From the wall of your local tavern to the main stage of the biggest international sporting event on the planet. Originally, it was a game contested by drunks, one in which little effort was given and could eventually turn dangerous if somebody had had one too many. But now, this traditional pub pastime has become one of the most watched sports in Britain and most of Europe. The International Olympic Committee may sit up and take notice.
To become a recognised sport at the Olympics, the game must incorporate respect, excellence and friendship according to the Olympic values. The sport must also have a well organised federation that administers the game and must put forward a strong campaign towards the IOC. Darts has been previously constrained by its roots from the local watering hole but the game has been developed to suit these requirements. Since 1992, the World Darts Federation has been the game’s governing body with the Professional Darts Corporation and the British Darts Organisation setting up their own competitions. And in 1989, beer was removed from the stage by the BDO, a move which has helped set up fitter idolised figures such as James Wade and Stephen Bunting in place of a wobbling Andy Fordham.
Darts is still a sport which attracts a rowdy audience but over the past nine years has become a televised feature on the sporting calendar. In relation to the PDC, events such as the World Championships, the Premier League, the World Matchplay and the Masters have become iconic competitions due to the new entertainers of the game. Players such as Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright and Andy Hamilton have popularised the sport by showing off their wacky personalities at the ochey. It is no longer a one man game owned by ‘The Power’. The level of competition has increased and because of this has engaged a larger audience. Sky’s coverage of the 2014 PDC World Championship final received 960,000 views, 100,000 more than BT Sport’s coverage of Southampton vs Chelsea on the same day.
Questions will be raised whether the sport has an international appeal or whether it is simply a game made of the British Isles and the Netherlands. Arguably this is similar to a lot of sports which is dominated by geographical areas such as Badminton. At the 2012 Olympics, 78 of the 172 competitors were from Asia – over half, with 17 of them from China. Against this view, it should be noted that the last PDC World Cup of Darts featured 24 different countries including participants from Gibraltar, South Africa and Japan, and South Africa almost caused the shock of the tournament, narrowly losing out to England in the quarter final, 5-4 on legs. Although it’s a tournament that has only had three editions, it has become so successful that it has been authorised to be moved to June, which will precede the FIFA World Cup. Let’s not forget that rugby sevens will feature at the games in 2016 which is also a game dominated by just Britain and Oceania.
Both of this year’s World Championships have sold out at Lakeside and the Alexandra Palace and this has probably caused a boom in the fancy dress market as well. Due to its nature, darts hasn’t come under consideration from the IOC in the past yet chess and tug of war are already recognised sports. Football on the other hand has featured in the Olympics since 1900, a game which has been tainted by hooliganism in the past. Surely it’s just a matter of time before the IOC looks past the imperfect image of this old public house game.