Saturday saw the beginning of the 2012 William Hill Grand Slam of Darts, an annual darts tournament that sees the best players from both the Players Darts Championship and the British Darts Organisation come together in Wolverhampton. It’s a great opportunity for the likes of Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis to take on BDO rivals Tony O’Shea and Scott Waites to square up. Why, though, is it necessary for the two groups of elite dart players to need one or two brief occasions to test each other instead of entering all of the same competitions together.
The answer, of course, lies in the 1993 split from the BDO following a decline in the game. Television coverage wasn’t what it is today thanks to the emergence of Sky Sports (not that I’m usually one to thank them), so players were struggling to make a living from darts due to a lack of prize money. 16 professionals defected and would rarely play each other again until the Grand Slam of Darts was created as an invitation competition held in the United Kingdom.
Growing up, all I knew was the BDO and their most prestigious competitions. It helped that one such event, the British Open, was (and usually still is) held in my home town of Bridlington. Even when I reached university, I remember sitting glued to the World Professional Darts Championship at Lakeside, filled with tension and excitement at the close finishes and slogs between who I thought were the best in the world. I’d heard of Phil Taylor and the Netherlands’ Raymond van Barneveld (the latter of which stayed with the BDO much longer) but I didn’t understand why people rated them so highly because I’d never seen a single match they’d taken part in.
Times have changed. The PDC is easily the most popular organisation of the two, with bigger stars, higher prizes and much more television coverage. It helps, for me at least, that their website is much clearer and more informative than the BDO’s attempt and regularly keeps me up to date with the biggest tournaments. The ‘Grand Slam’ is no exception, but also allows the best of the BDO to participate. Whilst that’s a nice touch and replaces some of the PDC’s weaker competitors with the best of British, I can’t help but wonder how well they’d do if they regularly entered PDC events and repeatedly faced off with Taylor and Wes Newton, among others.
Darts isn’t alone in its split. Boxing is a much worse offender, with five major codes and a few other minor ones sharing the spoils of famous boxers and prize belts. A “world champion” in one organisation (say, the WBO) could be much weaker than another one at the same weight in the WBC and you wouldn’t know unless they tried to “unify” the division. I won’t pretend I know much about boxing, but this act of challenging other champions and vacant belts sounds nice, but is hugely complicated to me and I can’t imagine how it’d be better than having a single, unified championship that isn’t dominated by promoters and the big bucks.
Phil Taylor, winner of four of the last five editions of the Grand Slam of Darts, is looking to make it a fifth championship after a brilliant final in the Championship League. The whole qualifying process seemed tedious at first with eight separate days of group stages and eight finals, but once the champions were together in one round-robin format, it was worth the wait. Not that we could easily watch it, with subscriptions flying about all over the place. How hard can it be to bring a decent PDC event to BBC2 or ITV4? It’s all well and good to follow some live text, but the drama and exhilaration is lost without a good old TV (or, you know, actually being there).