LONDON – The sport of darts has launched a remarkable bid to become the next event accepted into the Olympic Games – and it's gained the surprising support of Prince Harry.
International darts chiefs have expanded their professional tour around the world in recent years, and the game's power base is no longer restricted to the United Kingdom and parts of mainland Europe.
Darts' 15-time world champion Phil Taylor is leading the charge for Olympic ratification, backed by Barry Hearn -- the promoter who turned darts from primarily a pub game with a small tournament scene into a sport where leading players can earn nearly $1 million per season. Prince Harry, who is a huge fan and has previously attended the world championships in central London, is also strongly in favor.
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Taylor raked in $940,000 last year and is adamant that the skills of world-class darts players are just as worthy of credit as any of the Olympians currently competing in London. While an attempt to have darts admitted as a demonstration sport was rejected because the bidding deadline had expired, the fight will continue.
With golf and rugby set to be included in the 2016 Rio Games, no other new competitions can be added to the program, meaning 2020 is the earliest darts could actually be played at the Olympics.
The primary factor that is likely to count against darts is its perception as a sport largely played in pubs and bars. Just a few years back, players were allowed to smoke and drink as they took part in televised events.
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That all changed under Hearn's leadership, but although audiences in certain hot spots are constantly increasing, there is still work to be done to shift public opinion.
"We have tried so hard over the years to clean up the image of darts," Taylor said. "If you tell people you are a professional player, and that you do not go out playing in pubs all the time, and that you are actually at home and are boring, then I am boring.
"The level at which darts players train and practice now is greater than ever before. There is not a day when I do not throw a dart. Darts has a chance of being in the Olympics. I would love to see it there and, in my view, it deserves its place, because more than ever the interest in darts is growing across the world. The participation levels are higher than before and there are more international tournaments than in the past.
"Having darts in the Olympics would be fantastic. It would be further recognition for the sport and it would get rid of the snobbery against us. In the past it was understandable why people looked down on us as a second-rate sport, but that has changed now."
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The decision on any new sports will be made at the 125th International Olympic Committee congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, next year. Several sports will make a pitch to be analyzed, while the host city for 2020 will be confirmed and IOC president Jacques Rogge will formally step down, having completed his term in charge.
Darts, however, is already involved in the Olympics in a small way, with several dart boards having been stationed in recreation lounges in the Olympic Village.
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