There is, among those who control world cricket, a theory that the World Cup is a tournament best denied to the world. Its major flaw is, one might argue, in its very moniker. The pinnacle of the sport is – to the majority of the cricketing universe – but a dot of light in the darkest of skies; nations queue helplessly outside a closed shop, shut to those who would do anything just to have one foot in the door.
While sport globalises exponentially, cricket – never so much a global game as a colonial one – shrinks itself. The World Cup, a 16-team competition in 2007, is now for just the top 10.
As the year-long countdown began last week towards next summer’s shrunken extravaganza of antiquated entitlement – devoid of the very sides who provide the tournament with its name, the World Cup of Darts was coming to its own conclusion.
Only two nations have ever held aloft the trophy. Yet, 64 players from 32 nations rolled into Frankfurt last week, all with their own dreams, their own barometers of success. There were first round wins for Brazil, Finland and Switzerland; early exits for Greece, Hungary and Gibraltar. There was even a quarter-final appearance for little-fancied Japan.
Ultimately, the two top seeds would face off in the final, with the Netherlands seeing off Scotland’s Peter Wright and Gary Anderson. It was, in many ways, the perfect World Cup: a showcase for the untraditional nations and, when all was said and done, a battle between the world’s best.
The darting zenith, however, comes at the year’s end. Much like golf’s Olympic conundrum, darts’ World Cup is, ultimately, not the silverware that defines greatness. The World Championships hold that prestige. And as the dust settled on Dutch triumph, plans for the year’s flagship tournament were laid out at Alexandra Palace.
What was revealed was not just positive, it wreaked of an evolution that leaves other sports floundering. There will 96 entrants, up from 72, the prize fund is £2.5 million, with £500,000 waiting for whoever can emulate Rob Cross’ staggering victory on New Year’s Day. It is a hair-raising sum of money for a sport that some continue to reject.
But the sceptics are themselves becoming the rejected. After all, there are few sports more forward-thinking, even fewer run with such nous for both the sport and its audience. This World Championship will carry over the success of the World Cup, with more international qualifiers than ever before, with places reserved for the winners of each region.
Perhaps most interesting is that there will be at least two women in the main draw. It is a long-existing, yet little-known, fact that the PDC has never had a men’s tour – nor indeed, a women’s tour. What exists is a single all-inclusive opportunity for all.
That darts is at the forefront of such a progressive expansion is huge – not only in dispelling the sport’s lingering myths, but in showing the way for those lagging behind.