What Happened To The British Darts Organsiation and BDO World Championship?
The British Darts Organisation was founded on the seventh of January 1973. For a long time, it was the main organisation behind the sport of darts, overseeing competitions for professional, semi-professional and amateur darts players. It was also one of the founding members of the World Darts Federation back in 1976, staging the World Professional Darts Championship between 1978 and 2020.
In the early part of the 1990s the founder of the BDO, Olly Croft, began to have disputes with the players in the Organisation, eventually leading to a split in the sport. A number of top players broke away in order to form their own governing body, the Professional Darts Corporation, with the BDO and PDC running their own competitions. The BDO went into liquidation in 2020, with no World Championships taking place in 2021.
Here we look at what has caused the demise of an institution that once boasted famous winners such as Eric Bristow and Phil Taylor and ask if it will be reborn. Like the with Premier League in football elite level players are only able to exist because they are supported by lower leagues that nurture talent, without the BDO it is hard to see how the PDC can remain as it is without players coming through form the BDO. The World Darts Federation have announced they will be looking to create new events to replace the world championship, masters and others.
The History Of The BDO
Formed by Olly Croft in 1973, the British Darts Organisation was made up of 66 member counties. It was responsible for all levels of darts throughout the United Kingdom, helping to set up the World Darts Federation in 1976 and then hosting the World Professional Darts Championship two years later. At its height there was little trouble for the BDO, with darts being a popular sport on television and players being paid accordingly.
As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, however, the sport became less popular and television coverage declined. Soon the players began to turn on the BDO, disappointed as they were in the sport’s governing body’s inability to slow or reverse the decline. In 1993, 16 players at the top of the rankings chose to break away from the BDO, including all of the previous winners of the World Championship.
The World Darts Council was formed, with the BDO choosing to ban all 16 players from future BDO-sanctioned events. The Organisation also banned BDO players from taking part in matches against WDC players, even if they were just exhibition matches. This became a worldwide sanction in association with the World Darts Federation, essentially excommunicating World Darts Council players from the sport.
A long-running legal battle followed, eventually ending courtesy of the 1997 Tomlin Order. The meant that the BDO recognised WDC players and the WDC in turn recognised the World Darts Federation as the sport’s governing body. The WDC also agreed to change its name to the Professional Darts Corporation. Thus an uneasy truce was agreed between the two major governing bodies of the sport of darts.
The split between the BDO and the World Darts Council took place at a time when Sky Sports was becoming a genuine powerhouse in sports broadcasting. The success of the Premier League meant that it was taken seriously, so the World Darts Council agreed to have its own version of the World Championship broadcast on the network. Despite two players leaving the newly formed body, the first one took place in 1994.
The BDO, meanwhile, continued with its own World Championship but with a relatively unknown field. Even in the wake of the 1997 Tomlin Order, the eligibility criteria to enter a darts tournament was complicated and, in some cases, controversial. From 2002 onwards, for example, entry into a PDC tournament required a player to be a member of the Professional Dart Players Association, which looks after players in the PDC.
In the years that followed, constant mismanagement of the British Darts Organisation led to many players defecting to the PDC as soon as they could. Indeed, one commentators pointed out that that was the case in 2015, describing the BDO as an ‘unwilling feeder’ to the Professional Darts Corporation. Players such as Raymond van Barneveld, Mark Webster, Gary Anderson and Michael van Gerwen made the leap at one time or another.
The biggest issues came during the 2019 World Masters, with numerous seeded players choosing not to take part after changes to the qualification criteria. There were other players who did attend but then found out that they were unregistered, not knowing that they were supposed to register online in advance of the tournament. A redraw took place but included fake names, put in in case real players chose to take part.
There was also an issue with the prize money not being confirmed in advance, with the issues being so numerous and problematic that the World Darts Federation announced that the BDO was being demoted on its list to become an ‘associate member’. This also involved the WDF saying that they would no longer recognise BDO events, citing the ‘breach of rules’ and ‘draw changes during the competition’.
More problems arose ahead of the 2019 BDO World Championship when the organisation’s Chairman, Des Jacklin, announced that the prize money would need to be ‘reduced somewhat’. A failure to secure sponsorship for the tournament was the chief reason for this, as was the fact that only around 15% of tickets for the event had been sold, leading to criticism from numerous players.
When the prize money was eventually given to the tournament’s winner, Wayne Warren, it amounted to £23,000 and was the lowest amount given to a winner of the BDO’s World Championship since 1989. It was 77% down on the amount received by the previous year’s winner of the competition. Any hope that the British Darts Organisation might have had of winning over players had been all but lost.
In September of 2020 it was confirmed that the BDO would be going into liquidation, though news of the matter had leaked much earlier. The company went into Creditors Voluntary Liquidation, with directors failing to turn up for a meeting that was designed to give players a chance to ask questions of them. It was placed into liquidation by the shareholders, with no resolution needing to be passed to do so.
For many, the demise of the organisation that at one time ruled all of darts in the United Kingdom was not a surprise. The entire board, including the founder of the BDO Olly Croft, was voted out ahead of the Annual General Meeting in 2011, for example. On top of that, the PDC’s decision to launch a Development Tour and a Challenger Tour meant that fewer and fewer players felt the need to start off in the BDO.
The ultimate liquidation of the British Darts Organisation Enterprises Limited came about because of debts in the region of £468,000. Even so, the organisation limped on for a bit longer, but eventually counties began to choose the United Kingdom Darts Association over the BDO as the representative of county darts. This was what put the final nail in the coffin for the organisation.
In September of 2020, all counties left the British Darts Organisation for the UKDA, resulting in the end of the sport’s primary body after a 47 year run. Though it’s not clear what happens next for the sport of darts, the success of the PDC means that life carries on as normal. It’s likely that the organisation will simply create new tournaments to replace those lost by the end of the BDO – although whether this will nurture talent in the same way remains to be seen.