Split in darts
The split in darts refers to an acrimonious dispute between top professional darts players and the game's governing body, the British Darts Organisation (BDO). The players were discontented by the game's big decline in television coverage in 1989 and the early 1990s, eventually culminating in them breaking away from the BDO to form their own organisation, the World Darts Council (WDC).
A long-running legal battle resulted in a Tomlin order in 1997. The BDO recognised the WDC and the right of players to choose which organisation they played for. In return, the WDC recognised the World Darts Federation as the governing body of world darts, the BDO as the governing body of UK darts, and renamed itself the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC).
The split in the game remains to this day. The BDO and the PDC have separate pools of players and stage their own tournaments. Each holds its own version of the World Professional Darts Championship.
Before the split
The British Darts Organisation (BDO) was formed in 1973. They became the governing body of the game in the United Kingdom and would organise darts events for grassroots players right through to the best players in the world.
Darts first appeared on British television in 1962 when Westward Television broadcast the Westward TV Invitational to the south-west of England. In 1970, ITV broadcast the News of the World Championship and from 1972 the Indoor League, which featured a darts tournament.
Gradually televised events began to appear more regularly. ITV broadcast the World Masters, British Matchplay, the World Matchplay, the World Cup and other International competitions - particularly on its Saturday afternoon sports anthology show World of Sport.
When the World Championship began in 1978, the BBC picked up the event and also went on to cover the Bullseye Darts Championship, British Gold Cup, British Professional Championship and others in later years.
The mass of coverage and amount of prize money in the game led to several players turning professional - now able to make a full-time living from the game.
Decline in the game
Darts players were allowed to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes on the stage during matches, a reflection of the game's roots in British pubs. This behaviour by players was mocked in a Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch in 1980 at the height of darts' popularity.
After the peak of the darts boom was reached in 1983, professional darts in Britain began to hemorrhage sponsors and lose television coverage. By the start of 1984, the British Gold Cup (BBC), Butlins Grand Masters (ATV) and British Matchplay (ITV) had all ended. In 1985, ITV decided to cancel its World of Sport show which had covered darts on a regular basis. ITV continued to show darts as programmes in their own right - but eventually announced their withdrawal from the game after the 1988 World Matchplay, and their final tournament was the 1988 World Masters. The BBC pulled the plug on the British Professional Championship in 1988. Also, the ITV regional channels that covered local darts tournaments cancelled the tournaments throughout 1988 after being held for the last time. As a result, 1989 saw a very drastic slump in the amount of darts seen on TV, down to just one tournament, the world championship.
The BDO banned alcohol on stage during all matches from the 1989 World Championship, but the game maintained a poor image to sponsors.
Even during the years from 1975 to 1988, when darts was either booming and/or had plenty of prize money and television coverage, there was a certain discontent bubbling under the surface amongst some of the top players, particularly with John Lowe. These issues were about why players lost money whenever they played for their country, why players had no say whatsoever in the running of darts, and why players would be prevented from wearing their personal sponsors on their shirts during tournaments, and also forced to wear BDO sponsors. Lowe mentions in his autobiography, entitled Old Stoneface, that he was prevented from wearing his sponsor, Unicorn, on his shirt during tournaments, and was compelled to allow Unicorn's rivals, Winmau, to be put on his shirt instead, for free. Lowe mentions that he and some other players would hold meetings with the BDO about these issues, but that nothing really changed. Due to the widespread television coverage and the prize money in darts at this time, any confrontations between the complainants and the BDO, never became too serious until 1988, when all remaining darts tournaments on television, except the world championship, were getting cancelled after being held for the last time.
Many players had become full-time professionals during darts' peak years in the 1980s, and the big sudden drop in the amount of darts television coverage in 1989 left them with very little prize money to play for. It also meant a lack of exposure, which would make it very tough for them to make a living from exhibition matches. The top players felt that not enough was being done by the BDO to encourage new sponsors into their sport and television coverage should be greater than just one event per year.
In August 1988, a pressure group named the Darts Council had been formed by some top players and their agents, due to their worry about the imminent disappearance of darts television coverage. After over 3 years of internal pressure from the Darts Council had failed to produce any noticeable results from the BDO hierarchy, 16 professional players, including every previous BDO World Champion who was still active in the game, created their own darts organisation originally named the World Darts Council (WDC) in January 1992. They wanted to appoint a public relations consultant to improve the image of the game and to get more tournaments on television. The WDC staged their first televised event in October 1992 (the Lada UK Masters on Anglia Television).
The final straw which had led to the decision to form the World Darts Council in January 1992 was the BDO's quick release of a VHS videotape which featured extended highlights of the 1992 Embassy World Final between Phil Taylor and Mike Gregory. The videotape also featured brief highlights of the 1983, 1985 and 1987 Embassy World Finals featuring Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Keith Deller, as well as Paul Lim's 9-dart finish from the 1990 Embassy World Championship. None of the featured players, nor their agents, were offered payment for the release of the VHS videotape.
