Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was a brilliant mess of unabashedly bonkers Britishness, but all this national character suddenly feels lacking when watching the sports on offer. You could argue that none of the events in London 2012 have a true British vibe, because every great Olympic sport we invented, we promptly exported and forgot how to play.
Take tennis for example; before Murray’s epic Sunday victory, the last time Britain won gold in tennis was 1908, way back when you could get a medal in the tug of war. Clearly what’s needed is a sport that shows off some of what Britain’s really all about: beer, pork scratchings and drunken bankers. So where the hell are the medals for darts this summer?
Hidden just off London Bridge in the square mile is Porters Lodge, the capital’s waterhole with a reputation as “darting heaven” amongst those in the know. The locals in the Lodge here are pretty pissed — pun fully intended — at their sport of choice missing out on a chance in the Olympic spotlight. The British Darts Organisation lobbied strongly for darts to be included in London 2012, but despite being recognised as a bona-fide sport in 2005 (the year London won the games) and members of the Olympic Committee attending Lakeside World Pro Darts Championships, it wasn’t added to the list.
John Curly and Stuart Woodward are in the Lodge most days, taking the long way home from the office. Anyone who thinks darts isn’t an active sport need just watch the beads of beer-infused sweat forming on the brow of these white collar workers labouring over pint after pint, and shot after shot.
John and Stuart clearly love their darts, almost as much as their beer, but surely there’s an optimum amount of alcohol for a player to consume in a game? “Oh definitely,” John grins at me, “you stop when you can’t see the board.” ”It calms you down,” interrupts Stuart, who tells me darts should only be in the Olympics if the alcohol’s compulsory: “Britain are good at darts, but they’re even better at drinking.”
I get the feeling John and Stuart don’t really take the idea of darts as an Olympic sport too seriously, and are happy with it being a sociable addition to the after-work drink.
But when I talk to Essex county darts captain Darren Peetoon, he argues that the darts’ world’s cleaned up its act lately, and deserves to be taken seriously.
“There’s no drinking on stage or smoking in the venues,” he says, and thinks the biggest problem is how wasted the fans get. “Unfortunately, if people watch it on TV all they hear is drunken people in the crowd,” he laments.
But even Darren admits beer’s a vital part of the game, “[Alcohol's] compulsory for all players. 95 per cent of players have to drink — that’s why they have the breaks, so they can go out for a pint.” The British Darts Organisation like to argue that darts is really just indoor archery, but I still struggle to imagine an Olympic archer necking a stiff one before each round.
Darren doesn’t blame the alcohol though: “It’s just a class thing; it’s a working man’s game. For most other sports you need a bit of money to play.”
The stigma of the activity being played in a pub is a big part of the problem, he argues: “It’s just because we’re not in some hoity-toity hall where everyone speaks nice.”
But bar owner Rob Madigan knows better than to think darts is a working man’s game anymore: “We do the annual stock broker’s festival; they’re all a bit crazy cos they earn so much money, but they’re all nice lads. We have a lot of bankers who play darts; they fight to get in to get a free board.”
Rob’s making the most of the lack of Olympic representation and is holding a London darts world cup later this summer with 28 countries being represented. One of the contenders, Tokyo’s Kentaro Suzuki (known by the other lads in the bar as “Japan’s No.1″) is playing in the corner. I ask him for the international perspective on whether darts should be an Olympic sport. “No no no,” he laughs, pausing to find the right words, “Not so much a good idea, there is gamble and drink, and it’s bad for children. Bad image.”
I find myself agreeing with Kentaro: why should darts have to change its “bad image”? You’re either a drink-fuelled pub-game, or family-friendly Olympic sport. Think back to what football gave up to become the worlds favourite and most commercial sport; we could still be enjoying a game of riotous town scrums where the only rule is “no murder”. Some in the darts world may have pretensions of grandeur and dreams of Olympic glory, but if it comes at the cost of shedding the pork-scratchings diet; drunken audience heckling the players on, and pub venue, then the boards are better off staying near the bar and well away from the stadium.
Top Image Credit: Mustafa Khayat via Flickr