Darts World Debate: Should darts be in the Olympics?
By Thomas Bartley 31/07/2021
SPORTS fans from across the world have been tuning in to one of the greatest spectacles in sport, the Olympic Games, over the last few days. As a festival of sport, it is unparalleled, and sees everything from archery to wrestling and badminton to taekwondo on the same bill for a special couple of weeks every 4 years. So why isn't darts, an increasingly popular global sport, in the Olympics, and is it time it was added to the Olympic agenda?
There is no cut and dry admissions policy for sports to be included in the Olympics, and it remains largely at the discretion of the International Olympic Committee. However, two particular things make it potentially difficult to see darts being added to the Games.
Firstly, the number of sports featuring at any one Summer Olympic Games was capped at 28 in the early 2000s, making it tricky for any prospective sport to force its way into the Games. However, that practice seems to have fallen by the wayside as five new sports are appearing in Tokyo 2020 (baseball, softball, karate, sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding), suggesting darts may have a window of opportunity.
Secondly, the Olympic Charter states that in order for a sport to be admitted, it must be widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on three continents. This appears to be an ambiguous requirement, and here the meaning of 'widely practiced' would probably be key to whether or not darts would qualify. However, as time goes on, this is less and less likely to become an issue.
Darts fans would be forgiven for wondering how darts has not yet made its way into the Olympics, especially when some of the new additions are considered.
Let's assess three factors in turn in the criteria that determine revenue share for sports in the Olympics. One is 'television viewing figures'. With the 2021 PDC World Championship reaching a peak of 1.25 million viewers on Sky Sports, 2.2 million on Germany's Sport 1, and broadcasting to 130 countries across the world, given the extra exposure an Olympic Games would produce, it is hard to imagine darts would struggle.
'Internet popularity' is another. Search 'darts' on YouTube and you will find many videos with millions of views. Just consider the sensation of Fallon Sherrock's run in the 2020 PDC World Championship and you can imagine the Olympics being an Internet hit at the games, with videos of exciting moments going viral. Another factor on the criteria is 'ticket requests'. The demand for tickets to prestigious events in the game is always high, and considering that over 20,000 filled out the Veltins Arena in Germany for the German Darts Masters in 2018, you struggle to see this being an issue.
It is certainly the case that other sports have a more global reach in terms of participation and viewership, and European countries do at present have a bit of a stranglehold on the circuit, but there are many sports in the Games which are somewhat of a 'closed shop' for certain nations. To use the example of basketball, the United States men's team has won 15 of the 19 Olympic Gold medals awarded in their discipline, the US women's team enjoying similar fortunes having won the event all but once since it was introduced in 1976. Perhaps it is more a case of being popular with the right countries rather than just a large number. If Olympics big hitters like China, Russia and the USA don't think they will win medals in darts, why should they support its inclusion?
There is also the challenge of an Olympic gold being the pinnacle in certain sports, such as swimming and athletics, but with sports like tennis and golf also included in the Games, would it be that strange for darts to be ruled out on those grounds?
Some simply feel that darts in the Olympics wouldn't sit right. For them, the two have conflicting images and the mainstream exposure that it would bring to darts could have its downsides as well as positives, with darts and its culture micro-analysed by the mainstream media in a whole new light.
The campaign to put darts in the Olympics has found backers in the world of the sport, however. Former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward made the case very eloquently in the Daily Mail, stating: "Darts is a sport of and for the people and that is what the modern-day Olympics is striving very hard to reflect."
“If you made darts an Olympic sport tomorrow, almost overnight millions of men and women from the age of 15 to 65 would suddenly nurture private hopes and ambitions that they could be Olympic champions. It’s that accessible.”
Woodward makes an excellent point and there is no doubt that darts' addition to the Olympic Games would have a huge impact and would expose the game to people who may not have come into contact with it before. However, although the WDF have expressed an interest in bidding to feature in the Games over the years, the PDC is yet to throw itself behind a bid and many in the game rightly have their concerns that it would not be quite right.
Despite this, as the game continues to get bigger, the calls for darts to be added to the Summer Olympics are unlikely to decrease. Perhaps in years to come we will be celebrating our sport's Gold, Silver and Bronze medallists as well as its World Champions.