The 2016 Lakeside: The Final Frontier for the Stone Age of Darts

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January 2, 2016 by bsd987

In 1993, sixteen darts players split from the BDO to stage their own events as a means to get darts marketing out of the stone age. Television coverage had dwindled and with it so too had the prize money. Next year, barring a change in available funding, the BDO and the BBC will split, leaving the Lakeside to find a new free-to-air television partner. It also will leave the BDO without its last remaining link to the stone age.

During Saturday’s first Ladies Darts Organization match—which merely featured the two-time reigning World Champion Lisa Ashton—Tony Green and Bobby George both took shots at the quality of the ladies’ game and the ability of women darts players. Before the match even started, George noted that Ashton’s career-high average is 96, “which for a lady is unbelievable.” Never mind that in 1999, a time when very few men ever threatened the high 90s, Trina Gulliver averaged north of 97 in a match that she lost to Francis Hoenselaar’s 95. Never mind that the trebles and doubles and in fact every segment of the board are the same size for men and women.

But the condescending, disrespectful, and shameful commentary was only getting started.

At the end of the first set and the beginning of the second, Ashton wheeled off a string of 14, 16, and 18-dart legs, putting her opponent, Paula Jacklin, well in her dust. In the 16-dart leg, however, Jacklin joined Ashton for a while, with the two alternating four consecutive 140 visits. Green found four 140s so impressive that he feared viewers might confuse Ashton and Jacklin for two men, as if the gender of the participants was important to begin with. “Just to remind everyone, this is the women, not the men.”

Ashton eventually finished off Jacklin in straight sets, dropping one mere leg out of seven on the way to her ninth consecutive victory on the Lakeside stage. Her three-dart average was 83.67, an average average for her, and greater than either Jim Williams (83.31) or Tony O’Shea—a three-time finalist, which is not too bad for a man—(82.11) managed in the first match in the men’s competition. Despite falling 13 points shy of her “unbelievable” best, George couldn’t help but wax lyrical: “She plays unbelievable darts for the ladies.”

There is no debate that the depth of the men’s game and the quality of the top players in the men’s game is ahead of the women’s game. No woman has ever averaged greater than Gulliver’s 97 on television, while Geert de Vos’s 113.86 at the Grand Slam in November barely tickles the top 20 television averages ever posted by a man.

But there is also no debate that the women’s game is growing, and the quality of the top players in the women’s game is rising. For the first decade of the LDO World Championship, Gulliver and Hoenselaar were far, far above everyone else. But since, Ashton, Anastasia Dobromyslova, and Deta Hedman have all reached where they were, and they are now being joined by young stars in Fallon Sherrock and Aileen de Graaf. The norm has already increased from the mid-70s to the low-80s, and 90 will regularly be breached sooner rather than later.

In a few years, 96 won’t be an unbelievable average for a lady: It will just be an average.

But all that misses the point. A 96 has never been an unbelievable average for a lady. Yes, men routinely have higher averages, but more men play darts. There is nothing inherently preventing a woman from being as good as a man in darts, and there’s no reason not to expect that a woman will come along one day who can challenge and beat men on a regular basis. 96 may right now be an unusual average for a woman. But that is it.

BBC’s commentary, besides being condescending and disrespectful to a two-time World Champion, is a black eye the sport and the media giant don’t need. Instead of celebrating Ashton on a regulation victory to start her title defence, BBC patronized her and tried to portray her as someone who is merely really good for her gender. They cabined her accomplishments as a darts player to that of a lady dart player. They limited her to her gender. They added an adjective so that we could never forget that she wasn’t a man, even as she outscored and outfinished the two men who preceded her to the oche. Even as she fell far short of her brilliant best.

It’s really incomprehensible that in the 21st century—and after all the controversy about the BBC’s misuse and disuse of women on air—this commentary is considered acceptable. It’s sexist. It’s shameful. And it’s empirically wrong. It, not the 96 average by a lady, is what is “unbelievable”. It belongs in the stone age, just like the BBC’s history with this proud tournament.

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