Bullseye: Female darts player breaks down gender barrier

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              Fallon Sherrock celebrating after becoming the first women to win a game in the PDC Darts World Championship at Alexandra Palace, London, Tuesday Dec. 17, 2019. Sherrock become the first female player to beat a man at the PDC World Championship after she recovered from losing the opening set to beat Ted Evetts 3-2 in front of a raucous crowd at Alexandra Palace. (Steven Paston/PA via AP)
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The widely held image of professional darts on television screens as a beer-fuelled pub game typically played by out-of-shape men has been shattered by the barrier-breaking exploits of a young Englishwoman.

Amid raucous scenes at London’s atmospheric Alexandra Palace, Fallon Sherrock became an unlikely overnight celebrity in Britain when she landed a double 18 to clinch victory over a male opponent at the sport’s flagship event, the PDC World Championship, on Tuesday.

It was a first win by a woman on darts’ highest stage, one that trended on Twitter and has catapulted the 25-year-old Sherrock into a life she could never have imagined.

Wednesday morning saw her appear on some of the biggest TV and radio shows in Britain. Much to her delight and surprise, she now has a blue tick next to her name on her Twitter account. The biggest payday of her career – by a long way – awaits her at the weekend.

Bigger than all that, she is now a trailblazer in the game.

“It definitely sends out a good statement,” Sherrock said. “We can beat the men.”

And how her win was celebrated. After hitting the winning double to claim a 3-2 victory over Ted Evetts, she skipped to the board to collect her darts and turned around to see a room of mostly inebriated men bouncing up and down and singing in celebration.

“We love you Fallon, we do,” they chanted, over and over again.

She shook hands with Evetts, who then applauded Sherrock and extended his right arm out as if to urge spectators to acclaim Sherrock, a one-time professional hairdresser who first picked up a dart when she was aged 17.

“I’ve always had the game,” she said Wednesday, “but us women have never had the opportunity to prove it.”

Until last year, that is. That was when the man that runs top-level darts, promoter Barry Hearn, allocated two of the 96 places in the world championship field to women. Previously, women could attempt to qualify for the event but now spots were guaranteed.

On Monday, Mikuru Suzuki – the women’s world champion – took James Richardson to a sudden-death leg in the fifth set before losing.

Before that, Gayl King of Canada (2000), Anastasia Dobromyslova of Russia (2009, 2018) and Lisa Ashton of England (2018) had played in the main draw, all losing in the first round.

Sherrock went one better, setting up a second-round match against Mensur Suljovic, the 11th seed from Austria, where she is guaranteed to win at least 15,000 pounds (nearly $20,000) even if she loses.

It is a triumph of persistence for Sherrock, who developed a serious kidney condition after giving birth to her son, Rory, five years ago. She had to take medication and one of the side-effects was the swelling of her face, which led to her receiving abuse online for her appearance.

That, plus what she described as “constant sexist comments” about trying to make her way as a darts player, “inspired me to get better and prove everyone wrong,” Sherrock told the BBC.

“Well, I have just proved them wrong,” she said.

It should deliver a huge fillip to the women’s game. The male-dominated sport is slowly starting to embrace females, with Daniela Bata-Bogdanov of Hungary becoming the first ever female scoring official at this event. She was scoring the Sherrock-Evetts match on Tuesday.

Leading women’s darts player Laura Turner is one of the commentators at the world championship.

And last year, officials took the decision to stop having walk-on girls lead players to the oche before matches at darts events “following feedback from host broadcasters.” The Formula One racing series has dispensed with the long-standing tradition of having women on the grid – known as ‘’Grid Girls” – before races, considering it inappropriate and outdated.

Unlike other sports where physicality is crucial, darts is about hand-eye co-ordination. So it might just be the cultural and social environment that has prevented women from making names for themselves in a game that has a cult following in Britain, and is also popular in the Netherlands and Germany among other countries as Hearn sends darts to new markets.

The opportunity is there for women to make a name for themselves in a game that not so long ago appeared blocked off for them. Sherrock’s success can only help in that regard.