Fallon Sherrock and the road to genderless darts

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Fallon Sherrock. Remember her? Remember that nerve-tingling moment when she found the double eighteen to dump Ted Evetts out of the World Championships back in December, and make history by becoming the first woman to beat a man in the competition?

Remember when she went on to hit the bullseye and beat Mensur Suljović in the following round, to prove that this was no freakish flash in the pan? Many do. Plenty have forgotten.

Her impact was genuinely groundbreaking. Overnight she capsized conventional wisdom, showing that there are no biological differences between men and women when they step up to the oche.

Overnight she capsized conventional wisdom.

Such a view soon became hardened as orthodoxy, an undeniable fact that female darts players have the capability to not only go toe to toe with their male counterparts, but to exceed their averages and beat them convincingly in pressurising and often venomous atmospheres.

This found its way right down to college darts. Where previously a male darts player would have to do a ‘jug’ if they lost to a girl – that is, down a pitcher of beer – Fallon Sherrock changed the game forever. Suddenly losing to a member of the opposite sex wasn’t so earth-shattering or humiliating.

“We’d beat men more often given the chances,” asserted Sherrock after her heroics. “There’s nothing I can see that is different between a male and a female throwing darts. You are all throwing darts at the same board and us women can compete with their averages.”

Many had hoped her achievements, along with Lisa Ashton’s success at Qualifying school in January – an historic showing which booked her a place on a two-year PDC Tour – would lead to tangible, systemic change rather becoming just a good pub quiz question.

There were calls for more cash incentives, more positions for women at the World Championships and more active grass-roots engagement, but the coronavirus outbreak, as it has done with so many things, brought all of this momentum to a standstill as various exhibitions and the World Series were put on hold.

During lockdown Sherrock was restricted enough as it was, as she had to shield due to her long-term battles with kidney disease, and her game time was limited to a rather surreal online ‘Darts from home’ match against Phil Taylor.

Before the outbreak her exposure was also limited having dropped out of the BDO World Championships, but to her delight she was able to make her debut in the Premier League: a guest appearance against Glenn Durrant which she drew 6-6. This came before playing a celebrity match alongside iconic former Italy and Bayern Munich footballer Luca Toni.

The coronavirus outbreak, as it has done with so many things, brought all of this momentum to a standstill.

But despite this momentum grinding to a halt, recently there have been steps in the right direction. In August the PDC announced the introduction of a Women’s Series in October, which allows female players an opportunity to not only qualify for the World Championships but also the Grand Slam of Darts. This mini-tour replaces the two separate qualifying tournaments, offering £20,00 prize money in total across the four events.

While promising, you could argue that this is still insufficient and a perfunctory effort by the PDC. Many feel there could be more substantial prize money and more than two spots afforded at the World’s, while there have also been calls for a fully-fledged Women’s Tour, along with more televised events in the future and an official PDC women’s ranking list.

But many have argued that creating separate women’s events is undesirable, arguably a step backwards as it emphasises an unnecessary divide between men and women. Isn’t this exactly what Fallon Sherrock and Lisa Ashton have striven to resist: to be viewed as darts players rather than female darts players? Shouldn’t we only be campaigning for mixing if true progress is to be made?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the pursuit of truly genderless darts cannot be achieved overnight. While Fallon Sherrock radically shattered perceptions, this is foundational to what many believe to be a more fundamental first step: allowing women’s darts to thrive in its own right.

Sherrock will concede that she, along with the likes of Lisa Ashton and Mikuru Suzuki, are in a different league to most current female players.

Women’s darts needs to develop until it has the infrastructure and the numbers to redress the balance and seriously mix with men en masse; it will take time for a new generation of young female throwers to become interested in the game, to lead by Sherrock’s example and get up to the standard required.

The approach then is to celebrate difference in the short-term in order to enable true equality in the long-term: keeping a keen eye on the women’s game and nurturing it through piecemeal reforms as it becomes more sophisticated, and there emerges a wider pool of truly accomplished female talent.

In the meantime, there should be regular, gradual mixing in major competitions. The process of normalising women’s darting parity with men will be dependant on the likes of Ashton, Sherrock, Suzuki, and prospective new talent coming through, qualifying for World Championships and consistently toppling their male counterparts.

There are still the cynics who believe what happened last December was a flash in the pan, taking the side of Evetts and Suljović who were jeered, booed and distracted by a hostile crowd.

But Sherrock and company are hungry to rubbish such sentiments and compete in as many major competitions as possible, until one fine morning a women is crowned as a mixed World Champion and the concept of gendered darts becomes truly redundant.

There are still the cynics who believe what happened last December was a flash in the pan.

The prospect of truly gender-blind darts is no utopian dream, but something which is entirely possible provided the women’s game is first given the conditions it needs to thrive.

The PDC ostensibly recognise this, and it’s encouraging to see them take women’s darts seriously; not ignoring the events of last December but instead making some active steps in the right direction.

Fallon Sherrock was the ultimate catalyst, and in the coming years we will only see women’s darts go from strength to strength.

Image: frielp via Creative Commons

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