Matt Porter has refused to completely rule out a Blackpool return for the World Matchplay.

The World Matchplay is set to be the first tournament played after the COVID-19-enforced lockdown brought darts to a standstill. Due to be held from July 18, there are questions over whether the tournament can be held at the iconic Winter Gardens, which has hosted every edition since its 1994 inception. PDC chief executive Porter is hopeful that the tournament can proceed as normally as possible, though backup plans are being devised.

Appearing on The Darts Show, Porter discussed the first post-lockdown PDC major.

“We haven’t given up hope of a crowd in Blackpool and that is purely because the government hasn’t given up hope of allowing public gatherings to take place again,” he said.

“We’re expecting an announcement on 4 July, it’s not our decision, we will wait for and be guided by the decisions from above.

“If the regulations are that we can have a public gathering, there will be restrictions: social distancing, testing.

“If we can do it then we will do our utmost to do it because we know how good the World Matchplay is as an event and the crowd is one of the reasons it’s so good. We want to give that every chance.

“We expect to know by the first week of July which will only give us two weeks to do it, but we can do it. We will be ready.

“If we’re not allowed a crowd then people will clearly want to see the event so we’ll be wholly committed to a TV broadcast event, played behind closed doors in a bubble-type environment where there’ll be a hotel on site, everybody will be tested and confined to that space for the period of time they’re involved.”

Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Photo: Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Fan-damental changes

There is still a very high likelihood that the World Matchplay will be played without fans. Porter pointed out the possible alternatives, touching on the various fan ideas that have made headline in the likes of Germany, South Korea and Australia. The latter’s NRL will welcome fans back to stadia in the coming weeks, though the situation in the UK is markedly different.

“We’ll be able to play the event and have various innovations that we’ve already started discussing with Sky, to help create some atmosphere, albeit artificially.

“Where the NRL and the Bundesliga lead, the PDC are happy to follow, don’t worry. We’re not going to put the World Matchplay on in a Pro Tour cubicle, it just would not be appropriate,” said Porter.

“If we have to do it behind closed doors it will be done on the proper stage with the proper set. Obviously because things like the walk-on, the crowd reactions and things like that wouldn’t be natural.

“We’re going to have to work hard with technology and creativity to make them possible.

“Your mind reacts to what it understands and what is natural. When you turn on a big football match or darts event it expects there to be crowd noise.

“There’s the issue of player reactions, if it was played in silence, would players react when they hit a 180, would they jump around if they won? They’re the things we want to see.

“Would the referee still feel comfortable calling a 180 at the top of their voice in an empty hall? All these things are considerations.

“You have to try and generate the situation that people want to see as best as possible.

“There will be ways in which we can integrate real people in real situations into the event. It will be some sort of crowd ‘copy’ if you like. There’s different things in discussion, and we’ve got five or six weeks.

“Or we might still have a crowd, in which case we have real people doing real things.”


Photo: RTL7Darts

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Author: Ed McCosh