Column #464 America NEEDS a National Darts Regulation Authority

Monday, June 2, 2014
Column 464
America NEEDS a National Darts Regulation Authority!

Recently there have been some incidents on the American darts circuit and in Facebook darts  discussion groups that underscore the need for some sort of serious process – an overarching  regulatory authority – to be established to set out standards of behavior and sanction those who bring our sport into disrepute.

In this exciting time when darts is rebounding at the grass roots (thanks largely to soft tip) and flourishing at the uppermost levels (thanks to the PDC, DARTSLIVE and the new NAPDA) there is no place for anyone unwilling or unable to conduct him or herself in a respectable manner. For the good of the sport it is incumbent upon the governing powers to individually and jointly establish and embrace a clear Code of Conduct and a system to enforce it across organizational lines.

Let me give you a few examples of actions that have no place in our sport, at any level, and which should be cause for penalizing the offending player or players. If you don’t agree I’ll put out my joint, call your mother a whore, post lies about you online, fling my darts across the room, pour beer down your shirt and punch your frickin’ lights out.

The bad news is that all of this occurs – and we all know it. The good news is that the offenders are few but habitual. The mystery is why such actions are permitted to continue.

Some say that since local leagues and the American Darts Organization (ADO) are volunteer-driven outfits there just isn’t the manpower or budget to monitor and control such behavior. I say this is bunk, nothing but a weak excuse to sidestep dealing with the issue or, worse, to let friends off easy by turning a blind eye to conduct we wouldn’t dream of condoning in other areas of our lives.

Some years ago I had a discussion with former ADO president Sandi Cain about the ADO’s role in monitoring the sport. She explained that staffing and budget considerations required that this sort of thing be left to the leagues and tournament directors. I don’t see this as a problem. I see it as an essential part of the answer. Similar conversations more recently with several other darts officials only reinforce the sensibility and practicality of this component of the solution.

Those who act during league and at tournaments in ways that would see them ejected from any workplace or restaurant and any other type of sporting event in the civilized world bring nothing but disrespect to themselves and our sport. They turn newcomers away, adding to the struggle of leagues and local tournaments to survive and reinforce the stereotypes that have held top-level darts back from proper sponsorship and big time exposure for decades.

I wonder how, for example, the ADO goes about sanctioning leagues and tournaments? Is there criteria? Is there discussion and a vote at board meetings? Or is any league or tournament just accepted as a matter of course? And how is membership reviewed or renewed?  I wonder because it would just seem reasonable that leagues and tournaments should agree to meet certain expectations before being admitted as a member of any national governing organization and have their tournaments sanctioned (and re-sanctioned).

When Tom Fleetwood established the ADO system nearly 40 years ago tournament sanctioning was a way to guarantee players that they could count on receiving the winnings they earned. It worked.  Today, the ADO decision making process is one of the great mysteries in life.

It is time to put more teeth into the sanctioning and re-sanctioning system, not just at the ADO but at every single one of the governing organizations.

In order to be admitted as a member league and to have its tournaments sanctioned, a league should be required to have an annual independent audit and their audited financial statement should be a formal part of the application and renewal process. Players should know that the funds they entrust to their local leagues are handled honestly.  It is also time that leagues and tournament directors be required by their sanctioning organizations to monitor and enforce a Code of Conduct and take swift and very specific actions in certain clearly defined situations if they wish to maintain their status as an accredited member league or sanctioned tournament.

Nobody wants to walk into a league match and week after week have to tolerate the actions of those few who consistently disrupt play. A system that is grounded in a Code of Conduct that is specific, means something, and deals with those who offend is certain to prove beneficial to the sport. The imprimatur of sanction by a governing body that requires a Code of Conduct and demands that it be enforced would undoubtedly help many leagues retain membership and attract new blood.

In the case of tournaments, the power of such a system would be that if rules were not enforced and sanction was lost, the attraction would be gone for players who travel to earn ranking points. It would therefore behoove organizers at the local level to tow the line in order to retain their sanction.

The rules of conduct and the penalties for violating them must be clear and specific, developed and adopted by each of the governing bodies, and enforcement of the rules and sanctioning violations must be a fundamental part of any partnership agreement between any league and their governing body. The rules and penalties for violating them should be standardized and all of the governing bodies should cooperate by enforcing penalties handed down by any one of them individually so sanctioned players can’t jump from one organization to another.