The 1993 World Championship
The 1993 Embassy World Championship was the last time that all the players played in one unified world darts championship. The WDC players wore their new insignia on their sleeves during the tournament, but were told to remove them by the BDO. The WDC players decided that if they were not going to be recognised by the BDO they would no longer play in the Embassy tournament. The BDO did not allow the WDC players to set up their own tournaments and the players decided to go their own way.
On 7 January 1993, the 16 WDC players released a statement saying that they would only participate in the 1994 Embassy World Championship if it came under the auspices of the WDC, and that they only recognised the WDC as having the authority to sanction their participation in darts tournaments worldwide. On 24 January 1993, a couple of weeks after the 1993 Embassy World Championship had ended, the BDO responded by suspending the 16 "rebel" players from all BDO tournaments on British soil.
The 16 WDC players who signed the 7 January 1993 statement were:
The list included every previous world darts champion, with the exception of Leighton Rees, the first world champion from 1978, who was not an active player when the split happened.
Satellite broadcaster Sky Sports, which had not existed during the decline of the game, was beginning to become a viable option, following the creation of football's Premier League. In 1993, Sky Sports and the WDC signed a deal to exclusively cover the WDC's version of the World Championship and the World Matchplay from 1994.
However, there was trouble ahead. First Chris Johns, and then Mike Gregory, had a change of heart and were persuaded to return to the BDO - but the remaining 14 players managed to remain united under pressure and got their own version of the World Championship off the ground for 1994, with a 24 player field. This 24 player field consisted of the 14 remaining "rebel" players, Englishmen Graeme Stoddart and Kevin Burrows replacing Chris Johns and Mike Gregory, 7 American players, and Irishman Tom Kirby. The BDO event continued with a largely unknown field - although Bobby George produced a resurgent performance to reach the final. The BDO held onto their contract with the BBC to show the event on terrestrial television and began to bring through a new generation of players.
On 25 April 1993, at a meeting in Finchley, the BDO took the step of turning the suspension of the WDC players from playing in any BDO-run tournaments on British soil, into a full-scale ban on the WDC players from being able to play any BDO-sanctioned darts, even down to county level. The BDO also passed a motion which said that any BDO players who participated in exhibition events with WDC players, would also be banned from the BDO. The BDO passed the following motions at the 25 April 1993 Finchley meeting:
- Any British Darts Organisation official, or British Darts Organisation player, who is associated with the activities of the World Darts Council shall forfeit the right to organise, attend or participate in any events under the jurisdiction of the British Darts Organisation, or its members, until written undertaking is given that they are no longer associated with the World Darts Council or its activities. Motion passed by 57 votes for to 0 votes against.
- All member counties shall refrain from attending, or assisting in, any exhibitions involving the 16 players named in the World Darts Council statement of 7 January 1993, any players who have affiliated to the World Darts Council since that date, and any players who may affiliate to the World Darts Council in the future. Motion passed by 54 votes for to 1 vote against.
- All member counties shall exclude any players who are affiliated to the World Darts Council from darts events under their jurisdiction. Motion passed by 60 votes for to 0 votes against.
On 18 October 1993, at a WDF meeting in Las Vegas, the BDO sought to have their bans on the WDC players officially ratified and set in stone on a world scale in the WDF rules, and the Welsh WDF representative moved the motion that the WDC players be referred to as the "former top players". The motion passed by 24 votes for to 3 votes against.
Two countries who voted against the motion at the Las Vegas meeting, the USA and Canada, were the only two countries whose WDF affiliates refused to sanction the ban even after the vote, saying that what they were being asked to do was against their countries' constitutions, and would therefore be breaking the law. The WDC took advantage of this to invite 7 American darts players to play in the 1994 WDC World Darts Championship.
The blanket BDO ban on the WDC led to a protracted four-year legal battle, which would incur large costs for both sides.
The BDO recognized the WDC and agreed that all players shall have the freedom of choice as to which open events they wish to play in. The WDC dropped its claim to be a world governing body and renamed itself the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC). The PDC accepted / recognized the WDF as the governing body for the Sport of Darts worldwide, and the BDO the governing body for darts in the UK. The stated purpose of the agreement was to promote the freedom of individual darts players to participate freely in open competition.
Despite the Tomlin Order, eligibility for tournaments is somewhat complicated and possibly controversial. Initially, some BDO players took the opportunity to play in the PDC World Matchplay between 1997 and 2001, and in the PDC World Grand Prix from 1998 to 2001 - but since the start of 2002, entry to these tournaments and most other PDC majors has been restricted to members of the Professional Dart Players Association, which looks after PDC players. Most PDC tournaments are now usually restricted to members of the PDPA.
To play in a BDO / WDF tournament, a player must agree to comply with the rules of the 1997 Tomlin Order and remain eligible for the BDO World Masters and World Championship, which effectively means not become a member of the PDPA. Players therefore usually have to choose whether to be affiliated to the PDC or the BDO and stay within the jurisdiction of that organisation.
However, there are notable exceptions. PDPA Players Championships and Open events often allow residents of the host country to participate regardless of being a PDPA member or not. This leads to anomalies such as Michael van Gerwen winning the PDC Open Holland in 2006 whilst being a BDO player at the time.
