Five reasons why darts should become an Olympic sport

Jamie Shaw 9 Aug 2016
Can darts stake a claim for Olympic status? (credit:Original photo by Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

As each Olympic year passes, the debate rages on as to whether darts has a rightful place among the roster at the games or should continue to stand on its own two feet.

What was once a pub pastime has now been revolutionised into a global sporting phenomenon boasting record ticket sales, vast television viewing figures and a higher standard of play than ever before.

Logically, the only missing piece in the jigsaw to fully legitimise darts as an elite sport would be inclusion in the Olympic Games, though any such breakthrough is unlikely to made anytime soon.

In terms of Olympic criteria, darts pretty much fits the bill, though a lack of one clear governing body and the taboo subject of alcohol are just two of the potential stumbling blocks.

PDC Chairman Barry Hearn and BDO board members have each signalled their desire for the sport to be placed on the Olympic stage for a number of years, so what would need to happen to turn this pipe dream into reality?

Darts must meet strict criteria and be recognised by the IOC, only then it could join the process of becoming part of the programme and be shortlisted alongside other sports to be voted for inclusion.

While all hope is not lost, here are five reasons darts deserves to feature at Olympic level...

Global game

The Olympic Charter indicates that to be accepted, 'a sport must be widely practiced by both men and women in at least 50 countries and across four different continents.'

The PDC have made huge strides in increasing interest and participation around the world in recent years, notably staging World Series events in previously uncharted territories such as Japan, Dubai and New Zealand.

The 72 players involved in the 2016 PDC World Championship were derived from 23 different countries across five continents, with each international qualifier having prevailed through a vast field in a qualifying event. 
The PDC World Championship, the sport's flagship event, is broadcast live in more than 20 countries, including Germany, the United States, Australia and the Arab League, underlining the significant global interest in the sport.

The infrastructure of women's darts has also been strengthened over the past decade, with the BDO Ladies World Championship now featuring 16 players and wider participation at grass roots level. Lisa Ashton recently set a new record women's three-dart average of 98.4 in the BDO World Trophy.  

The high level of skill and precision 

A common query is that: "Archery and Shooting are Olympic sports, so why not darts?"  

Both of the aforementioned examples have been regular fixtures in the games since the turn of the 20th century, however they do bear numerous similarities to darts in terms of concept. 

Like darts, both involve aiming and firing at a small target from a set distance and can be contested in either singles or team formats. 

Each segment of a dartboard is separated by a razor thin wire, meaning the difference between success and failure can often come down to mere millimeters. 

Darts is a test of accuracy and hand-eye co-ordination and has a clear points scoring system, meaning the core infrastructure of the game is unlikely to be affected, rather greater regulations on the players and crowd.

Perceptions of the sport have changed

Darts is widely viewed as a working class game emerging from pub origins over half a century ago and has consequently faced much snobbery from those who believe it should not be regarded as a legitimate sport.

The Professional Darts Corporation in particular have worked hard to overhaul the stereotypes surrounding the players and their lifestyles, notably banning alcohol on stage and agreeing to UK Sport drug testing at tournament venues in 2005. 

Many elite level players are now brands within their own right and are conscious of the clean-cut image, practice and dedication required to carve out a lucrative career given the healthy prize money totals and sponsorship opportunities available.

There are now firm foundations and initiatives in place for young players to rise through the professional ranks, and this in-turn has attracted a younger age demographic to the sport in terms of both viewership and participation.

Darts has even been given the Royal seal of approval, with Prince Harry and Zara Phillips having visited the World Championship at Alexandra Palace, helping to the rid the social stereotypes that are often contrived.

Box office appeal

Darts is one of the sporting success stories of the 21st century for many reasons, one of which being the substantial increase in crowds and TV ratings.

The 2015 World Championship enjoyed record television viewing figures in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, while the following year saw a record total of 66,000 fans attend the event at Alexandra Palace. 

On average, darts now enjoys the second highest ratings on Sky Sports behind football and the marketability of the product means tickets are now selling out faster than ever for major events.

It is not just the UK tournaments which boast big crowds, new darting hotbeds such as Australia, Germany and Asia have seen unprecedented demand, meaning there is a clear gap in the market for darts at the Olympics regardless of the host venue.

The serious and clean-cut nature of the Olympics, however, suggests that crowd involvement may have to be watered down meaning that should darts make the games, it could be without its customary party atmosphere.

The legacy it could create

Including darts in the Olympic Games would catapult the sport in front of a mainstream audience worldwide, subsequently attracting greater levels of interest and expanding participation into more new territories. 

While precision and accuracy are two key elements of darts, mental arithmetic is also instrumental given the thousands of ways of completing a leg of 501 and the varying combinations of numbers available for checkouts.

For example, there 3,944 possible combinations for a nine-dart finish alone from a 501 leg of double-out.

Darts has been trialled in schools in the UK as a fun educational tool to aid the quick addition and subtraction of numbers and could potentially be rolled out on a larger scale on the back of Olympic success, offering a dual benefit of being both educational and the ability to acquire new skills. 

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Five reasons why darts should become an Olympic sport

As each Olympic year passes, the debate rages on as to whether darts has a rightful place among the roster at the games or should continue to stand on its own two feet.

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