Darts, just a game, or a genuine sport?

There was a lot of sport on television over Christmas. It was fantastic. And, thanks to modern technology, I was able to watch as much of it as I wanted – despite being jettisoned at the mother’s for almost ten days. Ordinarily when I return home I cede possession of the remote to my elder’s, lapsing back into a childhood role which has proved difficult to escape. But with my own TV provider, the one I pay for in my house, allowing me to access my digital channels remotely, I was free to watch whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

Indeed, at one point, in a delicious turning of the tables, I was the only one in the house with Sky Sports, the folks’ ‘dodgy box’ refusing to play ball when it most needed. And being a mature grown-up, the type of person who would never bear a grudge, I quite naturally told them to eff off when they came to my door looking to sneak a peek. But there was one sporting event which we all watched, one nightly happening which brought this feuding clan together for a couple of golden hours every evening. And it provided more entertainment, more drama, than all the football Sky saw fit to cram into the festive period.

I’m talking of course about ‘the darts’. That’s how you refer to it; ‘the darts’. No other sport gets such treatment, football is just football, hurling is hurling, and rugby is rugby – unless you’re in Lancashire and you’re distinguishing between league and union. And the darts was terrific this year, unheralded newcomer Rob Cross seeing off world number one, Michael van Gerwen, in a semi-final for the ages, before denying Phil Taylor a fairy-tale farewell in a one-sided final. Yes, the crowd were their usual ribald selves, running through a repertoire of songs which included the student-favourite, Yaya Kolo Toure chant, booing van Gerwen as he took crucial shots, and dressing up as hotdogs, bananas, and whatever other ‘wacky’ outfits they could get their hands on, and yes, the razzmatazz surrounding the event continues to be hilariously incongruous, but there’s just something special about the darts.

It’s not really a sport though, is it? For all its excitement, for all its theatre, it doesn’t belong on the same channel as Lionel Messi or Tom Brady. It’s a game, a pub-game, the same as poker or pool. Granted, there is a level of skill involved, but in terms of physical output it’s no more exerting than doing the washing-up. Furthermore, I would argue that being skilled at hitting trebles and doubles isn’t even the most important part of a darts’ player’s armoury. Mental toughness, the ability to cope with the pressure, is what separates the top players from the also-rans, blocking out the jeers, cheers, and beers of the baying mob a necessity if you’re ever to succeed.

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In fact, I would go as far to say that darts has more in common with video gaming than it does with football or rugby. Both require nerves of steel, great hand-eye coordination, and an ability to carry out the same tasks repeatedly. Neither require any level of conditioning, nor are they subject to the vagaries of real sports, taking place, as they do, within a similar confined space each and every time. And yet enthusiasts would have you believe that the departing Taylor, by virtue of his sixteen world titles, is one of the greatest sportsmen of his time. That this pot-bellied man from the Potteries bears comparison with Federer, Woods and Schumacher.

Although impressive, Taylor’s exploits have more in common with my lengthy unbeaten run on Pro Evolution Soccer 6 than they do with anything achieved by Messrs Federer and Woods. He may be a millionaire, and a household name, but at no point has anyone looked at him in action and thought “Wow, how does he do that?” Because that’s the beauty of darts, it’s all-inclusive, a sport for the non-sporty. At one point we’ve all watched these pasty-faced chubsters nail a nine-darter and wondered how hard could it be. How hard could it be to buy a dartboard, a set of darts, a snazzy shirt, and become a world champion?

You may be middle-aged, get out of breath going up the stairs, and live on a diet of Coke and crisps, but there’s always a chance that you could be the next great darts’ player. And that’s why, for all its virtues, it can never be classed as anything more than a game.