British Darts Organisation
Founded in 1973, the British Darts Organisation (BDO) is the oldest professional organisation in darts. In 1976, it joined representatives from 14 other countries to promote darts across the globe. The World Darts Federation (WDF) was formed and currently represents over 250,000 players across 63 countries.
The British Darts Organisation was formed when Sam Hawkins, Olly Croft OBE, Lorna Croft, Martin O’Sullivan and Jim Sweeney met in the Crofts’ Muswell Hill home to discuss the potential of the sport. Croft argued that the game had rightly earned popularity in British culture and realised that there was also a place for it in the professional arena. The team of darts enthusiasts agreed and turned their efforts towards transforming the traditional pub game into a successful sporting empire.
Firstly, the founding members devised a set of strict rules and guidelines for the game and specifications regarding the equipment used. By 1974, the first Winmau World Masters was being held in Fulham and, three years later, the WDF World Cup began. The game was rapidly growing in popularity and it inevitably fuelled media interest. Imperial Tobacco approached the BDO regarding sponsorship and, in 1978, the first Embassy World Darts Championship was held at the Heart of the Midlands Nightclub in Nottingham. Televised by the BBC, Welshman Leighton Rees walked away with the £3000 prize money and it sparked a widespread interest in this emerging sport. Within 12 months, the tournament had reached audiences in The Netherlands, with extensive coverage on national television channel SBS-6.
During the following decade, the World Darts Championship moved to the Lakeside Country Club venue in Surrey and Britain’s ITV television network had also recognised a wider interest in the sport. The channel began broadcasting coverage of the British Gold Cup, Butlins Grand Masters, British Matchplay, British Professional Championship and World Championship. The weekly World of Sport, a programme devoted to highlighting all sporting events, also featured in its schedule. Based on the popularity of darts, legendary gameshow Bullseye was born in 1981. Running for an impressive 15 series, it boasted viewing figures of 19 million. However, the success of the sport proved short lived.
The popularity of darts went into decline during the latter part of the 1980’s and viewing figures began to slide. Largely associated with heavy drinking and smokers, darts was famously parodied in a number of comedy sketches such as Not the Nine O’Clock News. The game and the players suffered as the BDO failed to secure sponsorship deals. By 1989, the World Championship became the only tournament to be broadcast on terrestrial television. Despite an alcohol ban being imposed on players in an effort to transform the public opinion of the game, recent portrayals of the sport had created irreparable damage. The BDO was blamed for the lack of money and media exposure, which was rapidly discouraging both established and emerging players.
In opposition to the BDO, the World Darts Council (WDC) was set up in 1992 by 16 darts professionals. With founding members including previous BDO World Championship winners, Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson, the organisation focussed on improving the image of the game.
A New Era
In 1993, newly divided BDO and WDC players competed against each for the final time in the Embassy World Championship. By the following year, the PDC had created its own World Championship title. It resulted in the BDO banning founding PDC players from its county tournaments and sparked a bitter legal battle between the two organisations. A Tomlin Order was the costly outcome and, in 1997, a court approved an agreement between the two parties to end the dispute. The BDO would remain the governing body of the sport and the WDC was renamed the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC). Players were given the right to make their own decisions regarding tournament selections but complex rules regarding eligibility for competitions created complications. Entry for PDC tournaments was only open to members of the Professional Darts Players Association (PDPA), thus eliminating BDO members, whilst PDPA players were unable to enter BDO tournaments. It was made difficult, if not impossible, for players to compete in tournaments run by both organisations. Only players competing within their home nation would be excluded from this rule and BDO player Michael van Gerwen celebrated this exception after winning the PDC Open in Holland in 2006.
The success of darts throughout the Netherlands also forced the BDO to make alterations to its tournament guidelines. As household names switched their loyalties, a wildcard agreement allowed a select number of PDC players to compete against its members in order to maintain strong television ratings. Royalty and sporting heroes were also showing their support, exemplified when Dutch international, Arjen Robben, took a Lakeside seat for Raymond van Barneveld’s fourth World Championship title and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands sent a congratulatory letter. By 2002, the World Darts Trophy was being held in Utrecht.
Players such as van Barneveld, Francis Hoenselaar and Mieke de Boer were making waves on both sides of the water and it was an optimistic period for the world of darts. However, by the following year, the BDO had suffered another setback when the government imposed a ban on tobacco companies sponsoring sporting events.
Over the next few years, crowd favourites such as van Barneveld moved to the PDC. Lured by the promise of better prize money, the BDO struggled to keep the players that had helped develop the sport. Klaasen, the youngest ever winner of the newly named Lakeside World Championship, created additional controversy following his failure to honour his three year contractual agreement with the BDO.
In 2007, the Grand Slam of Darts was introduced. It became the first tournament to invite the best BDO and PDC players to compete against each other. However, the first match was already creating problems when the match date conflicted with the Winmau World Masters. BDO players needed to decide whether to play for better prize money, offered by the Grand Slam, or a higher world ranking, only possible through the Masters. BDO legend Martin Adams decided on the latter and took home £1,250 following his quarter final exit. He would have received £4,000 for simply appearing at the Grand Slam. PDC legend, Phil Taylor, eventually walked away with the £80,000 title and, in 2008, the Grand Slam tournament winner will earn a staggering £100,000 in prize money.
The Future of Darts
On June 3rd 2005, darts achieved true recognition when all of the four UK sports councils unanimously agreed on its validity as a sport and, in April 2007, the World Darts Federation became a full member of the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).
The BDO celebrated its 35th anniversary in February 2008 and its support of talented darts players, of all ages and abilities, looks set to continue.
The Women’s World Championship enters its seventh year in 2008, with the UK’s Trina Gulliver looking to continue her unbroken run of World Championship titles. Youngsters are also being encouraged to develop their interest in the game with such tournaments as the Winmau Boys and Girls World Masters, the British Teenage Open, the British Youth Knockout Cup and WDF Europe Cup featuring in the BDO darts calendar. The annual British Inter-Counties Darts Championships (BICC), which attracts aspiring darts players from across 65 counties, also continues to be a success.
The Lakeside World Championship tournament which brought fame to multiple winners, Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Bob Anderson and van Barneveld, still attracts 3-4 million viewers annually.
Despite facing increased pressure over recent years and criticism regarding the future of its members, the BDO has responded by doubling the prize money for the Winmau Masters to £60,000 while the Lakeside World Champion prize money fund has been increased to £310,000. With television coverage also secured on BBC and BBCi until 2010, Dutch channel SBS-6 and Eurosport, the future for darts is looking bright.
BDO Grand Slam Titles
- Lakeside World Professional
- Topic International Darts League
- Bullit World Darts Trophy (previously Bavaria World Darts Trophy)
- Winmau World Masters
Other Major BDO Tournaments
Six Nations Cup, Gold Cup, British Open, England Open, British Classic, British Teenage Championships, Inter-County Youth Knockout Cup, Scottish Open, Welsh Open, England National Singles, Leendesk Grand Masters.
Recent World Championship Winners