As the BDO bandwagon moves to Blackburn for the first major of the season, dartsweb investigates where the organisation is placed now a year on since the arrival of chairman Des Jacklin, the deeper meaning behind the Lakeside move and what’s next for a darts body keen to find a new place in a universal game.
Just over a year ago, Sue Williams’ replacement as BDO chairman was announced, with Des Jacklin, former players’ director and husband of darts star Paula Jacklin, taking the helm. Jacklin’s in-tray was unenviable, facing an organisation plagued with issues over lack of sponsors and viable TV coverage. He also took on a organisation uncertain of its place in world darts, an organisation now, unlike in the 1980s when it ruled unfettered, playing second fiddle to the much more developed and commercially successful PDC. For many, Jacklin’s main challenge was to redress the balance of power and profile of the two bodies within the game. What was the point, for example, of positioning their prestigious annual world championship event as the ‘world professional’ championship when virtually all of its players are amateur, many would argue.
At first, the BDO was unsteady on its feet. It struggled to get its two main events, the World Championship and World Masters, organised and ready in time for their place in the calendar. The latter occurred without a TV broadcaster and in a haphazard fashion which has become synonymous with the BDO of late, but the former was televised on sports broadcaster Eurosport and free-to-air Quest, the first of the BDO majors to air on the two channels after the signing of a 3 year TV deal to air the World Championship, World Masters and World Trophy (with Quest sharing rights for each). This at least alleviated worries over what had become a yearly question after the BBC ended their contract to air the World Championship in 2016 – where can we see live BDO darts on TV?
But the organisation faced a greater worry. For one, the announcement by the PDC that its annual World Championship would feature two slots for women’s qualifiers proposed a new dilemma. Would the prospective qualifiers, if also qualified for the BDO’s World Championship, only be able to play in one, as had been the case in the men’s event? And, also, with the BDO’s star and then two-times world champion Glen Durrant facing pressure to take the plunge and go to the PDC, would Jacklin end the regulation that any male player who reaches the semi-final or beyond would have to sacrifice that prize money if they opted to enter the PDC’s Qualifying School? For both, the response was refreshing and moved away from a stubbornness that had defined the BDO’s response to their rival organisation ever since the split in the 1990s. The two eventual women’s qualifiers, Lisa Ashton and Anastasia Dobromyslova, who had both already qualified for the BDO World Championship, could play in both and no longer did male players face the threat of losing any prize money if they chose to go to Q-School. This move, despite risking the departure of some of the organisation’s star players, was the first signal that Jacklin and his new team were willing to accept the BDO’s role as the EFL Championship equivalent of world darts.
However, since this series of positive moves in late 2018-early 2019, the organisation has struggled to take advantage of the initial optimism around the new leadership. It was only on the 15th July this year, with the BDO’s first major of the year then just over a month away, that the BDO finalised the venue, King George’s Hall in Blackburn, for its 3rd biggest annual event, the World Trophy. Too, Winmau officially ended their partnership with the BDO after nearly five decades, meaning for the first time since 1976, the World Masters will no longer be prefixed by the manufacturer, with One80/L-style taking on the contract instead. Too, impatience over Jacklin’s discussions of big announcements earlier in the year in January had led to people doubting if he can be the one to turn the fate of the organisation around.
Perhaps the largest crisis of Jacklin’s tenure emerged over three weeks ago when Master of Ceremonies of 6 years Richard Ashdown unexpectedly resigned from his position. Then, in a series of surprising announcements, the BDO’s referees, Antony Dundas, Nick Rolls, Marco Meijer and Charlie Corstorphine all followed Ashdown in leaving the organisation. Officials who had been the recognisable faces of the organisation, throughout all the toils of the last few years, had gone. The BDO chairman’s response to the crisis was to suggest that ‘only now’ the organisation had ‘entered a period of clarity’. This was, understandably, not a response that fans welcomed.
But, amidst the flurry of departures and much anger from fans, a couple of developments helped to turn the tide. The announcement that the former venue for the PDC World Championship, the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, would take on the World Masters in October was well received in darting circles. With venues and TV coverage for the first two of the year’s BDO majors sorted, all eyes were now on the organisation’s directors as to what direction the tournament’s flagship event would take.
The outcome was a change of venue for the first time in well over 3 decades. The Lakeside Country Club, which had held host to every BDO World Championship since 1986 and had been the sponsor for the event since 2004, had been synonymous with BDO darts. The tournament was commonly referred to as ‘the Lakeside’. But something just didn’t fit. Its status as the ‘home of world darts’ was no longer true and had not been for some years. A remodelling of the British Darts Organisation’s showpiece tournament was required. It was to head to the capital, namely the Indigo at the 02 in North Greenwich. The venue has held the Legends of Darts Masters in recent years and has been rumoured in the past as a potential venue for the body.
