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PDC ready but waiting for crowd return go ahead for Premier League Darts conclusion
In an exclusive chat with The Darts Show podcast, PDC chief executive Matt Porter discusses his hopes for the return of fans, a wide-open start to the Premier League and how the rest of the season is likely to play out
Last Updated: 16/04/21 8:36am
Despite the withdrawal of the world No 1 less than 10 hours before Premier League Darts was due to start, PDC chief executive Matt Porter is delighted with the competitive nature of this year's competition and still has hope the final stages will be played out in front of a crowd.
"It is a waiting game but I just want to reassure everybody, whether you're a fan, a player, a stakeholder, we are ready to do whatever we need to do as soon as we are allowed," Porter told the latest episode of The Darts Show podcast.
"We are not taking this as time off. We have got Plan A down to Plan Z all in place and that's been proven I think by the content we've delivered and the way that we have delivered it.
"It's all about having the ability to think on your feet and have things ready in the background. Whilst it may not look like there is much happening, in the background there is a million pieces of a jigsaw being put in place and it's just about getting the final one allowed."
Planning any sporting season has been tricky over the last 12 months, but the PDC has reacted with innovation and speed over the last year to deliver as strong a darting calendar as possible - from the Home Tour during the first lockdown to a World Championship played out almost entirely behind closed doors.
The start of the 2021 Premier League, which had already delayed the naming of its last entrant, was pushed back two months by the coronavirus pandemic and then forced behind closed doors as restrictions remained in place before being handed another challenge just under a fortnight ago.
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Gerwyn Price - the world no 1, newly crowned world champion and arguably the sport's most dominant player over the last 18 months - was forced to withdraw from the Premier League after returning a positive test for Covid-19.
The news came less than 10 hours before the opening night was due to get under way, and very swiftly it was announced that James Wade was to replace Price and the usual social media furore on how the tournament would continue followed.
The way the world is now there has to be a procedure, and with precedents set following positive tests at the World Grand Prix, on the European Tour and at the World Championship, for Porter and the PDC team it was simple.
"It's a sign of the times isn't it really," Porter added.
"To lose your world No 1 and world champion is very disappointing, but unfortunately we have to follow the rules and Gerwyn tested positive.
"It's very unfortunate for the event, very unfortunate for Gerwyn, very fortunate for James Wade - fair play to him for being so cooperative and being willing to travel up to Milton Keynes on the off-chance and he got the reward for that.
"We have to follow the rules. If we don't follow the rules, we can't put the event on. I think he's coming towards the end of his isolation now and hopefully his health remains good and he can be back on the board sooner rather than later."
Wade was the first reserve, he was in Milton Keynes and had been tested for exactly that reason so it was a pretty simple process that he would take Price's place and slot in simply into the Iceman's fixtures.
Premier League Darts: Night 6 fixtures
|Rob Cross vs Gary Anderson|
|Jose de Sousa vs James Wade|
|Jonny Clayton vs Dimitri Van den Bergh|
|Glen Durrant vs Michael van Gerwen|
|Nathan Aspinall vs Peter Wright|
Back-to-back nine-darters from Jose de Sousa and Jonny Clayton, 100+ averages and the top nine players in the table separated by just three points after De Sousa's win over Dimitri Van den Bergh in the final match of the opening phase.
Only defending champion Glen Durrant is cut adrift as the competition resumes at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes on Monday with four more nights of action - at the end of those two players will be eliminated.
"I feel for Glen," said Porter. "He's obviously going through some really difficult times on the board and hopefully that is something he can overcome. I know that is something is facing up to and something he is addressing. He's not one of these players who just thinks everything is okay and carry on doing what he is doing.
"He is trying to put things right and that is because he is a proper professional. The rest of them - it's throw all the names up in the air, isn't it?
"That is what drives good sporting interest. Nobody wants to see walkovers and people winning the league by 20 points, because it's boring. You don't want to know who wins up until the end and that's what we have got at the moment which is great.
"Jonny and Dimi have shown great signs, but everybody else is hunched behind them.
"Even Jose, who maybe struggled on the first couple of nights in terms of results, won performance of the night twice in the five nights and he's ninth!
"It just shows you it is absolutely anybody's game."
It's now more than a year since the PDC welcomed a full house for one of their events in this country. Small crowds on a couple of occasions in Europe and a handful on the opening night of the World Championship are the only time paying customers have come through the door.
But as restrictions begin to ease, the hopes of crowds returning begin to grow. Test events are already in place, and World Snooker will play out their tournament in Sheffield with a crowd and the PDC will be watching their Matchroom colleagues closely.
The plan, as it has always been, is for a crowd in the final week of the Premier League, which comes a week after the next easing of the lockdown and eventually - as Barry Hearn told the podcast a fortnight ago, to have a full house for the World Matchplay in Blackpool.
Porter's team are ready, even if it's short notice and with small windows for ticket sales.
"We have had preliminary conversations, we know the venues are ready to go, we've got a plan in place, we just need to be told we're allowed to do it and see if people want to come.
"Obviously time is short. I think it's just over four weeks away now so we haven't got a huge amount of time, but it wouldn't be a huge amount of tickets either, so hopefully we can move things forward there, but we are in other people's hands as always.
"It's May 17th - the next stage of unlocking - there was initially talk of crowds of 1,000 or 50 per cent capacity being allowed for indoor events. That's the benchmark that we are looking for, so things keep moving towards then."
The darting year has centred around a couple of blocks of Pro Tour events, it has meant 12 Players Championship competitions have taken place, alongside the Masters, the UK Open and the start of the Premier League.
🎯 Latest on a crowd in MK for the final week with @MattPorter_PDC— Sky Sports Darts (@SkySportsDarts) April 14, 2021
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🍰 And of course #LloydyForBakeOffhttps://t.co/KhcZnX5vbr
The World Series has already been moved, with just the Nordic Masters and the World Series Finals taking place in Europe. The World Cup of Darts will take place in Jena in Germany in September rather than the scheduled June date, and as things stand there are no European Tour events on the calendar.
"We have got plenty of venues on standby, places that the players are used to going to," Porter adds.
"Obviously there are different countries involved so there are different stages of restrictions there, but the simple position is we're ready to go quickly, as and when we can.
"We have to be mindful of the travel and of hotels, testing requirements, quarantine. Ultimately at the moment we cannot do anything so we're not going to do anything, but when we can we'll be ready to move.
"We won't be playing the European Tour behind closed doors so it's going to rely on crowds.
"We're probably a third of the way through time-wise, but I wouldn't say content wise - we are certainly hoping to backload the second half of the year if you like.
"The standard has been phenomenal; it has been great. It has been frustrating that we haven't really moved anywhere in terms of crowds, although hopefully the wheels are starting to turn there.
"It's just the usual challenges of testing and overseas travel have been blighting us, but apart from that, it's been something that we're getting used to."
Don't miss an arrow thrown with Sky Sports as Premier League Darts resumes on Monday, April 19 at 7pm on Sky Sports Action - and stick with us for build-up this for updates, interviews and reaction from start of this year's competition