The ugly antics that erupted during the international Darts Invitational Challenge in Melbourne on the weekend shows that the aim of getting “bums on seats” has taken precedence over the merits of a highly skilled sport, writes David Packman
As reported by DeadSpin, mayhem broke out at an Australian darts competition last week:
The Darts Invitational Challenge in Melbourne, Australia yesterday was interrupted by costumed, drunken fans throwing hundreds of plastic chairs in the seating area. The match between–I kid you not with these nicknames–top-ranked Michael “Might Mike” van Gerwen and home favorite Simon “The Wizard” Whitlock had to be paused as security and later police attempted to get a handle on the situation.
Drunken men in costume throwing plastic chairs and tables?
It doesn’t exactly sound like the ‘sport of kings’ to me. I thought it was about precisely throwing small missiles at a numbered board – but then again, I’m not much of a darts aficionado.
I have heard of my Aussie compatriot Simon “The Wizard” Whitlock, and I confess to having watched snippets of him in action – mostly in Europe – when flicking through the sports channels. I also noticed some crazy outfits in the crowd – and there was clearly more than enough beer to go around – but it all seemed like harmless fun to me.
With witnesses of the scenes that erupted during the international Darts Invitational Challenge at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne last Saturday revealing that people were jumping on tables until they broke and even body slamming each other, it seems that just isn’t the case anymore.
It was a total mess that required 40 police to bring under control and resulted in 40 people being ejected from the stadium.
From my point of view as the self-confessed armchair critic, I began to hear more about darts in the past year, purely as a place to have some fun as a spectator, not so much as a skilled sport. Images of boozed fans dressed in kilts or Viking helmets began to drift across my screens with increasing regularity.
Fueled by the fact that we all grew up playing darts while drinking in pubs in Australia, the two concepts seem to go hand-in-hand.
Nothing much was said about darts as a sport – about the incredible talent it takes to hit the bullseye time and time again. That’s been lost in all this, but perhaps with good reason.
What it’s clearly all about is the crowd – which is getting larger thanks to the attraction of the party atmosphere. Venue sizes have grown to accommodate and quite clearly, as a result, revenue has also increased. I’m sure no one involved with darts is complaining about that.
In fact, it must be quite an allure. Get the folks in on the basis of darts being a party night out – ching ching – but at the behest of its merits as a sport. It’s been a successful strategy, but it set a dangerous precedent which unfortunately came to the fore on the weekend.
It seems the crowd has just grown too quickly in Australia and we weren’t ready for it. In Europe, darts is already hugely successful, the players are rock stars and it’s always party time among the spectators.
But Etihad Stadium simply didn’t have the appropriate measures in place for that number of revelers.
Darts Australia president Kelvin James said in The Age that real darts fans would have too much respect for the players to have taken part in the “rowdiness”.
Therein lies the issue. The sport is not targeted at real dart fans as far as I can see. They are probably far happier to stay at home and watch the finer points on TV than sit among a throng of drunken hooligans who couldn’t care less about the intricacies of the sport.
Mr. James said he hoped the scenes on the weekend would not tarnish the sport’s reputation. It might be a little late for that, I think, as one witness so aptly put it, “It wasn’t good for the sport and it wasn’t good for the city’s image.”
As a purist, I currently see darts as more akin to a beerfest than a skilled sport, which is a shame, as I am well aware of the enormous talent these guys possess.
Let’s hope that all changes – both in the name of darts and for the city I call home.
Photo Credit: Twitter