By Shane Thomas
This post has a couple of trigger warnings: 1) It will contain racist language, used for the purposes of reportage. 2) All of the video links embedded in this post are 'Not Safe for Work', due to both content & language.
It's not often that I foray into the world of darts, but this story is one that shouldn't go ignored.
In the recent British International Darts Championships in Fife, the compere, Martin Fitzmaurice tried to keep the crowd entertained during a break in play. Fitzmaurice has been a fixture of the BDO (British Darts Organisation) for many years, with his catchphrase of "Let's play darts!" the siren call to energise the crowd before a match begins.
However, on this occasion, Fitzmaurice decided to use the microphone to be more than just a glorified "hype-man". He proceeded to to give what felt like a sub-standard Bernard Manning tribute act:
Here are some of Fitzmaurice's choice quotes as he addresses the crowd*:
"We're not getting racist here now, 'cos when you got a microphone in your hand, you musn't be racist."
"You musn't say racist gags. Do you think that's silly? Course it's silly."
"You get told off by the BBC. You have to be politically correct." (italics are my emphasis)
"What's political correctness? (pause) What's black and eats bananas? Half of London."
"I won't do the Paki one. Unless they ask me to. (pause) What's the difference between a Paki and E.T? E.T went home."
Now, the instinctive thing to do is to respond with animus and disgust. However, while such a reaction is understandable, it only serves to focus on one feculent tree, when we should turn our eyes to the whole rotten forest.
The world of darts is an often ignored arena of sport. Possibly because some refuse to view it as a sport at all. So let's get that out of the way. Personally, I think darts is just as worthy of being classified as a sport as snooker or golf. All require a high degree of concentration for prolonged periods, as well as an ability to hit a minute target with unerring consistency.
However, a joke from comedian, Paul Sinha touched on an unspoken facet of the make-up of the game. Responding to a question about which sport could do with increased racial diversity, Sinha nominated darts, stating you could, "probably trace it back to a second-hand car showroom in Dagenham."
Look around any major darts event, and the lack of non-white faces are conspicuous by their absence. Sports such as rowing, equestrianism, or sailing also have this issue, but that can be in part explained by the class privilege of its participants. Many working-class communities are heavily made up of ethnic minorities, who lack the disposable income to be able to afford for their children to join these aforementioned pursuits.
Darts, however is part of the working-class pub culture of Britain (the same applies to countries like Canada and Australia). One would expect darts to be a good fit for its ethnic minority population.
But as well as its complete absence of women (apart from the scantily clad ones who accompany the players to the oche, an identical example of the way cycling uses podium girls) the lack of non-white people in the sport is a harbinger of something darts - as well as British society - would rather remain quiet about.
Because the archetypical image of a person associated with darts may be one who is working class, but it's a very specific type of working class individual; Overweight, male, and white, who probably works on a local fruit & veg stall.
Rather than be a sport for all working class people, it's the last bastion of a Britain pre-immigration, pre-Suffragettes, pre-gay rights and pre-disability rights - I've always found it curious how a sport that needs one to remain still at all times, hasn't tried to make itself more inclusive to people with particular disabilities.
But I digress. Leaving aside the absurd comment that one shouldn't be racist only when they have a microphone in their hand, Fitzmaurice has given one of those empty, "sorry if anyone was offended" apologies, as well as trying to excuse his comments as "banter" - often the last refuge of the bigot. It speaks volumes that Fitzmaurice's 'jokes' were received primarily with laughter, rather than the audience getting up and leaving.
To answer Fitzmaurice's rhetorical question on "what is political correctness", the comedian, Stewart Lee sagaciously describes it as, "An often clumsy negotiation towards a formally inclusive language... there's all sorts of problems with it, but it's better than what we had before." Personally I think the phrase itself is a misnomer. It's not about being politically correct. It's simply being correct.
Fitzmaurice has since resigned from the BDO for his comments. But his parting shot at the media firestorm show that he has learnt nothing from his invective. The sport of darts needs to ensure it doesn't do the same.
Just because Fitzmaurice is no longer a presence, that doesn't fix the problem of darts venues being a sanctum where ignorance about the diverse and multitudinous culture of contemporary Britain is shut out.
There's a reason why I've never felt comfortable with the prospect of going to a live darts event. And until the BDO - and PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) - make active strides to close the diversity gap in the sport, in areas of race, gender, sexuality, and disability, I'll continue to give them a wide berth.
Whether darts cares about this or not remains to be seen, but Fitzmaurice's conduct has given the sport an ideal launching pad to make progressive change. Darts may have an open door policy, but only if your face fits. It's time they open those doors for everyone.
* - Despite the link to the video having the offending words bleeped out, I was lucky enough to hear an unedited copy, before it was taken off the Internet. I can assure you that the quotes are verbatim.
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