“We haven’t given up hope of a crowd in Blackpool and that’s purely because the Government hasn’t given up hope of allowing public gatherings to take place again.”
By Josh Gorton
Last Updated: 15/06/20 6:14pm
The PDC has not given up hope of hosting next month’s World Matchplay with a crowd in attendance at the Winter Gardens, insists chief executive Matt Porter.
The PDC confirmed earlier this month that the prestigious 32-player tournament would take place as originally scheduled from July 18-26 live on Sky Sports.
However, it has yet to be determined whether the Matchplay will take place at the iconic Winter Gardens venue in Blackpool, or indeed if fans will be permitted to attend.
PDC chairman Barry Hearn revealed that the Matchplay could take place at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena which hosted last week’s Championship League Snooker, but Porter still hopes the tournament can proceed with a crowd.
“Although we’ve had a few people scoffing at us, we haven’t given up hope of a crowd in Blackpool and that’s purely because the Government hasn’t given up hope of allowing public gatherings to take place again,” Porter told the Darts Show.
“We’re expecting an announcement on July 4th – it is not our decision. We are in the hands of other people and we will be led by what the decisions from above are.
“If the regulations are that you can have a public gathering, there will obviously be different restrictions, social distancing and testing.
“If you can do it then we will do our utmost to do it, because we know how good the World Matchplay is as an event and the crowd is one of the main factors that makes it so good.”
The PDC are expected to provide an update on whether the tournament can proceed with a crowd by July 4th, but Porter has revealed that they’re putting provisions in place to ensure a high-quality product is delivered.
The Bundesliga and National Rugby League have both returned to behind closed doors over recent weeks and have introduced artificial crowd noise to create an atmosphere – an option the PDC are also exploring.
“We’re talking to the relevant government departments and venues, so we will be ready if we are allowed a crowd. If we are not allowed a crowd then clearly people will still want to see the event, so then we will become wholly committed to a TV broadcast event,” he added.
“We will have various innovations that we have already started discussing with Sky to help create an atmosphere, albeit artificially. We’re not going to put the World Matchplay on in a Pro Tour cubicle, that just would not be appropriate.
“If we have to do it behind closed doors it will be done on a proper stage, but obviously because things like the walk-on and the crowd reactions wouldn’t be natural, we are going to have to work hard with technology and creativity to make them possible.”
The PDC demonstrated their innovation and creativity with the inception of the revolutionary PDC Home Tour, which saw 101 Tour Card holders from 16 different countries competing from their respective homes.
Nathan Aspinall was crowned champion after edging out Gary Anderson, but it was also an event that showcased the increasingly global appeal of the sport, with the last 32 featuring players from 11 different nations.
“It wasn’t without its obstacles but it was a tremendous feat of hard-work. 101 players, 16 countries, hundreds of matches,” Porter continued.
“It was a triumph for innovation, creativity, flexibility and positivity at a time when things are difficult for people, so fair play to all those that were involved. I really enjoyed seeing the attitude of a lot of the top players really embracing it.
“There are players from the Pro Tour who are good honest pro’s that maybe don’t get the headlines but deserve their chance to tell the world what they’re about and they had that. That was a really nice part of it.”
Despite the current restrictions that remain in place, it’s been a busy period for the PDC, who issued a further announcement on Friday confirming that competitive darts will return on July 8 with the launch of the ‘Summer Series’.
This will consist of five Players Championship events being held behind closed doors in Milton Keynes from July 8-12, with all 128 Tour Card holders able to participate, subject to restrictions imposed by their respective countries.
In the event that quarantine restrictions will make it impractical for non-UK players to travel the events, the PDC will announce a revised schedule of non-ranked events for the same dates.
However, Porter concedes that the current quarantine restrictions imposed by the UK Government is one of the key logistical challenges facing them in their bid to return to a semblance of normality.
“The big issue at the moment which we need to resolve is the 14-day quarantine for overseas visitors to the UK. If there is some form of exemption for sportsmen on that which we understand is being discussed, then that would certainly help the situation.
“We have got an obligation to 128 Tour Card holders. If there are one or two that have problems getting back into the UK, whether it is travel or their own personal situation, then they might be unlucky.
“We can’t leave 124 people at home because four people can’t get in. That would not be the right thing to do.
“It would be unfortunate for any individual who wasn’t able to come back, but assuming that number was a small percentage of the overall field of Tour Card holders, then we would need to look after the majority.
“Nobody knows what it is going to be like in two, three, four or five months. You have to be flexible and everybody understands that, because it is unprecedented and hopefully unique.”
Whilst the PDC’s immediate focus is centred around the World Matchplay and the resumption of the Pro Tour, the Premier League is also set to return on July 30 in Birmingham.
The sport’s biggest roadshow was halted following six nights of action, although with the Premier League scheduled to visit Berlin and Rotterdam over the coming months, that presents further challenges.
Nevertheless, Porter remains optimistic that these issues can be resolved, insisting that contingency plans are in place if the tournament is unable to resume on July 30.
“The Premier League is difficult because obviously you’re dealing with Germany, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England,” said the PDC Chief Executive.
“We’ve got five different territories that will have five different rules in place and that is a real challenge.
“The good thing with the Premier League is that of the 11 nights we’ve got left, if we were able to do say eight of them, you can still make a proper tournament out of that.
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“We’ve got a plan in place to start again on July 30 and we’ve got another plan in place beyond that if we’re unable to start on July 30.
“The main focus at the moment is the Matchplay and the Pro Tour restart. Once we know exactly what the situation is on those, then we will have a better idea of what we are doing on the Premier League.
“With the Premier League, because there are a lot fewer players involved, although the travelling presents more logistical challenges, the fact that you’ve got a smaller group of personnel does make it slightly easier.”
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Source : Sky Sports