PDC chairman Barry Hearn has welcomed the return of competitive darts telling The Darts Show podcast that five one-day events will be held behind closed doors from July 8-12.
The sport has flourished during lockdown courtesy of the innovative online darts concept, although in an exclusive interview with the Darts Show podcast, Hearn confirmed the sport will return in its purest form next month ahead of the World Matchplay.
One week after the PDC confirmed that the coveted World Matchplay would take place on July 18-26 as originally scheduled – with a venue still to be decided – five one-day events will take place at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena on July 8-12.
All 128 Tour Card Holders will be given the chance to compete in five one-day Players Championship events played behind closed doors in Milton Keynes.
As with all 2020 Players Championship events, prize money will stand at £75,000 per event, with all winnings counting towards the relevant PDC Orders of Merit.
In the event that quarantine restrictions make it impractical for non-UK players to travel to the events, the PDC will announce a revised schedule of non-ranked events for the same dates.
All will be subject to all regulations surrounding Covid-19 and relevant testing and it is hoped that all five competitions will be ranked, but a final decision has yet to be made with details of quarantine for overseas players still being finalised.
“We will announce that we will be doing five Pro Tour events in the second week of July to give some more balance to the seedings, because obviously we have been inactive in the last couple of months,” Hearn told The Darts Show podcast.
“Players haven’t had the chance to improve or earn their chance at the Matchplay so we’re going to try and put that partially right for early July.
“We hope they are Pro Tour events but that will really come down to the government, hopefully to reconsider this 14-day isolation period for people visiting the UK, which seems to be fundamentally flawed in so many different ways.”
The government enforced a 14-day period of self-isolation for those arriving in the UK from June 8 onwards, which presents a major obstacle for the PDC given the global demographic of the circuit.
Although the likes of Simon Whitlock and Dimitri Van den Bergh are currently based in the UK, seven of the world’s top 32 – including Michael van Gerwen, Mensur Suljovic and Krzysztof Ratajski would all have to quarantine under current guidelines.
This issue is compounded by the multitude of players further down the darting echelons that would also be forced to self-isolate, but Hearn is hopeful that an exemption can be secured – a precedent established across other sports.
“I believe there will be an exemption as I think they’ve already agreed with Formula One and I think to some extent the West Indies cricket team that have come over,” Hearn added.
“We want the same ability to bring players over to our bubble. They will be tested on arrival so they will actually be a lot safer than most other visitors and they will be in an enclosed environment so they’re no danger to anyone.
“By doing that, we will get the darts caravan trail working again and the World Matchplay will then follow after that with at least players in form, match-fit and ready to entertain.”
The Matchplay – second only to the World Championship in terms of prestige – will be the first major darting event televised since the suspension of events due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It is not yet confirmed whether the tournament will be held at the iconic Winter Gardens with a crowd in attendance, although Hearn insists there are contingency plans in place with Milton Keynes Marshall Arena having already held snooker’s Championship League over 11 days.
“The latest on the Matchplay is the government is going to make the next key decision – that date is June 28. We have said we are going to make the final call on July 1,” Hearn revealed.
“The call will be – we’ve got the normal Blackpool venue available. If we are allowed any type of crowd, we will stage the World Matchplay there.
“If not, we have Milton Keynes available to switch it to behind closed doors and we will play it there. The key news for Sky fans and the millions who follow darts is that the event will take place on the days previously announced, one way or the other.”
“I’m going to work within government guidelines at every single stage, I’m going to worry about health and safety every moment of my day.”
Hearn on darts’ return
Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena hosted Snooker’s Championship League from June 1-11 – another sport within Hearn’s Matchroom umbrella.
The event was broadcast on ITV and multiple players were full of praise for the venue’s extensive safety measures, and it will also play host to Snooker’s elite Tour Championship later this month.
Hearn insists the safety of players remains paramount and referenced his pride at the safe environment cultivated within his sports.
“I’m going to work within government guidelines at every single stage, I’m going to worry about health and safety every moment of my day. We’ve put a system in at Snooker; there isn’t a sport in this country or the world that is capable of creating such a safe environment.
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“I’m proud of that because it puts everybody’s mind at rest, but we can also carry on those principles in other sports and ensure that we make this bubble of protection because that’s our responsibility and we take it very seriously.
“This is a master plan of recovery, the like of which I have never encountered in my life, but we are all up and ready to go.”
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