DARTS: Game on for women’s TV darts campaign

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When it emerged that the women’s matches at the recent BDO World Professional Darts Championships were not going to be televised live anywhere in the UK, Julie Lambie and Luci Cunningham were outraged at the decision made by the TV companies to refuse to show it.

They decided to do something about it, and following a determined campaign they both managed to play a significant part in bringing the women’s final to our screens in January.

Sport On The Box spoke to Julie about the campaign’s success and her plans to increase the profile of the ladies game.

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By Jon Day
Twitter: @jonday_

The BDO World Championship is one of the sport’s biggest and most prestigious events. It attracts high viewing figures, largely down to its exposure on free-to-air television, that most sporting events outside football could only dream of.

An audience of nearly three million viewers tuned in to watch Dutch qualifier Christian Kist lift the famous trophy when he beat Tony O’Shea in a closely fought and compelling World Championship final.

Alongside the men’s event, which receives an overwhelming majority of the airtime, the women’s tournament is held and provides its players with valuable experience on the big stage in front of big crowds and the glare of the TV cameras.

Russia’s Anastasia Dobromyslova regained the world title on her return to the BDO women’s circuit, in a thrilling finale against England’s Deta Hedman in front of hundreds of fans at the Lakeside Country Club in Surrey.

Though had it not been for the efforts of two individuals, nobody would have been able to watch Dobromyslova’s victory on any television set in the land.

In what the players considered to be a huge snub towards women’s darts, neither the BBC nor ESPN, the tournament’s rights holders, committed to screening live coverage of any of their matches.

But thanks to a hard-fought campaign, Lincolnshire darts secretary Julie Lambie and Sussex county darts player Luci Cunningham both managed to convince the governing body to get the women’s final screened live and free-to-air on the BBC to millions of viewers across the UK.

Clear message: Julie (R) with women's world finalist Deta Hedman (L)

The pair used the power of social media and the internet to highlight what they thought was an appalling and sexist decision by the tournament’s broadcasters to ignore their World Championships.

“I just presumed that something was going to be shown just like it had been in previous years by the BBC,” said Julie.

“But I was informed that nothing was going to be aired at all from the ladies championship, which was diabolical, and all the players were absolutely gutted.”

Until this year the BBC was the exclusive broadcaster of the BDO World Championships. They started screening live coverage every match from the Lakeside in 2005, which included the ladies tournament, either on its main channels or via its Red Button service.

But when the BDO announced a shared rights deal with ESPN for the 2012 tournament there were real fears amongst fans that the ladies event would be cast aside, as the announcement gave no indication that women’s games would be shown at all.

Come the morning of the opening day, Julie, from Market Rasen, was shocked to find out that none of Women’s World Championship games would be shown live in the UK.

Some of the women’s matches were given minimal exposure in the form of a short highlights package in between the men’s games, but Julie refused to take this as an acceptable level of coverage.

She and many others felt something needed to be done for the good of the women’s game.

“I was approached by Luci Cunningham from Sussex, who like me was disgusted that our championship wasn’t going to get shown.

“She said that we should do an online petition to get the games shown on TV, so I set one up and sent it to all my Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

“Next thing I knew we had more than 1,000 signatures after only a few days, which was just incredible.

“We then got in touch with local newspapers and radio stations, and they took note of our campaign and it started to really take off when the players themselves spoke out about it.”

Julie and Luci’s petition was one of the major topics of conversation at the Lakeside and on internet darts forums, with fans displaying their anger at the lack of coverage of the women’s championship, and their frustration at the shared broadcasting deal between the BBC and ESPN.

The ladies’ hard work and determination eventually paid off, as the BDO confirmed on the evening prior to the women’s final that the showpiece event would be screened live on the BBC’s Red Button.

“Our aim was to actually get the women’s games back on the TV for next year, but I was delighted when the news came through,” said Julie.

“We got the final shown in the end. We both felt live we’ve just achieved something special and it was fantastic.”

The uproar within the world of darts about the issue was such that former world champions John Lowe and Bob Anderson, as well as star names from both the BDO and PDC circuits, including Dean Winstanley and Chris Mason, lent their support to Julie’s cause.

Nine-times world champion Trina Gulliver has also pledged to back the petition for more TV coverage of ladies darts.

“We were so chuffed that we had people like that signing the petition, because so many people still follow them and look up to them. It was just amazing and it makes our efforts all worthwhile.”

“The whole thing just went mental,” said Julie, who firmly believes that more needs to be done to promote women’s darts, and that the popularity of the petition is proof of it.

“Getting the likes of John Lowe and Bob Anderson on-board shows that those players are behind the ladies darts.

