Darts steps up to the oche to stake claim for Olympics

From Jocky Wilson to Andy Fordham, its belt-busting legends have hardly exuded an image of Olympia. But the sport of darts is to stake its claim to a place in the 2012 Games by opening its first British academy of excellence.

The location of this latest example of fast-tracking tomorrow's sporting heroes is a room above a bar on a main road out of Hull. But the man behind the scheme, John "JJ" Gibbs, says that swilling lager will not be one of the skills on his six-week programme for 7- to 18-year-olds which starts next month. Instead, his protégés will learn such skills as how to stand at the oche for the best throwing position and how to calculate the best finish in three darts. The only drinks available will be soft.

"The days are gone when darts players had a fag in their mouth, a pint of beer in their hand and a big belly," said Mr Gibbs, who says that he, too, once had the obligatory dart player's stomach. "At one time I could sup 22 pints, but that's all history. Now I'm down to 15 stone. Today's young darts players look after themselves a lot better."

The project has the backing of the governing body, the British Darts Organisation, which three years ago succeeded in having darts recognised as a proper sport by UK Sport and is campaigning to have it included in the 2012 Games.

By opening the school, the BDO is following the example of Holland, where the government funds a course which has produced players like Jelle Klaasen, the youngest world champion at 21, and Michael van Gerwen, the BDO's No 3, who is 17.

The BDO hopes the academy will help its campaign for government backing. "We were recognised as a bona fide sport in June 2003, but we have yet to get any funding," said the organisation's spokesman, Robert Holmes. "We have the Olympics in 2012 and we are pushing for darts to be included, but there is no investment. We have had the Olympic committee come to our world championships and they were at the Europe Cup recently.

"There is a misconception about the game that it is just fat blokes drinking too much lager. It's an image created years ago by the likes of Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson, and one that's hard to shake. But the young players coming in are not overweight and are fit. Klaasen is about 10 stone, very thin, and doesn't drink or smoke."

The idea of darts players joining the Olympic realm does not delight everyone. The Sports minister, Richard Caborn, said in 2004 that recognition from the UK Sports Council was unlikely "in the foreseeable future". But darts has undergone a renaissance in recent years and it is the second most-watched sport, behind football, on Sky television. Tickets for the first pay-per-view darts match, between Fordham and Phil Taylor, sold out in half an hour. More than 7 million people play darts seriously in Britain and, according to the BDO, at least 100,000 of those are young people.

To prove that the game is a sport, the BDO has calculated that the distance walked by the England captain, Martin Adams, during the World Professional Championship was 26km (16 miles), as he walked up to the oche, collected his darts, and came back.

"We have cleaned up our image tremendously," said Mr Holmes. "There is no smoking or drinking in our competitions, people have to dress smartly. It's a proper sport. It's about how you stand, how you throw, how you focus, how you work out finishes, how you control your mind. It's a stamina game."

Mr Gibbs is giving his time free and has recruited 18 colleagues from the Humberside county team as coaches for the free four-hour sessions each Saturday. He has more than 30 youngsters signed up already.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style