Majestically rising like a phoenix from the flames, the inaugural WDF World Championships burst into life on April 2nd 2022.
Nick Rolls their General Secretary talked to Darts World:
After the BDO metaphorically shot and buried their mythical bird in 2019, the WDF mercifully stepped in and resurrected the famous tournament.
Originally scheduled for January, the event was postponed amidst uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Thankfully, it’s now all systems go.
The iconic Lakeside Country Club crowed four new champions with the Mens, Women’s, Boys and Girls titles all being contested across the nine-day event.
Approaching fifty years as a governing body of the sport, the WDF crucially stepped in to recreate a valued and steeped tradition, branch of amateur darts.
WDF Secretary-General, Nick Rolls kindly offered his time to speak exclusively to Darts World.
As you launch your inaugural event, what lessons can be learnt from what happened towards the end under the BDO?
I think that both myself and Richard Ashdown (WDF Chief Development Officer) leant on our experiences from being in and around players for a length of time. So we knew the main things that needed addressing.
One of the first items on our agenda was discussing the grading of tournaments and the levels of prize money offered, especially to the women.
We believe that our Gold, Silver and Bronze structure gives clear definition of which tournaments offer the highest number of ranking points and the largest amounts of prize money.
As a part of the change, we introduced a prize fund structure that we believe better recognises the women’s game and provides an incentive for ladies to attend tournaments.
We have made a commitment to stick with that prize structure throughout 2022. However, if the number of women entering tournaments does not increase, then we will have to revise our strategy.
As a final point on this subject, it’s important to understand that we spoke to all seventy WDF Member Countries before finalising this structure.
At the end of the day, it’s “their” WDF. Gaining their support for our plans and tweaking suggestions for the better was vital.
Due to Holland being in lockdown at the time, you were forced to cancel the 2021 Masters tournament. How much did that set you back?
A lot! I can remember the zoom call as if it was yesterday.
I have to say that NDB (translated as the Dutch Darts Federation) and Paul Engelbertink (Director) have been brilliant in the way that they have helped Richard and myself.
Perhaps the most saddening thing from our point of view was seventy WDF Member Countries and players across the world had put their faith in us. So to not deliver what we promised was upsetting.
Of course, it was completely unavoidable and thankfully, everyone involved understood and accepted that. But all of the chat leading up to this event was how great it would be to once again be part of a worldwide tournament and finally catch up with old friends.
Then with one push of the ‘send’ button, we dashed all of those hopes and dreams.
So after the unfortunate Masters’ situation, it must have been incredibly difficult to make the decision to postpone the World Championships?
Absolutely. We eventually made the heart-wrenching call to postpone it on 15th December.
At that time, the situation around COVID in the UK was bleak. It was widely expected that we would be returning to a full national lockdown after Christmas – or certainly in the New Year.
So yes, it was yet another really difficult decision to have to make. But given the facts available at that specific time, we fully believe it was the right call.
But sometimes you need a bit of good fortune. And the fact that both the Lakeside and Eurosport were available for 2nd – 10th April was just that!
It was, without doubt, the big slice of luck we definitely deserved after all the hard work undertaken to get the World Championships back in the darting calendar.
Once it was determined that the WDF World Championships would take place AFTER the PDC Q-School, what actions did you take in seeking a compromise for any players gaining a tour card to still be permitted to compete in your event?
When making the decision to postpone the Lakeside World Championships to April, we knew that we were opening ourselves to the possibility of losing players to the PDC.
There were a lot of WDF representatives attending Q-School and we always felt many could secure a tour card. And indeed that was the case with seven players scheduled to appear at Lakeside claiming one.
However, we still felt an obligation to those players as well as the integrity and credibility of our esteemed tournament.
So we wrote to the PDC asking that they consider allowing the new tour cardholders the opportunity to still play at Lakeside this year.
The WDF were delighted when the PDC listened to our situation and, because of the extenuating circumstances, agreed to a one-off decision to allow them to compete.
It was in the best interest of the players and the game. We were thrilled both organisations recognised that.
The PDC and WDF working together – isn’t that what darts has been crying out for?
Was it a simple decision to look at the Lakeside as the World Championship venue or were others considered?
My personal view is that Lakeside is still known as ‘the home of World darts.
Based upon that belief, a home that players and fans recognised as symbolic with darts was key. Naturally, it was a huge advantage for us to be negotiating with a venue and people we already knew very well.
So yes, I guess the answer to the question is the Lakeside was certainly our first option. Once we had an agreement set in principle, looking at other venues took a back seat.
Would you like to see WDF players invited to the Grand Slam later in the year to maintain the initial tradition of that tournament?
Yes, of course.
But we have to accept that, in the years between the last time the BDO were fully represented in that tournament and now, a lot has changed in the way that the PDC decides the field.
Does it mean we don’t speak to the PDC to discuss options? No, of course not. Thankfully, we have a great relationship with Matt Porter (Chief Executive) and many of the PDC officials.
It’s now up to the WDF to prove that we are a credible option for darts at a grassroots level. Then to show the PDC there’s a different type of excitement when WDF players get the chance to pit their skills against the professionals.
Eurosport will be broadcasting the World Championships. Are there plans in place for them to cover other events such as the Masters and the various Opens?
Of course, working with Eurosport at the World Championships will hopefully open up other avenues for future WDF tournaments to receive television coverage.
But at this point in time, our sole aim is to perfectly execute a return to Lakeside and produce a professional TV coverage that viewers want to see more of.
You mentioned your relationship with the PDC is very strong. Is your intention to work alongside each other going forward to prevent possible clashes of one another’s major events?
This is a really difficult one to answer. Lakeside has always started on the first Saturday of the year and the respective World Championships have run side by side for a long time.
In the past, where they do clash, it’s never been seen as a problem. There is no denying that it would be beneficial to find some common ground, predominantly in the women’s game.
But we also have to respect that, whilst we are trying to find the best solution for the women, so are the PDC.
It’s probably best described as a work in progress with doors in both camps wide open.
Originally published in Darts World Extra – The Worlds
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