Darts is a sport of accuracy, calmness under pressure and ruthless consistency. We’ve seen various titans of the sport since it was made professional in 1973, both male, and led by Fallon Sherrock, female. Such characters as Eric Bristow, Jockey Wilson and the bejewelled Bobby George have graced the oche and captivated audiences with their darting prowess and charismatic personalities.

It also has a staunchly loyal following which has created its own distinctive subculture. And yet, it has been 23 years since one man or woman can claim the title of undisputed champion. Like in boxing, with its multiple belt holders and different governing bodies, darts players now compete for titles governed by the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) and the British Darts Organisation (BDO). But what happened to cause this split, with the PDC becoming a splinter group away from the more traditional BDO? And what is the difference, both for players and for audiences? Let’s take a closer look.

Why did the PDC and BDO split?

Darts was a big hit with TV viewers in the 1970s and early 1980s, helped by charismatic players and enthusiastic audiences. However, by the mid-1980s, the unhealthy image presented by darts players, who were allowed to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes during televised events – a reflection of the game’s traditional roots in pubs – fell out of step with sponsors. This meant that a great deal of financial support was pulled out of the game. Coupled with this, viewing figures suddenly declined, with the BBC only opting to televise the world championship from 1988 onwards.

By 1992, these issues as well as long term discontent amongst players over dwindling prize money, lack of consultation by the BDO and prohibition of accepting personal sponsorship led to 16 top players forming what was then called the World Darts Council (WDC). The 16 usurpers were promptly banned from the BDO’s events, and a long-running legal battle ensued, culminating in 1997 when the World Darts Federation (WDF) endorsed the WDC, which then renamed itself the PDC. Simple, right?

What’s the difference?

The split remains to this day. As both the BDO and the PDC recognise the WDF as the legitimate governing body of world darts, they are both entitled to hold their version of the World Championship of Darts. However, the BDO is recognised as the governing body of UK darts, and as most major tournaments are held in the UK, this in effect makes them custodians of the rules and regulations of the sport. Both organisations are popular with fans and bettors alike, and sports betting online is easier than ever, with sites to provide information, odds, predictions and much more on a variety of sports.

Professional players can choose which organisation they play under, both organisations have their own pools of players and their own tournaments. In general, the PDC is regarded as the superior organisation, taking into account the quality of the players and the glamour of the tournaments. The PDC also attracts greater television coverage, and this exposure means that its players are better paid and have more lucrative sponsorship deals.

Which is better?

Well, it entirely depends on what you enjoy. The BDO World Championship, held every year at the Lakeside country club in Surrey, is seen as a more traditional event. It also features a women’s tournament, as the sport begins to transcend its traditional demographic. The PDC World Championship, held at the enormous Alexandra Palace, is a much more raucous affair, with an extremely vocal crowd, often in fancy dress, featuring dramatic walk-ons with players and glamorous girls, music, dancing and liver swelling quantities of alcohol. In general, as the best players in the world are drawn to the bigger prize money of the PDC, that organisations tournaments are considered to be of better quality. But the BDO offers a solid environment for rookie players to get experience on the big stage (although they command smaller viewing figures, the BDO World Championship is shown on the BBC), and an enjoyable spectacle for all fans of darts.

Despite the PDC recognising the BDO as the UK darts governing body, there remains animosity between the two, nearly 30 years after their acrimonious split. Barry Hearn, owner of the PDC, regularly mocks the BDO event via his Twitter account.

And top players in the BDO almost always seem to defect, lured by prestige, prize money and excitement. However, for fans of darts, more televised tournaments can only be a good thing, so although we may not see a unified champion any time soon, we’ll have no shortage of action to watch.

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Author: Pieter Verbeek