Jacqui Oatley: The joy of live sport

By Jacqui Oatley 05/03/2021

YOU cannot underestimate the power of sport during undoubtedly a difficult time during the Covid-19 pandemic. There are certain elements of life we will have learnt to not to take for granted again after three extensive lockdowns. One of them is certainly the joy of watching sport at the highest level.

Naturally, I’ve felt extremely privileged to work within football and darts over the past year and huge kudos must go to both sports for the incredible effort that has gone in behind the scenes to be able to continue. The players also continue to serve up great entertainment. The Ladbrokes Masters delivered yet again for ITV Sport with shocks, records broken, controversy and a thoroughly deserving and hugely popular winner in Jonny Clayton. We were all so happy for him.

There’s little doubt one of the big talking points right now is Michael van Gerwen. A giant of the sport who is going through a big blip by his ‘phenomenal’ standards. It seems like only yesterday that he had that sensational 77-game unbeaten run on ITV, ended by Jeffrey De Zwaan three years ago in March. Without MVG being his all-conquering self, the events feel much more open. That was proved at the Masters. While Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright were the favourites to make a heavyweight final, the two battlers instead came through in style with Clayton facing Mervyn King.

Part of the biggest charm of sport is the shock, the unexpected happening and the whoosh of emotion that comes with it. The PDC cleverly added that extra bit of theatre and drama by giving me the opportunity to reveal live on air prior to the final that the winner would also be awarded the last Premier League spot. The decision had been made during an impromptu PDC meeting and was relayed to me via my producer seconds before the end of the ad break just before the players were due to be called on, meaning they had absolutely no idea. Jonny’s face was a picture when he was told by John McDonald on the stage!

It was great news for us that ITV Sport will continue to cover top-quality darts until at least the end of 2022 and I was delighted to be asked to stay on to front the coverage. We’ve received some lovely feedback and it’s very much appreciated by the team. I absolutely love this job and value every moment. The deal will see ITV remain as the host broadcaster for The Masters, UK Open, European Championship, Players Championship Finals and World Series of Darts Finals. In addition, ITV Sport will also broadcast the PDC’s worldwide World Series of Darts events - with the 2021 schedule planned to include events in Australia, New Zealand and America, where New York’s famous Madison Square Garden will host the US Darts Masters. Next up is the Masters from MSG in New York on June 4/5. It’s enthralling to see local heroes take on the big guns.

Last year we were denied the opportunity to see Fallon Sherrock take to the stage and try and emulate her headline-grabbing Alexandra Palace exploits. Personally, the role of women in sport remains a huge passion of mine. It will be important in 2021 for the top women players to have a platform to perform in darts. While Lisa Ashton remains on the PDC Tour, the likes of Sherrock, Deta Hedman and so many top female players need a chance to shine. I am delighted that the role of women in darts has escalated across all platforms.

To see Laura Turner, Emma Paton, Mikki Austin and Laura Woods all involved in TV coverage is brilliant. Here’s to another great year of darts. The fans will soon be back and we cannot wait for that to happen but, in the meantime, thank goodness TV darts is happening at all!

Jacqui Oatley is a presenter of ITV4 darts coverage and Sky Sports News.

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