For some, this would seem a strange move. The Lakeside is synonymous with darts and the detaching of the iconic venue from the British Darts Organisation’s profile and face will take a very long time. But for many it is a step in the right direction. “When I took on this role,” said Jacklin in a recent interview with ‘The Weekly Dartscast’, “I kind of said to myself I’m going to treat it as if it was my own business as much as I could, and that’s been very difficult to do as well, because I think if it had been my business it would have been a no brainer. I would have been at the O2 in a heartbeat. But when I’m making the decision for so many other people, thousands and thousands of people, fans, players, supporters and the people that work alongside me on the board. It was a huge decision, we’ve been there for 34 years. It was such a big decision that people don’t call it the World Championship. People call it the Lakeside. Over the years the event has morphed into the Lakeside World Championships. It’s been so difficult to comprehend moving to start with, but things have to move forward, don’t they?”
There was more positive news from the organisation too. The five referee slots were filled and a successor for Richard Ashdown as the BDO’s go-to compere were named. Paul Booth is a familiar name on the darts exhibition circuit especially and worked with Eric Bristow for many years. He feels confident about his new role, “I’m over the moon with the role. I feel very honoured to be the Master of Ceremonies for the BDO and to be offered the role when nearly 100 people put themselves forward is a huge achievement in itself. I cannot wait to get started next week at the BDO World Trophy in Blackburn.”
“I feel absolutely no pressure whatsoever. I love my job and I love delivering my job and my enthusiasm will be shown on stage and that’s all I’m interested in. I wish the outgoing team the very best of luck in wherever their future paths will take them. As far as I can see, it is exciting times ahead for the BDO and I’m really looking forward to playing a prominent role with the chairman’s ambitions.”
And, alongside John Fowler, Garin Roderick, Josh Clough and Harry Smith, the BDO also made a big move in appointing the first female referee to officiate on a televised darts stage, Kerrie Crompton. With women’s sport in the best position it has ever been globally, the move may seem insignificant to some, but for Kerrie, it is a big decision for the BDO, “Hopefully, I will be an example for other women to take to the stage in other roles within darts other than as players. Women have just as much capability as men and the women’s game in general is getting bigger and better.”
“There are more competitions for women now and a lot more publicity for the women’s game in general, which is leading to more women showing an interest in darts which I think will also lead to more women wanting to take to the stage as officials. Darts has always been a male dominated sport but as with many things, times are changing and are moving forward.”
“I believe the BDO are trying their best to give themselves a great future moving forward with the recent changes that have been made. In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, the darting world would not be the same without the BDO. This is where people get to taste the more serious side of darts, and see if it could potentially be a possible career choice for them, or to see if they have what it takes to make it big within the darts scene, love them or hate them I think that the chairman and board are doing their best to move the BDO forward for men and women,” responded Kerrie.
Despite these positive sounds, the BDO’s remodelling is far from complete. The decision over which 8 of the organisation’s players will head to Wolverhampton for the Grand Slam of Darts will be an important one in helping to showcase the best of the tour’s talent. Mainly, whether or not defending world champion Glen Durrant appears and the cases for the inclusion of women’s world champion Mikuru Suzuki and youth world champion Leighton Bennett will be on the decision-makers’ agenda in the next few weeks. A lot may depend, also, on the success of the upcoming World Championship and if some of the BDO’s current best can step up to the plate on the big occasion, including Wesley Harms, Richard Veenstra and Jim Williams, with none of those listed yet to win a major crown.
The biggest dilemma of all is answering the persistent question: what is the BDO’s role in an expanding world tour? Could it be establishing a specific focus on nurturing the women’s game, through prize money increases (as mooted in a recent interview with Jacklin on ‘The Weekly Dartscast’ for the upcoming World Championship) across the board with many becoming encouraged in recent months to enter Development Tour and Challenge Tour events? Could it be accepting its position as a de-facto feeder circuit to the PDC, aiming to attract the stars of tomorrow in their journeys to darts success?
“The BDO always has and always will play a huge part in darts,” said new MC Paul Booth. “There is over a million people who play the sport in the UK and only 128 play in the PDC so I’m sure under the management and the chairman’s ambition, we will see the BDO flourish. It’s a superb decision to head back to the Circus Tavern and a huge decision to head away from the Lakeside. The Chairman has his reasons for making it so let’s give him a chance, get behind him and support both he and the fabulous talent within the BDO. Darts fans can make this happen.”
“The biggest challenge for me are the comments and what is stirred up on social media,” said Jacklin on the aforementioned podcast. “That for me is the biggest challenge. I have to turn people around and make them see that yes, the Lakeside was an iconic venue, and everybody has so much love for the Lakeside. But in one way or another for whatever reason it may be, everything has to evolve, everything has to move on. I think that the biggest challenge will be to get people behind this product, get behind our company and give it a go, before we’re getting dissed before we’ve even got started. Let’s give it a go. I see those as the main thing which I have to contend with right now.”
The next few days in Blackburn offers an opportunity for the BDO, without previous established stars like Durrant and Mark McGeeney, to showcase their talent on a televised stage. Let’s hope they do so.
Image Credits: Sky Sports, allevents.in and Sporting Life
Thanks to Paul Booth, Kerrie Crompton and The Weekly Dartscast