As this year’s Grand Slam of Darts rolls into the knockout stage in Coventry tomorrow, a prominent chapter in the tournament’s history draws to a close.
Mikuru Suzuki’s 5-0 defeat to Jonny Clayton in Group G tonight ended the reigning BDO women’s world champion’s involvement in this year’s competition, and will be the last game in the Grand Slam to involve a BDO invited player.
Suzuki, alongside 2020 BDO men’s world champion Wayne Warren, were the two invited players for the BDO for the 2020 Grand Slam, an event which is being held behind closed doors and away from Wolverhampton for the first time.
Both reigning world champions have bowed out with three defeats from their three group games, albeit Suzuki missed four match darts to record a famous win against the world number three, and the player defending the title this week, Gerwyn Price, on Monday night.
The Grand Slam, first held back in 2007, was brought in with the tantalising selling point of PDC vs BDO – a chance for the PDC’s elite to go up against the best of the BDO on live television.
The sad demise of the BDO this year means that ‘PDC vs BDO’ tag for the Grand Slam will disappear in 2021. Although the current pandemic has restricted much of the plans for the organisations below the PDC, who will fill the void left by the BDO in next year’s Grand Slam?
We spoke to Richard Ashdown, the WDF’s chief development officer, and Steve Brown, the CEO of MAD and chairman of the JDC, to hear their thoughts on a potential available gap in one of darts’ biggest tournaments next year…
WORLD DARTS FEDERATION
“We have spoken quite openly with the PDC, prior to the lockdown and prior to the BDO’s demise,” Ashdown said.
“Ultimately it’s their event and their choice. We’ve been very direct in saying that we’d like the top WDF players to be chosen from our rankings and major winners, both from the men’s and ladies’ side.
“We will have something in place to provide major champions, just as the BDO did before. We put it to the PDC last December that we feel we’re in the right place to be what the BDO was failing to be.
“We’re a global body that can support the 128 million players below the 128 professionals. That’s what we’ve set out to do and we’ve got over 70 countries that are all fully behind the WDF.
“We feel we’re ready in a global sense to provide darts all year round for all the other players. We remain positive about the PDC initiatives below the professional tour. The Challenge Tour, Development Tour, and now the ladies’ series, are in place, but we know that players need more than a few weekends a year and the WDF can provide that.”
While the PDC have been able to resume their tour during the pandemic with televised events, like the World Matchplay, and the Grand Slam this week, behind closed doors, and keep players and officials in a bubble, the more open and larger field of players which the WDF attracts for its tournaments means their tour is on hold for now. There are already 70 events on the WDF calendar for 2021, with more events being added each week.
“The main difference between the PDC and the WDF is the way it’s financed,” Ashdown said. “The WDF, and any amateur, grassroots darts, relies on people.
“For the WDF events to be a success you need the attendance and the players. That is the issue we’ve got in getting things up and running, because you can’t have behind closed doors and limit it to a certain amount of players.
“We need to promote our events and get the maximum amount of people. The Dutch Open is the glaring example with 4,000 players in the venue.
“We haven’t had any ranked events since March. We can’t have people travelling as it’s too dangerous, and we can’t have events with just 128 players, because then it’s not an open.
“For us it’s almost like a reset year. We’re in the same position in November 2020 that we were in November 2019. We’re putting the year together and trying to get as much content in as possible, which all leads to the major events at the end of the season.
“We just want to be ready, and I actually think we are. So, when play recommences, we’re good to go. Our majors (World Championship and World Masters) are in place, the ranking system is in place, we’re just waiting for the green light. We’re not going to announce anything for it to be potentially cancelled, so we’re waiting until we can play darts again.”
JUNIOR DARTS CORPORATION / MODERN AMATEUR DARTS
“I’ll start with the JDC. Certainly this year you can see how many players have come through the JDC system and made a really good impression on the ProTour,” Brown said.
“Our job is to prepare them for success and we believe we’re doing that. These players are the future of the game and I think, within reason, the general public would love to see youngsters up there in the Grand Slam.
“It would be fantastic, but we’ve got to be sensible as well. The kids are getting younger and younger and the standard is rising and rising. I would love us to get a spot, but our world champion could be under 16.
“I would like to see it be a committee decision, where we decide who we feel is mentally right. We’ve had it with Leighton Bennett in previous years and, at the time, I felt he wasn’t mentally strong enough to play in the Grand Slam.
“I know what it’s like as a player when you have a disaster and the crowd gets on your back. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, so the bigger picture is how mentally strong they are and if they’re in the right position.
“I wouldn’t want the JDC to get a spot just for credibility sake. I want to stick a young kid in there who ticks all the boxes for me.”
The JDC has established itself as a proving ground for developing young talent, while MAD, Brown unveiled in the summer, and in his own words will be a game changer and in five years can be a pathway for players to go from pub to professional.
“Covid has given us a chance to make up some ground behind the scenes,” Brown said. “We’ve put our tentacles out and governing bodies in Europe are coming to us and asking to work with us.
“We’ve done what we’ve wanted to achieve so far. We’re going to be something completely different to the WDF and the BDO.
“We’ve got a press conference lined up for the MAD launch in mid December. We believe it will be a game changer.
“It’s not just myself behind it. There are some influential and wealthy people as well. We’ve gone into great depth and spent a long time on it and believe we’ve nailed the system now.”