LONDON (Reuters) – The images were blurred, and the wifi decidedly dodgy, but darts stepped up to the oche on Friday to provide some rare live entertainment for sports-starved fans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throwing from the comfort and security of living rooms and spare bedrooms, and even a landing, a cast of top players kicked off a novel 32 night Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) tournament in home isolation.
The prospect of watching any sport, particularly when available for free, appeared tempting to so many fans that the live streaming of the event on the PDC’s TV channel buckled under the pressure.
“This PDC Home Tour is an absolute car crash. Moon Landings had better picture quality,” commented one Twitter user.
Another suggested obsolete VHS video technology offered better quality.
The connections were not helped by some rudimentary technological fixes, including a suggestion that Welshman Jamie ‘Fireball’ Lewis had taped his camera phone to a door-handle to provide the necessary images.
Lewis provided the shock of the evening with a 5-1 thrashing of world champion Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright, who was sporting a multicoloured mohican hairstyle with the logo of the National Health Service (NHS) on his scalp.
“It’s very difficult as you can’t read your opponent’s body language,” said Wright, the world number two, of defeat to an opponent who ended the evening top of the group and through to the last 32.
Two other top performers had already been ruled out by poor connections.
Two-times PDC world champion Gary ‘The Flying Scotsman’ Anderson said his wifi was just not reliable enough.
“It doesn’t surprise me. I struggle to pay bills online in my house, it’s really frustrating,” he had told the Sun newspaper.
“It’s unbelievable,” he added. “Two years on the trot I’ve missed the opening few months.”
World number one Michael van Gerwen was another big absentee, the Dutchman telling RTL7 television that his home life made it impossible.
“It has to be quiet but with a newborn baby, a child of two and a half years and three dogs, it really won’t work,” he explained.
Wright was meanwhile keeping his spirits up in a living room with its own bar and pool table.
“The room is just like going down to a local pub,” the Scot, who played England’s Peter Jacques in the opening match, had told The Times.
“We will miss the crowd, the atmosphere is amazing on stage, body tingling, even if they boo you,” added the 50-year-old. “I will take that feeling to my grave… without the crowd we would not have darts.”
There were no rolling calls of “180’, a much-loved feature of the sport, with the players relaying their scores to a remote commentator whose own connection occasionally went missing.
Editing by Peter Rutherford, Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar