Seventeen years is not enough to heal the wounds of darts’ divide

January 31, 2010

Following a meeting of the county directors, the British Darts Organisation (BDO) has today formally rejected the £2million offer from Barry Hearn’s Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) to take control of the game. Responding to the news, a particularly chirpy Hearn told ITV4 that he was disappointed, but that at least he’d saved a couple of million quid.

Since the offer was made in October last year, the world of darts has been buzzing with the possibility that the Tungsten Wall may tumble. Despite the immediate rejection by Olly Croft – the man at the helm of the BDO and county darts since it was formed in the early 1970s – hope was raised when some of the county directors appeared to exert a little pressure on Croft and his team to consider the deal more carefully.

To expect the BDO to have accepted the offer, however, is to entirely mis-comprehend the emotion behind the split in the sport. If there was vitriol when rugby turned into two codes, and fisticuffs when boxing split into numerous belts, there was genuine hatred when the majority of the world’s top players split away in 1993.

Arguments continue to rage about roles and responsibilities for the events surrounding that final ‘joint’ World Championship. Today’s players are noticeably ambivalent about events of the past – indeed of the sixteen who originally split from the BDO only Phil Taylor and Dennis Priestley now regularly play on the PDC tour. For the officials and their families, however, it is a different story. Amongst those attending the meeting today will have been many for whom seventeen years is simply not long enough to reconcile the destruction that took place. There are several key figures still involved in both codes who have never since spoken to each other, and many friendships – and even some families – that have never recovered from the split.

Barry Hearn carries none of this baggage; he came to darts in the twentieth century, and his offer was probably made in good business faith. The PDC may now have £2million extra to invest in the professional game, but it doesn’t have the BBC (nor does it have The Lakeside, which retains something special, despite the annual departure of top talent).

Today’s rejection confirms that Olly Croft remains firmly in charge of the BDO. It would appear, therefore, that there are only two routes to an end to the great divide – either for Croft to no longer be around, or for the BDO to lose its’ one significant contract – with the BBC. Nobody would wish the former, so darts fans best hope for a reconciliation is that decision-makers at the Beeb wake up to the fact that broadcasting a second-rate tournament in what is, after all, a minority sport, is an unjustifiable use of the licence fee.

That today’s announcement coincides with a fantastic tournament broadcast with aplomb by ITV4, and played by genuine sportsmen (exemplified by Phil Taylor, a much more likeable man in defeat) adds salt to darts’ wounds. I can’t help feeling that it is another sad but entirely predictable day for the sport.