Jacqui Oatley: There's no match for Deta

By Jacqui Oatley 13/01/2021

IT’S hard to underestimate the importance of the recent Women’s Series. The strength of the women’s game has pushed on after the exploits of Fallon Sherrock and Mikuru Suzuki at last year’s World Championship and then Lisa Ashton winning a PDC Tour Card in January.

Despite the 2020 sporting calendar being ripped apart by Covid-19, it was good to see the Women’s Series go ahead. It’s essential they have this competitive platform against their peers for the development of the game. Some of the averages and performances raised a few eyebrows and it proves the game is moving in the right direction. However, there’s a long way to go. Progress is all about constantly keeping the ball rolling.

On the flip side from the success of the Women’s Series - and congratulations to the PDC for that - is that the British Darts Organisation has come to a sad end. That also means the Ladies’ World Championship. That had been the mainstay of the women’s game for a substantial number of years and it’s a massive blow and void that needs to be filled.

There is no doubt at all that the calendar for the women needs more competition dates to be added so it can raise the standard and increase the strength in depth of the wider talent pool. We know what the headline acts can do, but it’s the tiers below that need encouragement and development. But the good news is that the continued success of Deta Hedman, Ashton, Sherrock, and Suzuki keeps the women’s game high on the agenda. It is rewarding to feel the shift of opinion. There is an acceptance that these women can compete on their own merits instead of being seen as something of a novelty. Perhaps we had to go through that phase in order to come through the other side.

When Fallon made the headlines at Ally Pally, it reminded me of the scrutiny I experienced when I made my debut on Match of the Day. It was seen as a novelty as people assumed a woman couldn’t possibly commentate on a men’s Premier League game on TV without it being something of a freak show. Even though I found that level of scrutiny and analysis of my “performance” suffocating and deeply uncomfortable, it was a relief to come through it relatively unscathed and now a female presence in the commentary box is no longer worthy of heated debate. When you look at the recent Grand Slam of Darts, which was sadly not in my beloved Wolverhampton but it was still a fantastic event, Mikuru had a match dart at tops to beat Gerwyn Price - arguably the best player in the world right now - in their opening group match. That’s despite Suzuki hardly having played a competitive match for months. It was also nice to hear Michael Smith’s commendation for his oche pal Lisa. Allin-all, the women’s game is heading in the right direction. We’ll shortly be able to sit back and enjoy watching Lisa and Deta at the World Championship. It’s a fascinating prospect.

And what a story it is for Hedman at the age of 61. No one can match her life story in darts, no one can match her fight. It’s been wonderful to be able to offer top-level darts on ITV Sport from the European Championship. Peter Wright became unplayable as the tournament unfolded. Now the big question is whether he can reproduce that form to win the Sid Waddell Trophy once again.

We must not overlook the biggest factor of all. That we are fortunate to have sport back on television during Covid-19 crisis. So many other sports haven’t been so lucky. It is hugely disappointing that grassroots sport has been ruled out during this difficult period of time. While darts may not be seen as the most athletic pursuit, the enjoyment of competition is very healthy. We can start the day by getting outside with the kids, playing football, chucking balls around, then we can head back indoors and warm-up, switch on the TV, and watch the darts. Perfect! 

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


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