Phil Taylor took second place in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year last night to give darts its most prominent moment in the limelight since the days when Eric Bristow was paid to advertise milk.
Forget for a moment the ridiculousness of the voting system, the smugness that pervaded the show, and the huge inadequacies of the programme overall (there’s little sport, barely any personality, and success is increasingly about lifetimes rather than particular years), and simply revel in the fact that a dart player gained such recognition – and 72,095 votes – ahead of sporting superstars from the world of boxing, golf and cricket. This was a great night for darts.
Taylor’s award has, of course, re-opened many well-worn discussions about the definition of a sport, and the merits of the game. ‘SPOTY’ itself contained the predictable (and frankly unnecessary) jokes about darts and booze – which the sport will always face until alcohol is banned altogether.
Of greater vehemence is the extent of the criticism levelled at darts compared to other activities which also require minimal cardiovascular fitness – shooting, archery or shot put require vast levels of skills and great strength, mental or otherwise, but I don’t remember Geoff Capes or Malcolm Cooper being called fat. I’ve yet to be persuaded that diving – lauded last night in the shape of 16-year old Tom Daley – requires greater fitness than tossing tungsten for two hours.
Darts is one of the few British sports which originated from the working classes as opposed to the public schools, and, in a similar vein to rugby league or speedway, it is here that the true reason for darts’ derision lies. Most sport in the UK was designed by the upper classes in an attempt to ‘improve’ themselves and manage others. Sports which originated with no purpose other than fun, and which came from the working-man, continue to be sniffed at.
It’s a peculiar situation in 21st century Britain, but the impact of our nation’s obsession with class still runs deep. Phil Taylor’s second place last night, and the comical approach to the sport throughout the evening, will have done little to change things.