Another exception is made for major Dutch televised tournaments. They were previously staged under BDO / WDF qualification rules, but when the most famous Dutch player Raymond van Barneveld switched to the PDC, the tournament organisers insisted on inviting PDC players. An agreement was made with the BDO to allow a number of PDC wildcards for each event. Three more top Dutch players joined the PDC in January 2007 which adds more confusion to player eligibility rules for these events. (see International Darts League and World Darts Trophy)
The Grand Slam of Darts (organised by the PDC) is the first major tournament staged in the United Kingdom to feature players from both sides of the darting divide. Inaugurated in 2007 it also featured a return to darts broadcasting for ITV and in 2008 was broadcast exclusively live on ITV4. Players who reached the latter stages of all the major PDC and BDO tournaments over a two-year period were invited, and all but one (the then BDO World Champion Martin Adams) accepted the invitation - Phil Taylor won the competition in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. BDO member Scott Waites won the title in 2010.
Standing of organisations
Opinion is split as to which is the most prestigious title to win. The prize money is far greater in the PDC World Championship and the field contains arguably more than half of the best players in the world. However the British Darts Organisation title has been in existence since 1978 and is generally better known to the UK public due to its coverage on the BBC.
At the time of the split itself all the previous World Champions and top ranked players left to join the WDC/PDC. The WDC/PDC stayed a "closed shop" for several years which protected the exposure of the players who made the switch. The World Championship featured a group stage which guaranteed at least two television appearances for its players. Several of these players, including Jocky Wilson, who retired shortly after the split in 1995, Eric Bristow, Keith Deller and Cliff Lazarenko, had all been in a downward spiral of form for a few years. The group stage was scrapped for the 1999 championship, and the tournament has been conducted in a single elimination format since then with the number of participants gradually increasing. The BDO began to bring through several players from their county system which continued to improve the standard of the organisation which had been decimated by the split.
In 2002 PDC World Darts Championship, the winners' cheque and total prize fund of the PDC version overtook the BDO event for the first time. In 2015, the PDC world championship boasted a prize fund of £1.25 million, with £250,000 for the winner, compared with a prize fund of £339,000 in the BDO and £100,000 for the winner. In two years, 25 players earned £100,000 or more on the PDC circuit.
In recent years, numerous high-profile BDO players have "defected" to the PDC, attracted by the greater prize money on offer. This is perceived as having widened the gap in quality between the two organisations, to the extent that in 2015 one commentator described the BDO as "mostly an unwilling feeder to the PDC: most of its biggest stars... jump ship given the chance." The list of defectors includes post-split BDO champions John Part, Richie Burnett, Steve Beaton, Les Wallace, Raymond van Barneveld, Jelle Klaasen, Mark Webster, Christian Kist and Stephen Bunting, as well as other top players such as Mervyn King, Kevin Painter, Ronnie Baxter, James Wade, Gary Anderson, Michael van Gerwen, Wayne Mardle, Dave Chisnall and Simon Whitlock. The most recent high-profile switch was 2014 BDO champion Stephen Bunting, who thus did not defend his BDO title in the 2015 competition.
By comparison, relatively few players have switched from the PDC to the BDO. 2004 BDO world champion Andy Fordham switched to the PDC in 2009, before returning to the BDO in 2013. Two-time BDO champion Ted Hankey moved to the PDC in 2012 and switched back two years later. Three time BDO women's champion Anastasia Dobromyslova moved to the PDC in 2008 and moved back in 2011. Simon Whitlock moved to the BDO from the PDC, before subsequently switching back again.
There is no definitive World Champion in the game, and players from the rival organisations rarely face each other, except in the Grand Slam of Darts, to which the top BDO players are invited. 16 times world champion (2 BDO, 14 PDC) Phil Taylor has twice defeated the reigning BDO champion in an official challenge match: Raymond van Barneveld in 1999 and Andy Fordham in 2004. Former BDO stalwarts John Part and van Barneveld have won the PDC World Championship having previously won the BDO version. In addition, reigning BDO World Champion Mark Webster defeated PDC World Champion John Part 10–2 in legs in the second round of the 2008 Grand Slam of Darts. BDO player Scott Waites won the 2010 Grand Slam of Darts.
PDC bid to take over BDO
On 21 October 2009, Barry Hearn made a bid of £1 million to purchase the BDO. It was the first time that a formal offer had been made public to end the 17-year split between the two organisations. However, later in the day, BDO founder Olly Croft rejected the proposal. A few months after the takeover offer and in the aftermath of the two organisations' 2010 World Championships, it was revealed and understood that the county organisations had asked the BDO board to consider the offer more seriously.
- Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch YouTube
- "PDC History". 2008-09-22. Retrieved 2010-01-11.
- History of Darts
- Extracts from Tomlin order (see page 13 Word Document)
- BDO world championship is a faltering relic that’s worth clinging on to
- BDO World Championships: Scott Waites expects open tournament
- PDC Make BDO Offer planetdarts.tv
- BDO founder rejects takeover by Barry Hearn's PDC guardian.co.uk
- BDO chief Olly Croft is 'working on' PDC's takeover bid bbc.co.uk
- Olly Croft voted off BDO board