“So much more can be done for our sport, and that has been proven over these past few weeks.”

A group male and female players are looking into the possibility of setting up a ladies-only darts organisation to represent them and to enhance the profile of ladies darts further.

But Julie firmly stated that the campaign was directed towards the broadcasters, not the BDO.

“There are a few people who aren’t happy about what we have done, but we’re not going against the governing body. It isn’t our intention to cause a rift with the BDO.

“I’m BDO through and through. I play for the county, secretary, I am a BDO player and I love the BDO, but not enough is done for the women.

“We just want them to help support the ladies to give them more recognition and give the TV companies something that they will want to show, and they will because there are so many great women players out there.”

ESPN’s live coverage of the opening few days failed to include the opening games of each session, with some men’s matches also being missed, as well as all the women’s games.

Fans were forced to resort to watching online streams to see the matches that ESPN refused to show live.

“ESPN and the BBC’s shared coverage didn’t work. Not all the matches were shown live, which was very poor.

“The irony was that if I was living outside of the UK I could watch all the games on Eurosport International.

“So we ended up watching the women’s semi finals via the internet. But we shouldn’t have been watching it on a dodgy online stream. We should be watching it on either the BBC or ESPN.”

Thanks to the petition Julie is confident this year’s fiasco will not be repeated.

“The BBC and ESPN really need to work together to sort it out for 2013. They’ve made big mistakes this year, and hopefully with the publicity generated from our petition they’ll sort it out and get everything shown properly next time.”

Support: 2012 women's world champion Anastasia Dobromyslova

With the help of some of the most high-profile names within the women’s game, Julie is in the advanced stages of setting up a major ladies-only darts event later this year.

She is hoping to attract enough entries to bring in major sponsors that would provide prize money similar to that of the men’s events, and ideally wants the governing body to lend its support.

“All the big-name players, including Trina Gulliver, Lorraine Farlam, Karen Krappen, Anastasia Dobromyslova and Deta Hedman are all keen as mustard to get involved.

“We want to get all the ladies to play darts under one roof over a weekend, and our ambition is to get the tournament recognised all over the darts world.

“This is one of the reasons why I am determined to get this competition off the ground, and get some big name sponsors behind us to get us better prize money, because once that incentive is there – like it is for the men’s – then more ladies will enter.

“I am confident that it will all happen. How big it will be we don’t know. Massive I hope!”

Julie hopes that people’s attitudes towards women’s darts will also change thanks to her campaign, and is confident that its potential will be unlocked over the coming years.

“Some of the ladies are quite capable of going up on stage and knocking the men off their spot. A lot of men would not want to go head to head with Trina!

“A third of all county players are women in the BDO system, which is fantastic. But we need bigger prize money.

“This is one of the reasons why many women will not attend, because the winnings barely cover the entry fees and travelling expenses, and without sponsors getting behind the ladies darts there is never going to be a massive payout.

“The women put in as much effort as the men do. They travel across the world to get the ranking points needed to qualify for Lakeside every year.

“They are the ones that really want to take it further, so hopefully this is just the start of something massive.”

Since the announcement of an all-male shortlist at last year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year, there has been plenty of focus and spotlight on the profile of women’s sport in the mainstream media.

Julie backs other sports to follow her lead and campaign for better coverage in the mainstream media.

“Not a long ago you wouldn’t have seen a ladies football match on television, but you do now. Women’s tennis has always enjoyed a high profile, but other women’s sports do not get enough coverage and they don’t get the publicity.

“You open your national newspapers, and it’s just football, rugby, cricket. Not much is mentioned about female sports stars at all.”

“So it would be great if other people decided to do what we have done and campaign for greater publicity for their own sports.

As a reward for all of their hard work, both Julie and Luci were invited as guests of honour by finalist Deta Hedman to be at the Lakeside to watch her play in the final as a thank you for everything they did to get the women’s final screened live on TV.

“That was the icing on the cake for me. It was a privilege to be there to support Deta and be there on behalf of ladies darts. It was total chaos, but a thoroughly enjoyable evening.”

Julie and Luci’s battle for better publicity for women’s darts is far from over. They are more than halfway towards their target of 5,001 signatures.

When they reach it the petition will be put forward to the BBC and ESPN, in the hope that they will receive better TV coverage in future tournaments.

Both have made a commendable start in their bid for equality within their sport, and their efforts should be admired and welcomed by all concerned.

Do you believe that more women’s darts should be shown on TV? Join SOTB in supporting Julie and Luci’s campaign by signing the petition – CLICK HERE

If you are interested in sponsoring Julie’s new ladies-only darts eventCLICK HERE

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