Darts hits the bullseye with Szabo's showing

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2013
Rob Szabo
Photosport

ON TARGET: Rob Szabo of the Porirua Club pushed Phil "The Power" Taylor hard at the world championships in London.

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Head along to the Kapi Mana Darts Association rooms in Porirua and you're more likely to find a creche than anything resembling the darts you see on TV.

There's music, but only in the background. As for players walking out to a theme tune, or with scantily clad young women on each arm, you must be joking.

Kids from as young as nine play at Kapi Mana and their younger brothers and sisters are well looked after while mum and dad are tossing the tungsten.

More than 2500 people are registered with darts clubs in New Zealand, with around 600 of those coming from Wellington. This region is a real hot bed of the sport, if a world away from the pomp and circumstance that accompanies darts royalty like Phil "The Power" Taylor everywhere he goes.

"It's a really family-orientated sport in New Zealand because a lot of our clubs are clubs. They're not pubs," said New Zealand Darts Council general secretary and Kapi Mana member Paula Masoe.

Most people's connection with the sport is through the television, though. It's caused a slight increase in registered player numbers, which Masoe alerted Sport New Zealand to in a recent report.

She can't remember a time when the general public were more interested in darts, a lot of piqued by what Wellington's Rob Szabo did against Taylor at the World Darts Championships. Even if there's a slight irony about the stage that Szabo was playing on.

That was a Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) event, which Szabo qualified by virtue of being a chartered club member and winning their national tournament.

NZ Darts, though, are affiliated to the British Darts Organisation (BDO), who are about to hold their own world championship in Surrey. Auckland's Mike Day will be New Zealand's representative but, unlike Szabo, he won't be getting television coverage in this country.

Britain's BSkyB hold the rights to PDC darts and the BBC to the BDO.

Things are similarly fragmented on the New Zealand scene.

"We work with three different ranking systems here," Masoe said.

"We have a New Zealand ranking system, we have a World Darts Federation ranking system and we have a BDO ranking system. Some players are registered with the NZ Darts Council and some with the adjunct of the chartered clubs.

"Quite a few are registered with both and Rob's one of those. He plays for the Darts Council out of the Wellington Darts Association and he plays for the chartered clubs out of the Porirua Club.

"Rob is typical of the standard of the players we have in New Zealand but because we're so far away from all the main competitions we don't feature in the PDC for instance.

"They're all professional, they make a living out of it. Rob's a builder, he's got a mortgage and a young family. You can get into the PDC via a qualifying school in January, but you've got to get a sponsor and then get over there and get through it."

The NZ Darts Council might not have any official connection to the PDC, but they are getting some leverage from its events.

"One of the reasons we've got so much television coverage at the moment is because of an agreement the Darts Council has with the TAB and they're the ones bringing it all in to enable the sports betting," said Masoe.

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"People that have never seen darts or seen the inside of a darts hall, they're saying how great it is. We're nothing like the PDC, with all the fancy dress and things like that, but we run some very good competitions in New Zealand.

"The coverage is helping us and we're hoping that it will translate into more people, especially young people, coming along and wanting to have a go."

- Fairfax Media

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