Future of women’s professional darts remains in the balance

The inaugural PDC Unicorn women’s world darts championship concluded live on Sky Sports late on Saturday night with victory for US number 1 Stacy Bromberg. The titanic tussle against south London’s Tricia Wright went to the deciding leg, but to depict the match as a thriller would be as misplaced as the description of Blackpool as the Vegas of the north.

The standard of the game did little to promote women’s darts. Bromberg started with a treble 20, but in 11 legs neither player could manage a maximum, and Wright will squirm at the memory of the dart which missed the board entirely. There were flashes of both players’ true ability, but darts is a sport in which it consistency is everything, and neither woman had it in Blackpool.

This is not, however, a criticism of the players – this was, after all, the biggest game ever played in women’s darts. Having already both been offered a prized PDC Tour Card and automatic entry to another pay-day at the Grand Slam of Darts, there was a further £10,000 on offer to whichever 50-year-old held their nerve. It was the first game of the competition to take place in front of a paying audience and the only game live on TV.

Bromberg in particular looked entirely comfortable with the razzmatazz, but this was not an environment in which to expect high quality darts. All dart players suffer big-match nerves, and experience is simply invaluable. For next year a format encouraging players to throw their best darts would be advised – perhaps playing quarter and semi-finals at the venue without the need for a television audience.

That, of course, presumes the PDC and Unicorn continue with the event next year. Past experience would suggest that this is by no means a formality, and the decision to shunt the game away from 7pm on Sunday to 10pm the previous evening does not bode well. It’s hard to believe that the ‘scheduling issues’ would not have been resolved had favourite Anastasia Dombromyslova reached the final.

‘Glamastasia’ is one of three other women who have earned the right to call herself World Champion following victories at the BDO equivalent. The other two – Trina Gulliver and Frances Hoenselaar – will have their reasons for deciding not to participate in this tournament, but to those who have followed the men’s game for the last twenty years, the future of women’s darts already looks horribly familiar.

Despite the shortcomings, Sky Sports, the PDC, and Unicorn should be congratulated for this new venture, but in a country where women’s sports always struggle for recognition, and in a pastime barely recognised as a sport by many, a permanent split in women’s darts will make the game entirely unsustainable. Should the tournament be repeated in 2011, Gulliver, Hoenselaar and other top-ranked BDO players will need to consider their options with great care. The future of women’s professional darts may well rest in their hands.

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