Sport or game: Where does darts fit in?

In this singular post on darts, I want to give my opinion on whether darts is a sport or just a game. From my 5-part guide series on darts for beginners, it is pretty obvious that I regard darts as a sport. But I can understand why some people are still sceptical about this.

Professional darts is still increasing in popularity to date. The PDC World Darts Championship is the biggest annual darts tournament in the world, with a recent prize pool of £1.8 million that is still increasing substantially. And of course, who can forget about the Unibet Premier League Darts? This competition is still being broadcasted on sports TV regularly even in Singapore, and I got my inspiration to play darts from watching this competition.

There is no heated debate about whether darts is a sport or not, and at least the debate is not as meaningless as condemning people who like pineapple on pizza to hell. But sports institutions do have varying opinions on this. Sport England recognises darts as a sport but the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) does not. And inevitably, the Athletic Union in University of Manchester does not recognise darts as a sport society too. This does matter to some extent because the darts society cannot approach the Athletic Union for funding.

What is a sport?

Dictionaries define a sport as “An activity that involves physical exertion and skill in which individuals/teams compete against others”. But dictionaries do not accurately define how much “Physical exertion” is required before something is considered as a sport. And that is why poker and chess are considered as sports by some people. They are sometimes even shown on sports channels.

I don’t think anyone can argue against darts having more physical exertion than poker or chess since you are standing, moving around and repetitively throwing darts. But all 3 of them do require concentration and the stamina to maintain your form throughout competitions. One slip-up can have devastating consequences, especially in poker. However, I think “Mind sport” is a more appropriate category for poker and chess since they rely more on intellectual ability and have absolutely minimal physical demand.

Is darts physically demanding?

At first glance, it may not seem so. But this became apparent to me during competitions. I have taken part in university darts competitions like University Darts UK (UDUK) Big Weekender and Northern University Darts League (NUDL) Singles tournaments. During the group stages, you need to play around 6-8 matches (All best of 3 legs) against other players. If you progress to the knock-out rounds, the matches are extended to best of 5 legs and they keep increasing up to best of 11 in the finals. By the time you reach the finals, you could easily have played around 30 legs.

I notice that I am unable to maintain my form after playing around 5 matches. My arm starts to fatigue and I have serious issues with throwing straight. This shows that if you really want to be a top player in darts, you need have the concentration and physical stamina to maintain your throwing technique even after playing many legs. Only regular training can prepare you for this and I doubt 2-3 times a week is sufficient.

Does darts require skill?

Surprisingly, there are some people who think that there is more luck than skill involved in darts.Your throwing technique is the most important skill to master in darts. Without this, how are you supposed to hit the target? When you watch other people play darts, it is very easy to tell who is completely clueless about how to throw.

I did not write a 5-part beginner’s guide for darts just to conclude that it involves mostly luck. Although I must add that beginner players tend to score big numbers more often than expected due to luck. But when it comes to hitting doubles to close out the game, this is where they get exposed badly.

Is game a more appropriate category?

Darts is commonly associated with activities people do in pubs or bars for entertainment and socialising purposes. Even in Singapore as far as I am aware, all the places where I can play soft-tip darts are bars. This is also the reason why some people associate billiards as more of a game than a sport.

There is also an argument that throwing darts is just a physical skill. An activity like beer pong also requires skill and accuracy in throwing, so why can’t that be considered as a sport? Probably because there is no professional scene for beer pong?

I will say that people who have never seen or heard about the professional darts scene are much more likely to conclude that darts is just a game. And I think that any sport that is commonly played just for fun and to socialise is more likely to be labelled as a game.

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