Richard Foord investigates how having two separate World Championships is affecting top-level darts.
Spain are the current football champions of the World. Ronnie O’Sullivan is the current Snooker World Champion. Alan ‘Nasty’ Nash is the World Toe Wrestling Champion (Seriously).
However, it is not always so unequivocal. By next Sunday there will be two darts players who will be able to add the term ‘World Champion’ to their CV. At the start of the year Phil Taylor overcame Michael Van Gerwen to become PDC World Champion. Only a few days later, the first darts of the BDO World Championships were thrown – as well as the now customary volleys of criticism from followers of its rival faction.
The split, which has resulted in two concurrent World Championships, occurred in 1993. Reacting to declining TV coverage and an unhealthy public image, sixteen players (all of which were previous World Champions) formed the World Darts Council and pledged to only play in the 1994 World Championships if it came under the jurisdiction of this new body. The BDO refused and the rebel players were banned.
A year before, BSkyB had audaciously purchased the rights to broadcast the newly formed FA Premier League. They saw similar money-making potential in the new rebel group of darts players. In the year that Manchester United won their Second Premier League title, Dennis Priestly won the first ever PDC World Championships – the new and powerful rival to the old BDO.
The BDO’s perennial criticism is that the quality of darts simply isn’t high enough for the title ‘World Champion’ to be taken seriously. In the 2012 BDO World Championship only 6 players averaged over 90 throughout the tournament. In this year’s PDC event 29 players averaged over 90. Furthermore, the top 10 BDO players threw 165, 180’s between them throughout the whole championships. The 10 best PDC players threw 278 maximums. Darts is a numbers game, and the numbers uncontrovertibly prove that better players play in the PDC.
So the players in the BDO aren’t as good as the ones in the PDC. Perhaps there are certain things that can’t be measured that give the organisation its value. Things like history or legacy. In 2010, Barry Hearn offered to buy the BDO and amalgamate the two factions. His offer was rejected. There was something refreshing in the rejection of what was essentially Murdoch’s money and the old guard’s resistance of buying into the BSkyB monopoly– particularly in the face of recent events. Furthermore, there is a certain nostalgic charm of the BDO championships. It was the first ever major televised darts championship; the competition which gave the world such great figures as Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson.
However, in a world in which televised sport is big money, nostalgia is not worth very much. The BBC has just agreed to televise the BDO Championships until 2016 and until that time, the Lakeside competition will continue to dominate New Year sport scheduling. However, there may come a time after this point when the BDO can no longer afford the allure of its more affluent relative.
There is no doubt that I will watch this years Championship with enjoyment and enthusiasm, however I won’t be able to suppress a wince when the supposed ‘World Champion’ is eventually crowned. The accolade simply isn’t true.