Mark Williams embarrassed snooker chiefs on the eve of the World Championship by launching a withering attack on the flagship Crucible venue and saying he hoped the tournament would move to China.

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn swiftly responded by saying Sheffield, home to the World Championship since 1977, was now 'Snooker City', and he also hailed the atmosphere generated in the Crucible as being "unique and magical".

Hearn said there was no desire on his behalf to take the tournament overseas.

It is understood Williams could face punishment in the form of a fine, with disciplinary chiefs at the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association looking into his criticism.

Williams, 37, was champion in 2000 and 2003, but he today slated the 980-seat Sheffield theatre in a series of comments on Twitter.

Williams said he was "in trouble" for his remarks, which began with him writing: "WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS just around the corner. shame its played in the crucible, shxt hole, hopefully it will be in china soon."

The world number four then responded to a follower who pointed out the history of the venue, which is contracted, via Sheffield City Council, to stage the tournament through to 2015.

Williams wrote: "sheffield is a nice place, the crucible is a shxt hole. #hate it"

Knowing his comments could spark disciplinary procedures, he added wryly: "its only my opinion about the crucible WSA [World Snooker] so dont send me any letters or fines. #lotsoflovewillo."

Minutes later, he wrote: "wow im in trouble for my last tweet about the crucible."

He added: "world snooker been on the phone. not sure if its cause i nearly swore, or said i hate playing at the crucible, or want the world champs to go to china."

Hearn was not immediately aware of Williams' outburst but was prompted to respond, and he scotched the prospect of the tournament leaving Sheffield.

He said in a statement: "We've had fantastic support from Sheffield City Council, Welcome to Yorkshire and the BBC, and as long as that continues I'd be happy to keep the event at the Crucible until the day I die.

"It's an outstanding venue and the refurbishment which recently took place has greatly improved the facilities.

"There's is so much history associated with the Crucible, it is synonymous with snooker and the World Championship. There's something unique and magical about the atmosphere in the arena which couldn't be replicated anywhere else. The vast majority of people involved in snooker would say the same.

"Anyone who was in the arena for the final last year when the players [John Higgins and Judd Trump] were introduced will tell you that it was one of the best atmospheres ever witnessed at a sporting event.

"We look forward to a wonderful World Championship starting tomorrow and to great years ahead in Sheffield, the Snooker City."

China is hosting a growing number of ranking events and has experienced a major boom in snooker interest, with Ding Junhui heading a contingent from the country in the World Championship this year, with last year's semi-finalist joined by Cao Yupeng, Liang Wenbo and Liu Chuang in the draw.

Williams, who has been punished by the snooker authorities for a previous Twitter comment, is due to play Liu in the first round in Sheffield, in a match beginning on Wednesday.