By Alastair Magee
Often criticised as not being a ‘real sport’, darts were cast in the shadows once upon a time, but in recent years its stock has risen to become one of the major sports broadcast on TV.
With millions of fans worldwide and huge sums of money available in prizes, the sport is growing in popularity, inspiring a next generation of players.
Stars such as Michael Van Gerwen, the world number one, and Gary Anderson, the current world champion, perform at the highest level week in-week out, travelling across the world to bring the sport to its fans.
Indeed it is not a ‘mainstream’ sport and probably never will be, but what darts delivers is unparalleled; it allows spectators to be loud, creative and interact with its stars, establishing an environment any athlete would thrive in.
The Unibet World Grand Prix took place in Citywest, Dublin last week and the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) welcomed 2,500 fans each night to the event, which was televised live on Sky Sports.
The Grand Prix is one of the most prestigious events on the professional darts calendar with the winner taking home GB£100,000 in prize money.
Speaking at the competition’s semi-finals on Friday, Rod Harrington, ex-pro and PDC director, explained how the sport has undergone a renaissance in recent years, moving away from its pub roots to create youth leagues across Europe.
“Years gone by it’s been golf, football and cricket, but now darts comes into that category; money will always breed enthusiasm and support. We’re seeing a lot more youngsters watching the game and wanting to play it so certainly the popularity is increasing all the time,” he said.
“The PDC now have development tours and challenge tours a bit like the way golf operates. We’ve got Steve Brown who’s an ex-pro but still plays; he’s started up academies which we’ve endorsed and helped fund, so through that we now have kids as young as ten years old coming in to learn the discipline of the game,” he continued.
With so many young players now taking part in the sport the PDC created youth leagues and Harrington admits that they’re ‘growing well’.
In any sport it’s the stars at the top who inspire those at the bottom. At the Unibet Grand Prix, we were lucky enough to witness two of its best, Michael Van Gerwen and Gary Anderson, battle their way to the final on Saturday.
Speaking about their influence, Harrington said: “The way they play the game, the speed they play the game at always makes it exciting and every kid wants to throw the dart quick like them. Everyone sees how much money they’re earning and they’ve become heroes like in any other sport or even actors.”
Ireland hosts two major events on the darts calendar every year: the Unibet World Grand Prix in Citywest and the Betway Premier League Darts in the 3 Arena.
Both events sell-out within days of ticket release due to the loyal fan base across the country.
“We used to have it [Grand Prix] in the main hotel but we outgrew that and now we’re in this convention hall with over 2,500 people expected tonight and tomorrow,” said Harrington.
As the sport continues to grow and develop, the number of people getting involved will also increase. The PDC expect to welcome more and more supporters to their events each year and hope to maintain a positive future ahead.