abadan in the southwestern province of Khuzestan bordering Iraq, said Iran has “very little snooker history”, speaking last week with state news agency IRNA.
He lamented that so far he had received little official support in his home country, complaining that “no one has done anything for me and I have not received any money or reward”.
On the subject of still lacking Iranian sponsors, Vafaei said that “it is not only about me, as most of our athletes have the same problem”.
Nonetheless, he has received huge gratitude from Iran’s snooker and billiards enthusiasts, including at the tournament that brought teams from the Gulf, South Asia and as far as Malaysia and Hong Kong.
“Reaching the position that Vafaei has attained is the ultimate goal of almost all Iranian snooker players,” said Shirin Zarrin, 38, an employee at the Iran billiards federation.
“He has been very impactful,” she said. “If you ask any Iranian snooker player, they will cite Vafaei as their role model.”
She voiced hope that Iranian women, too, would gain more prominence in the sport in future in the conservative Shiite Muslim country.
“If women can have more access to billiards clubs, more presence in this sport and the chance to practice better, they can progress significantly,” she said.
©️ Agence France-Presse