COVID-19 – THE GREATEST-EVER THREAT TO DARTS AND OTHER PUB GAMES

While all around us (at least here in the UK) the plague that is Covid-19 appears to be easing, the UK Government allowed pubs and clubs to reopen from early July provided they can implement advice published in a 48-page document; instructions that are designed to protect the public and staff from each other and ensure social distancing.

(The photograph shows one of my local pubs, the Carpenters Arms, a small, backstreet pub with darts and dominoes and great real ale. (Photo © Stephen P. Nunn. Used with permission.))

For the majority of pubs in the UK, providing food is vital to ensure their profitability. It has been so for decades. In many cases the provision of a darts area has also been important especially on those quieter evenings (say, Monday-Wednesday) where a public bar packed with players and supporters can ensure good trading particularly during the winter.

Covid-19 has been a hammer blow to our pubs here in the UK which were all closed in March by order of the Government and only (but cautiously) reopened last month. Sadly some have remained closed and may never open their doors again.

Licensees have had to plan both their indoor and outdoor spaces to accommodate strict rules, the most important of which relates to social distancing. Tables need to be placed to ensure at least a one metre distance between them and thus many fewer tables are available for meals unless more space can be found. Thus it may well be that the space otherwise occupied by darts is turned into room for another table. I am sure this has happened on numerous occasions in the past but sadly I expect these incidents to increase over the weeks to come as dining and seating space is at a premium. 

Even if the dartboard and existing darts space survives such measures, how the hell can you play darts and guarantee social distancing? The person chalking (traditionally taking chalks means you play the winner of the game in progress) will always be less than one metre away as the thrower collects his or her darts unless each player chalks their own. Each using a separate piece of chalk of course and discarding said pieces after each game. OK if the pub has an electronic scorer presumably that will have to be disinfected after each game.

Darts is one of the few sports that usually begin and end with a handshake.

Not anymore.

Darts is such a sociable game and thrives on friendship and lively banter. Darts generates its own unique atmosphere.  Not even having a separate Games Room will necessarily save darts. That Games Room is a valuable space: even more valuable now but not for darts; for more tables. Worst case scenario: they’ve removed the dartboard and detachable oche and filled it with tables. The pool table is outside under a canopy. Why isn’t darts out there under cover? One reason is that you have to pay to play pool. Leaving the dartboard where it is might seem to indicate a potential return at a later date.

Possibly.

A couple of years ago, as part of a tongue-in-cheek April Fool piece in my global Dr. Darts’ Newsletter (DDN) I suggested that an European Union regulation was to be introduced making it compulsory for Perspex ® screens to be constructed between the player on the oche and those watching him/her. This was not for any specific health reasons but to protect spectators, the chalker and the other players from any chance of damage by rebounding darts.

Now it appears that, given the impact of Covid-19, was not such a ludicrous idea.

I sincerely hope that solutions like the Perspex ® screen are found and darts continues to thrive in public houses and clubs across the planet but things will have to change. Something as simple as the ‘house darts’: that mixture of old sets of darts that are kept behind the bar for all and sundry to use; sometimes for free and sometimes, if they are decent, tungsten darts, for a small deposit to ensure their safe return. If someone wanted to play darts and the house darts were unavailable who, in this plague-conscious time, will want to lend their darts to them?

Paranoid?

Possibly.

Here in the UK there are substantial pockets of other pub games played up and down the country. I am thinking specifically of dominoes (see here being played in the Carpenters Arms) (Photo © 2019 Chipsnapz. Used with permission) and shove ha’penny where the games are kept behind the bar and loaned out to customers upon request. Both games require contact with ‘pieces’; the dominoes themselves the ‘bones’, the ‘pegs’ on the cribbage board used for scoring and, in the case of shove ha’penny, contact with the board and the coins.

Will the ‘bones’ and the coins and board have to be treated/disinfected between each round? And with dominoes and playing card games such as cribbage, how will shuffling the bones before the commencement of each game ever be right under Covid-19 rules?

There are two choices in my view. Either the games stay behind the bar counter and are not allowed out for play until all the tightest of restrictions are lifted (thus probably killing them off) or the players agree to flout the law and play on. The latter of course puts the landlord or landlady at the risk of being reported and, thus, the very real chance of losing his/her licence.

Clearly Covid-19 has not been a threat to televised darts: the Professional Darts Corporation has worked splendidly to provide ongoing darts tournaments and entertaining clashes between current darts stars and, with a bit of luck, the crowds will be allowed to return to venues at some stage: hopefully sooner rather than later.  Various darts Apps have allowed the keenest of general players to compete virtually.

But there is nothing, nothing like the real thing.

Will I ever play darts in the Carpenters Arms again? 

I sincerely hope so.

© 2020 Patrick Chaplin

Featured image of Dutch darts star Jimmy Hendricks copyright Tip Top Pics. Used with permission.

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