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Just Stop Oil’s big break

20 April 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The dust has settled on the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield – but it was a very different scene at the World Snooker Championship on Monday afternoon. During a first-round match between Robert ‘the Milkman’ Milkins and Joe ‘the Gentleman’ Perry, an activist wearing a Just Stop Oil T-shirt leapt on to one of the tables, before covering the green baize with luminous orange powder. A second protestor was apprehended trying to glue herself to the other table.

Pundits and players were quick to lambast the stunt. ‘You just hope the cloth can be recovered from that,’ lamented Stephen Hendry. Darts and snooker mogul Barry Hearn called it a ‘form of theft’ from the audience. Rakewell has previously admitted to inner conflict when Just Stop Oil were targeting masterpieces in museums – and once again, we find ourselves torn. On the one hand, the soporific clack and thud of billiard balls is a sacred feature of sleepy April Sundays. But on the other, you can’t help but doff your cap to the imagination that identifies a small patch of green, at which 1,000 people crammed together in a room (and many more in front of their tellies) are staring, and sees it as a canvas on which to unfold a metaphor for the scorching of the earth.

snooker just stop oil protest

Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Snooker got its first big break in 1969, when Pot Black was aired on BBC2 – an effort by the Beeb’s then-controller David Attenborough to entice people to buy colour televisions. By offering a technicolour spectacle on the very same channel, could Just Stop Oil not be said to be participating in the time-honoured traditions of the sport?

One legend of the game remained studiously silent about Monday’s events. Ronnie O’Sullivan might have simply been focusing on his testily hyped-up match with Hossein Vafaei – but Rakewell has another theory. ‘The Rocket’ O’Sullivan, himself no stranger to the art of getting up the noses of the sport’s management through protest, is close friends with none other than Damien Hirst, who has described his own spot paintings as an effort ‘to find a way to use colour that wasn’t expressionism’. Might O’Sullivan and Hirst – himself a big snooker buff – perhaps have been nodding along together at Just Stop Oil’s actions in quiet amusement and approval?

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.