Darts: Breakaway builds into bitter battle: Best of order in jeopardy as players compete for control of their sport. Clive White reports

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The Independent Online
THERE was not a pint of bitter or a beer belly to be seen, excepting Jocky Wilson's of course. In fact anyone passing by the Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green, Surrey, yesterday would have been hard- pressed to identify the smartly dressed gentlemen holding aloft their placards. But then sportsmen are never easily recognisable away from the arena.

It was more a publicity stunt than a demonstration; the latest round in a bitter battle for power in the one-time simple, traditional English pub game. Like any self-respecting sport nowadays, darts has suffered a breakaway. A new association called the World Darts Council, consisting of many of the game's leading players or at least its better known ones, has set itself up in opposition to the British Darts Organisation, the accepted ruling body.

Contentiously the WDC has arranged to hold its own World Championship at the Circus Tavern, Purfleet, Essex, from 28 Dec to 2 January, to clash with that of the opposition's long-standing Embassy World Professional Championship at the Lakeside from 1 to 8 January, the upshot being that darts will be hard to escape on television then with Sky Sports and the BBC, respectively, giving upwards of a total of 50 hours' coverage to the two tournaments.

To spice things up further the WDC will today issue a writ against their rivals, seeking to lift a ban imposed on their small band of players and claiming damages for breach of contract. Central to the WDC's argument with the BDO is that the latter has allegedly allowed the game to stagnate.

Ill-feeling between the two factions increased further this week with the news that Mike Gregory, the runner-up in the 1992 Embassy World Championship and one of the world top 10, has defected, returning to the fold of the BDO amid accusations of betrayal from his former colleagues.

In retaliation the BDO accused the opposition as being full of players who are afraid to meet the threat posed by the game's emerging youngsters. 'The standards are higher than in the eighties when Eric Bristow and John Lowe were prominent,' said Tony Green, darts' answer to snooker's whispering Ted Lowe. 'The game has certainly passed a few of them by. Barely half a dozen of them would have been good enough to avoid the pre-qualifying rounds in the Embassy.'

(Photograph omitted)