Opinion Blog: Darts and social distancing, what the future may hold.

You can’t fault the passion of Barry Hearn. In these uncertain times, the PDC supremo continues to provide a positive outlook on the future of darts and its prospects of returning sooner than most other sports.

“There’s a big hope. We have one big advantage is that we can play, for example darts and snooker, we can play within social distancing rules,” he told Sky Sports.

But what does that actually mean in reality? And what of the logistics?

Much hinges of course on the Prime Minister’s announcement for our immediate future this coming Sunday (May 10th). Reports suggest that some of the phases towards lockdown easing will be included in his address to the nation. European leaders have hinted too that there may be hope for a summer holiday yet for their country’s inhabitants.

So perhaps we aren’t too far away from darts being played behind closed doors at least. With social distancing likely to remain in place until a vaccine becomes readily available, here are the factors that the PDC are likely to be, or indeed should be, considering:

The venue – With all leisure centres ordered to close by Government when lockdown was first imposed, one would assume that there would have to be special dispensation given to any venue to open up again sooner than others, in order for tournaments to take place. Wigan and Barnsley, the most popular for PDC floor tournaments, are also extremely popular leisure facilities. With said facilities supposedly earmarked to be amongst the last to open under lockdown easing measures, this may well be the main stumbling block for floor tournaments starting up again anytime soon.

Registrations lines

We are all used to the hazard tape on the floor when we queue for the bank or supermarket now. You’d imagine there would be something similar when players queue to register, while officials are sat behind a desk 2m apart from one another.

Playing booths

Working to the basis that the 2m social distancing rule needs to be in place, you’d imagine that the playing booths would need to be widened. This would allow players to take a wider route back to queue for the next turn after they’ve retrieved their darts. Again, more hazard tape would likely need to be deployed on the floor. The referee and the scoreboard would also need to be further away from the board to maintain a distance from the players. In theory that presents a problem in terms of seeing where the darts physically land. Perhaps they could be decked out in PPE in order to maintain their current distance to the board? Although actually sourcing PPE could be more problematic.

Guests

You would surely have to assume that the players probably couldn’t have guests for these events. Walking around away from the playing areas could be a minefield to try and maintain a 2m gap.

Smoking

Some players are partial to smoke. Perhaps more hazard tape markings on the floor in the designated smoking areas that are 2m apart? Structured queuing with a security guard may also be needed.

Streaming

Logistically this is another issue. The staff who organise the streams are often sat in close proximity to one another in a separate room. Would it even possible to have this spread out to maintain a 2m distance? Plus it would involve in keeping a 2m distance during the setup and packing down, which seems logistically challenging to say the least.

Toilets

Again, structured queuing is probably needed, with hazard tape on the floor for people to keep their distance. Perhaps a doorperson would be needed to signal a two in, two out policy so social distancing can be maintained.

The bar

This would in theory be solved with the venue re-opening but with bars also being amongst the final venues which would be re-opened post lockdown, this remains an issue. Perhaps players will be allowed to bring in their own consignments, a practice which is currently a disciplinary offence.

Overseas players

Most crucially however is that floor events should categorically not take place unless the full field have an accessible manner, in which to get to the tournament itself. Primarily this means accessible flights. The last Pro Tour weekend took place in controversial circumstances, with some overseas players being either unable to get there or having to withdraw during the course of the weekend. If that affects their place on the Tour at the end of the year or at the conclusion of the next (and we still don’t know what will happen with regards to rankings in the future) then they have every ground on which to complain.

Conclusion?

Well it’s certainly possible, but only if it adheres to Government guidance, updates of which should become clearer on Sunday. One thing is for certain however, you wouldn’t want to be the one working out the logistics in such an unprecedented period.

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