PDC chief executive Matt Porter believes regular competition is key to growing women’s game

Following the success of last weekend’s inaugural Women’s Series, PDC chief executive Matt Porter insists there are further plans designed to grow the women’s game, and he believes the Asian Tour and Development Tours provide the blueprint to follow.

There were over 80 women in action at the Barnsley Metrodome last weekend and four-time women’s world champion Lisa Ashton won Friday’s Grand Slam qualifier, before topping the Women’s Series Order of Merit to clinch her World Championship return.

‘The Lancashire Rose’ will compete alongside darting pioneer Deta Hedman in the showpiece event, after the 60-year-old edged out Fallon Sherrock to become the first black woman to qualify for the PDC World Championship.

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There were 11 nationalities represented across the Women’s Series which illustrates the growing global popularity of the sport, and but for the travel restrictions imposed on some countries as a result of Covid-19, that tally may have been greater still.

For the majority of the field, it was their first competitive taste of action for seven months and the events generated tremendous interest across the darting world, particularly given the lucrative rewards at stake.

“Firstly, I was pleased that we were able to offer the opportunity,” Porter told the Darts Show podcast.

“In these difficult times there are a lot of sports cutting back on their content but we’ve tried to deliver as much as we can, not just to our Tour Card holders but to players elsewhere in our system as well, as the Challenge Tour and Development Tour weekends have proven.

“To be able to launch the Women’s Series and for there to be some purpose to it as well, with the standalone Grand Slam qualifier and the places at the World Championship, that was important, that it wasn’t just a weekend of darts for the sake of having a weekend of darts.

Obviously if there had only been a small number of players it might not have had as much future as it perhaps does now so we were really pleased with the entry levels and the feedback from the ground was very positive.

Matt Porter on the Women’s Series

“It gave the players something to focus on over the last couple of months in respect of practising and getting back to competitive action, so for me that was the most pleasing thing and to see 80 entries, with some players travelling from overseas, was excellent.”

The big question now is – what next? The demise of the British Darts Organisation plunged the amateur game into uncertainty and despite the terrific strides made in the women’s game over recent years, without a consistent platform, that progress is in danger of being squandered.

However, Porter insists this is just the start in the PDC’s plan for the women’s game. Many figures throughout the darting sphere have called for a Women’s Tour to be introduced, but Porter insists improving the overall depth of quality is their overriding ambition.

“We didn’t just want to do one and then forget the concept. Obviously if there had only been a small number of players, it might not have had as much future as it perhaps does now so we were really pleased with the entry levels and the feedback from the ground was very positive.

“I think from our point of view it’s important that we encourage more women to play more competitive darts on a more regular basis. We can easily put more tournaments on to parachute women into events like the World Championship and the Grand Slam.

“That’s great but ultimately I don’t think that is going to be the way we are going to stimulate additional numbers of players and improve the overall depth of quality because clearly as we saw from the weekend, there was a small number of players who dominated the event.

“They are playing at a standard which means that they’re qualifying for the World Championship and the Grand Slam, but I don’t want three players getting to every final, I want 33 players battling it out for the right to get to the final.

“The only way we’re going to do that as we’ve shown with the Challenge and Development Tours is to give more people more competitive action on a more regular basis, they’re going to get better as players because they’ll take it more seriously.”

There is an emerging pool of talent within the women’s game. Although Ashton, Hedman and Sherrock were the protagonists in Barnsley, the likes of Corrine Hammond and Aileen de Graaf also reached finals.

Former world No 1 Lorraine Winstanley and Sky Sports pundit Laura Turner enjoyed runs to the semi-finals, whilst three-time world champion Anastasia Dobromyslova and 16-year-old sensation Beau Greaves endured frustrating campaigns.

Reigning two-time women’s world champion Mikuru Suzuki was absent from proceedings due to the current global situation, yet despite the plethora of contenders within the women’s game, Porter believes a ‘bottom-up approach’ is the key to growing the sport.

“They will be able to dedicate more time to practice, there will be more prize money so they’ll be incentivised to continue, so for me it’s a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach,” Porter continued.

“Look at the Asian Tour, that’s another good example. Five or six years ago before it came about, most players from Asia that were qualifying for the World Championship or World Cup were throwing 70 or 75 averages and losing first round.

“That isn’t the case anymore. They’ve got their five or six weekends throughout the year where they can play four events at a weekend and they’ve got the opportunity to focus. Tournament play is important but preparation for tournament play is equally if not more important.

“Whatever sport or discipline you’re doing, practice without purpose doesn’t get you anywhere. You need to have something to focus on, so the idea of having a series of events where you know there is a goal at the end of it, that will focus your mind and improve the standard.”

Nevertheless, Porter’s immediate focus is on a bumper few months for the PDC. The second half of the darting season is renowned for its hectic nature, which has been exacerbated by the delays caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The European Championship, World Cup of Darts, Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship Finals are all due to take place over the coming weeks, although focus has already switched to this year’s World Championship.

There is uncertainty surrounding whether the tournament will take place at Alexandra Palace with any type of crowd in attendance, although Porter remains cautiously optimistic about that prospect.

“We’re working very hard with Alexandra Palace to deliver the event, potentially with a crowd, you never know. We’re not ruling it out. Alexandra Palace are staging ticketed events at the moment for comedy. I’ve been along to one of them with our Head of Security.

“It was very well organised, it was a safe environment, people were very respectful of the environment and it was relatively normal. It’s definitely not something that we have ruled out.”

Darts is back on Sky Sports in November with a double bill, starting with three days of coverage from the World Cup of Darts (Nov 6-8) and continuing with nine days of the Grand Slam of Darts which gets underway on November 16.

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