This weekend marks a seismic moment for women’s darts. Immeasurable strides have been made, and this progress has been acknowledged by the PDC, with life-changing opportunities on offer for more than 80 players at the Barnsley Metrodome.
The PDC announced in August that they would stage a four-event Women’s Series on October 17-18, with the ultimate reward of World Championship qualification on the line for the two players who accumulate the most prize money across the four events.
The World Championship qualifiers held over the last two years were game-changing, but coupled with the caveat of Grand Slam qualification for one recipient on Friday, the Women’s Series represents the PDC’s most significant commitment to the women’s game so far.
“Covid has put a halt to absolutely everything when it comes to the amateur side of darts. When that [BDO] all crumbled, it was a sad day. It was like – where do we go now?”
Turner on the importance of the Women’s Series
This initiative also comes at a crucial juncture following the recent demise of the British Darts Organisation. While the standard within the women’s game is at an irrefutable high, the sport’s future was suddenly plunged into uncertainty.
“It felt like something needed to happen,” admits Sky Sports commentator Laura Turner, one of the high-profile names vying for World Championship qualification this weekend.
“Covid has put a halt to absolutely everything when it comes to the amateur side of darts. When that [BDO] all crumbled, it was a sad day. It was like – where do we go now?
“Luckily we feel like we at least have some shining light, some hope that we’ve got something here with the Women’s Series,” added Turner – a quarter-finalist at the BDO Women’s World Championship in January.
One of the most enchanting elements of the sport is that there are no barriers to entry. The only essential ingredient is ability, an attribute that 16-year-old Katie Sheldon possesses in abundance.
The exuberance of youth
The young Dubliner, inspired by her Grandad, discovered her passion seven years ago and has not looked back since, appearing in two WDF U18 Girls World Cup finals, before scooping the Girls World Masters title last October.
“I started throwing darts when I was nine up in the attic,” Sheldon told Sky Sports. “My Grandad had a dart board out in his back shed and then eventually I got my own one in the house and I was up every day throwing and throwing.
“When I was 12 my Dad brought me to my first competition and I got to the quarter-final of the boys event and it really kicked off from there. I started going to more events, practising more and gaining experience.”
Having already featured on the Development Tour in 2020, Ireland’s No 1 is relishing her latest taste of PDC action. “I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” she continued.
“I’m going to go over and just relax, enjoy myself and not put any pressure on myself. If I was to get a spot I’d be absolutely over the moon but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Sheldon is the epitome of youthful exuberance. She’s talented, determined but also fearless – she has no scar tissue and that makes her a major threat, although she’s not the only prodigious talent bidding to make her mark.
Step forward Beau Greaves, the 16-year-old sensation who is already an established figure among the world’s elite. The Doncaster thrower has been winning ranking events since the age of 12, shattering a host of records in the process.
In January, ‘Beau ‘n’ Arrow’ became the youngest female to feature at the BDO World Championship since the tournament’s inception, celebrating her 16th birthday midway through the event, before succumbing to eventual champion Mikuru Suzuki in the semi-finals.
She’s been touted as the next superstar of women’s darts and after collecting four senior BDO ranking titles in 2019, you would be reluctant to back against her creating yet more history at the Women’s Series.
“Now I’m getting older I want to win and I want to do really well, so I’m not going to let anybody spoil that. It’s what I want to do with my life,” Greaves affirms.
“I’m not bothered about records, I’m just enjoying it, because if you enjoy it and you play well, you’re going to get more records. I’m just going to try and take it in my stride and if it happens it’s just a nice bonus!”
Fallon Sherrock and Lisa Ashton – who headline this weekend’s field – are the names on everyone’s lips in the world of women’s darts following their unprecedented exploits over recent months.
However, Greaves is a trailblazer in her own right, as she strives to become a role model for young girls coming through the ranks.
“There’s so many good youth players now, especially the Europe Cup – it is full of talented young players and it’s such a good standard.
“Everyone is improving and hopefully in years to come there will be more 15-year-old girls playing on the TV more often.”
Decorated stars continue to dream big
As well as catering for the young talent emerging through the conveyor belt, the launch of the Women’s Series is also reward for the protagonists who have fought for decades to put women’s darts on the map.
Deta Hedman’s illustrious résumé boasts more than 200 titles and with her 61st birthday on the horizon, she continues to produce top-class displays, illustrated by her performances at last weekend’s Challenge Tour – victory over former world finalist Kevin Painter the obvious highlight.
Although it didn’t generate the headlines afforded to Anastasia Dobromyslova and more recently Sherrock, Hedman made history by becoming the first woman to defeat a male opponent in a televised match, edging out Aaron Turner – husband to Laura – at the 2005 UK Open.
Nicknamed ‘The Heart of Darts’, Hedman’s enduring passion for the sport is the secret to her longevity spanning almost four decades at the top level, featuring appearances in three World Championship finals and two coveted World Masters crowns.
Nevertheless, the prospect of securing a PDC World Championship spot is overwhelming even for a player of Hedman’s pedigree. For those in any doubt about the significance of this weekend’s showpiece, that speaks volumes.
“Qualifying for the World Championship? I wouldn’t be able to put it into words to be honest with you. It’s a dream for everybody.
“The standard will be so high it is unbelievable. Some of the ladies do have the game. It’s like any sport and whether you really want it. Anything you go into you’ve got to really want it and put the time and effort in.
“I will go out there and hopefully take a few scalps, that’s the way I’m looking at it now. There are some cracking players there this weekend and if they bring their A-game, it’s going to be very interesting.”
Hedman reels off a list of those she expects to challenge at the Women’s Series and 2019 World Championship runner-up Lorraine Winstanley is among that decorated catalogue.
The former world No 1 has been a consistent feature in the latter stages of BDO events for the last decade and having competed at Qualifying School and on the Challenge Tour in recent years, she’s now searching for her big PDC breakthrough.
“I really do feel with Fallon’s success at the World Championship and obviously Lisa getting her Tour Card, it’s thrown the ladies game really into the limelight.”
Winstanley on the growth of women’s darts
Winstanley, crowned World Masters champion in 2017, is no stranger to claiming major scalps, accounting for three-time world champion John Part at Q School in 2019, and she is thrilled that the women’s game is receiving the recognition it merits.
“I really do feel with Fallon’s success at the World Championship and obviously Lisa getting her Tour Card, it’s thrown the ladies game really into the limelight, so it’s definitely had a big influence on the decision to do the Women’s Series,” the 44-year-old admitted.
“It’s what we’re crying out for, to be recognised as the sports people that we are, just that recognition means the world to us. It is knowing exactly what you’re playing for, when you’re playing, and playing under those professional circumstances.
“Hopefully with more opportunities coming up, it should catapult the ladies game forward, so I’m hoping it can only go one way really.”
The land of opportunity
Unfortunately, the current global circumstances are behind reigning two-time world champion Suzuki’s decision not to compete, yet despite the absence of ‘The Miracle’, the quality of the field is testament to the strength in depth within the women’s game.
Barry Hearn has consistently maintained that the PDC is the land of opportunity and the commitment to providing the game’s leading female lights with such a platform underlines that sentiment.
However, Hearn also references the importance of a meritocracy – there are no seedings, no security blanket for Ashton, Sherrock et al. The budding amateur will begin their campaign on an equal footing, which makes it so compelling.
This could be the springboard for a prosperous future for ladies darts, and the individual rewards could be equally as lucrative. By Sunday evening, two players will have achieved their darting dreams, but women’s darts is set to be the real winner.
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