Dubai: Ever discussed the game of darts? If you have, it’s almost certain that you’ve heard the exclamation, uttered with a mixture of disdain and outrage, “but it’s not a sport!”.
Darts’ detractors simply cannot accept that a pastime, which you can play in your bedroom and that requires limited physical exertion, can be compared to the likes of football and cricket. You can just imagine the shock and disgust, then, that sports traditionalists would feel on learning that the world’s pre-eminent darts player, Phil Taylor, had been described as possibly the best sportsman on planet Earth.
That was the startlingly bold pronouncement made by Barry Hearn, Chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation, who is bringing Taylor and seven of the best darts players in the world to the UAE in May for a tournament at the Dubai Tennis Stadium.
Hearn told Gulf News: “If you just analyse results in major tournaments, there has never been a sportsman in any sport in history who has had a record anywhere close to Phil Taylor’s.
“There are a lot of other factors to be brought into account, such as the size of the sport and the competition levels. But, on a straightforward mathematical calculation, Taylor’s record [16 world titles] easily surpasses Tiger Woods, easily surpasses Roger Federer. Taylor is therefore, without doubt, the number one sportsman in the world on statistics in terms of his number of wins and number of world titles. His record is second to none.”
When asked to comment on Hearn’s high praise, the supposed ‘non-sportsman’ certainly didn’t act like a cowering kitten intimidated by the big beasts of the sporting jungle.
“When I look at Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, I love them as winners, but then I think I have won more than they both have put together, so that makes me proud,” he told Gulf News.While the effervescent Hearn is a self-confessed hype merchant — in promoting the Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters last month, he said it would be the greatest sports event ever staged in the emirate – his claims about the man known as ‘The Power’ are not without serious substance. Last month, Taylor claimed his 16th world championship title at the venerable age of 52 after coming from behind to beat a man nearly 30 years his junior, the exciting young Dutchman Michael van Gerwen.
Further endorsing Hearn’s lofty assertion, Taylor’s Wikipedia page provides a resounding affirmation of his relentless success, detailing title wins and records galore.
Taylor’s incredible domination of the game and down-to-earth demeanour have also played a seminal role in darts becoming the second most-watched ‘sport’ on television in the UK behind English Premier League football.
The PDC has cannily copied the razzmatazz and hoopla of American sports, giving Taylor and co World Wrestling Federation-esque monikers, such as ‘The Power’, ‘The Machine’ and ‘Jackpot’. They make bravura, boxing-style entrances to packed arenas full of frenzied fans waving placards and bouncing along to music.
Even British royals Prince Harry and Zara Phillips have lapped up the action in the teeming cauldron of colour and fun that is the London venue of the world championships, Alexandra Palace, in December-January.
However, despite his cult-hero status and the fact he’s become a multi-millionaire, Taylor has never forgotten his roots. He said: “I never think I’m a celebrity; I’m a council house fella.”
And it’s clear that his disciplined upbringing in a two-bedroom council house in Stoke-on-Trent, England, helped foster his astonishing work ethic – he still practises for six or seven hours daily.
His mother was particularly hard on him, threatening him with a bucket of cold water if he tried to skip work, he recalls fondly. Taylor, who only took up the game in his late 20s, said: “She’d be saying from downstairs ‘Get up! Get up!’ So I’d be banging my foot on the floor and shouting ‘I’m up! I’m up!’ But if I didn’t get up, she’d come up with a bucket of water and say ‘get out of bed now and get off to work’.”
If Taylor still failed to heed these impassioned demands, he’d be showered with water or even hit with the bucket.
“She hit me with anything, my mother,” he laughed.
“She was very strict on me and that made me into a worker. I plan to retire when I am 55, but until then I’m going to give the game my best shot.”
For more information on the Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters, which will feature Taylor and seven other top darts players, visit www.irishvillage.ae or www.itp.net/tickets.