This year’s World Darts Championship has provided no shortage of drama. Michael van Gerwen surviving a major scare in his opener, Raymond van Barneveld bowing out from the sport in an emotionally-charged occasion, with Rob Cross, Michael Smith and Ian White also crashing out.
However, the two female representatives in this year’s field have created the biggest headlines – changing the landscape of women’s darts and women’s sport in the process.
There was inevitable scepticism surrounding the PDC’s decision to introduce two qualification spots for women at last year’s World Championship – with the field expanded to 96 players for the first time since the tournament’s inception.
Lisa Ashton and Anastasia Dobromyslova were last year’s trailblazers, with Ashton and Suzuki also appearing in last month’s Grand Slam of Darts. The women’s game was gaining greater exposure, their performances were improving but they were still vying for that elusive win.
Step forward Fallon Sherrock. The 25-year-old has enjoyed a trophy-laden 2019, scooping three ranking titles courtesy of some stunning displays. She averaged 99 in one of her qualification ties for this event and transferred that form to the big stage, on the biggest night of her career.
Darts is a unique sport in many aspects. There are no barriers preventing women from competing on an equal-footing with their male counterparts. The male-dominated culture within darts is eroding and that’s because of performances produced by Sherrock and her esteemed female colleagues.
The Milton Keynes ace is not the first woman to claim a notable male scalp in front of the televised cameras and she won’t be the last. Deta Hedman – a winner of over 130 ranking titles throughout her illustrious career, became the first to achieve this feat against Aaron Turner at the 2005 UK Open.
Dobromyslova also enjoyed a groundbreaking win over Vincent van der Voort at the 2009 Grand Slam of Darts, but Sherrock’s victory was without doubt the most significant to date.
The PDC published a video clip of Sherrock’s win on social media and the historic moment was viewed a staggering three million times within 12 hours – evidencing the global impact of her triumph.
The coverage the sport has received in the last 24 hours has been unprecedented. Sherrock has dominated the headlines in the mainstream media, appearing on BBC News, Good Morning Britain, ITV News, Channel Four, TalkSPORT and Radio 5-Live in the aftermath of her victory.
The former BDO World Trophy winner was trending worldwide on twitter and her social media following rocketed from 19,000 followers to almost 31,000 followers within 12 hours – which has seen her become the first female darts player to become ‘verified’.
PDC Chairman Barry Hearn has consistently hailed the progress made in cultivating a ‘gender-free’ environment within darts and his beliefs were vindicated by Sherrock’s inspired display.
Forget the ‘novelty’ element of her success. Sherrock’s barrage of power scoring was as good as we’ve seen from anybody in the first round. The 25-year-old fired in six maximums, 19 scores of 140+ and 27 ton-pluses. She averaged 91.12 but that was as high as 98 in the latter stages of set three.
“The great thing about darts is that it’s gender-free, it’s gender-neutral,” said Hearn, speaking on last month’s Darts Show podcast. “It’s a level playing field, if you’re a good enough player it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man.
“I don’t care, just show me that you can produce big averages and that you can win matches and take out doubles when you’re under pressure. That’s the end of the game.
“One thing is for sure, it’s going to be done. We’re going to produce women players that can stand shoulder to shoulder and give a man a good game or a good beating.”
Hearn laid down the gauntlet and Sherrock duly delivered. The inevitable narrative is based on a first female win at the PDC World Championship and that significance cannot be underestimated – it could and should inspire a new generation.
There is already a conveyor belt of talent progressing through the women’s ranks, with 15-year-old Beau Greaves a prime example of that. Greaves is seeded sixth at the BDO World Championship in January and will become the youngest female participant in the competition’s history.
Nevertheless, the leading ladies on the BDO circuit are predominantly not able to operate on a full-time basis due to the constraints in prize money.
To add some context – Sherrock will receive a minimum of £15,000 for reaching the second round at Ally Pally; £3,000 more than she would have received for winning last year’s BDO World Championship. Tuesday night’s event could potentially be seismic in that respect.
Sherrock’s name will forever be etched in darting history – yet Suzuki is also deserving of plaudits. Sherrock claimed that Suzuki’s performance against James Richardson instilled the belief that she could create history and the Japanese sensation has played an integral role in the development of the women’s game.
The question is, what next for women’s darts? As Rod Studd so eloquently referenced in commentary, Sherrock’s win has smashed the glass ceiling – any misconception that women are incapable of competing and beating their male counterparts has been invalidated once again.
As wonderful a moment as it provided, it’s crucial that this is used as a springboard to promote the women’s game on a global scale. The momentum is there, the platform has been provided, now it’s time to build on it and take the women’s game to uncharted heights.
Women’s darts is growing apace both on and off the oche. Daniela Bogdanov, also on duty for the Sherrock match, made history in becoming the first woman to officiate in a World Championship match earlier in the tournament.
Jacqui Oatley, Laura Woods, Laura Turner and Mikki Austin are an integral part of ITV and Sky’s darting coverage and the growing female representation of the sport has never been more prominent.
Last night provided a moment of darting and sporting history. But above all, it was sport at its brilliant best. Two top-class players throwing terrific darts in a raucous atmosphere on the biggest stage in the sport. It was competitive, it was compelling. That’s what sport is all about.
Photo Credit: Christopher Dean/PDC