What might be included in a reasonable universal policy to help ensure acceptable conduct and sportsmanship throughout the sport of darts across America? The following should be included on any list:

  • pushing or striking an opponent, spectator or official;
  • any action which may cause damage to a hosting facility;
  • any on-site violation of any public law;
  • harassing, mocking, heckling, badgering, insulting, challenging or taunting an opponent to engender ill will, in person or online;
  • profanity; and
  • intentionally cheating or deliberately throwing a match.

No individual listed on the FBI’s Sex Offender Registry should be allowed anywhere near organized darts activity.

Any player who commits the most egregious act of punching another player or spectator should be ejected on the spot from whatever event the violation takes place and banned indefinitely from participating in any darts event anywhere in the country sanctioned by any of the governing bodies and should be prohibited from participating in any national or international event for which they may have previously qualified.

Of course, no sanction should be applied ex post facto.  There should be some sort of appeal process. But most important, the process of establishing the system should begin post haste and it should be embraced jointly by all the governing organizations.

In an age when the sport of darts, steel and electronic, is gaining more and more respectability and exposure it is essential that we all demand certain minimum standards of conduct. If the various national darts organizations in America are unwilling or unable to address this issue independently, they should collaborate in forming a National Darts Regulation Authority.

I comment on all this not to be critical of the national darts organizations, although in the case of the ADO it is unavoidable.  I have reviewed each of their rules and despite the universal expectation that proper conduct and good sportsmanship govern the sport, I come away unsatisfied.

Except in the case of two: the NAPDA and DARTSLIVE.

Just as it is universally accepted that speeding in a school zone is unacceptable – what constitutes speeding and how violators are to be penalized is fundamental to order and fairness in civilized society. It is equally understood that, generally, those who break the speed limit (or any law) are penalized similarly wherever they break the law.

To expect good sportsmanship but not define precisely what falls outside the limits of good sportsmanship, to define the limits but not prescribe the penalties for exceeding the limits and to define the penalties but not enforce them equally across jurisdictions is to essentially have no policy. 

As to enforcement across jurisdictions even the NAPDA and DARTSLIVE fall short.

In England there is the Darts Regulation Authority (DRA) but as impressed as I am with the concept I am unimpressed with the sometimes uneven administration of sanctions. For any such body – in England, America or anywhere – to have the desired effect, it must be run fairly and judiciously according to a published set of clear criteria.

What I am suggesting is that acceptance of an agreement to strictly enforce an explicit Code of Conduct be required as an integral part of each of the darts governing organization’s sanctioning process for leagues and tournaments – and that it be administered at the local level. If when an offense occurs the required action is not taken then future sanctioning of the league or tournament should be withdrawn.

Currently, the ADO’s Tournament Rules prescribe that “good sportsmanship will be the prevailing attitude throughout the tournament.” It is further stated that anyone who fails to comply with any of the rules “will be subject to disqualification from that event.” There are sixty rules but all of them, except for one prohibiting gambling, are essentially procedural.

In the ADO Representation Agreement for national and international events a player must agree to slightly more specific terms. They must conduct themselves “in a sportsmanlike manner” and there is an understanding that any breach of the Agreement including the “implied Code of Conduct” could result in a “banning of the player(s) from all future ADO programs for a period to be determined by the Board of Directors.”

The ADO By-laws (Article VI – Censure, Probation, Fines, Suspension and Expulsion) contain, in part, the following:

Categorically, and without restriction, the ADO reserves the right to censure, fine, suspend, or expel (terminate) any Member Person (regardless of category) or Officer who willfully creates disharmony, behaves in a manner prejudicial to order and discipline or tarnishes the image of the sport of darts. No player, official, sponsor nor spectator needs to tolerate harassment, belligerency, defamation, or poor sportsmanship from any ADO Member Person. However, a remedy for such infractions is not the sole purview of the ADO. Where the incident occurred has significant impact on who provides subsequent disciplinary action.

A recent request to the ADO’s president (and also to the appropriate tournament director)  requesting an opinion on actions (defamation) of one of the ADO’s former Regional Directors went unanswered.  Such is the state of this organization.

The American Darters Association’s (ADA) rule book includes a section called Etiquette that states “Verbal or physical abuse will not be tolerated” and raises the prospect of membership suspension or revocation. Under a heading called Conduct During League Play the rules state that evidence of unsportsmanlike conduct including heckling or harassment, foul or insulting language and physical violence shall be cause for penalizing the players or expulsion from the league. There is a process defined for dealing with protests and disputes.

The National Dart Association (NDA) requires that each of its members, as a requirement of membership and renewal thereof, pledge to abide by a Code of Ethics. Although neither the Code nor the sanctions for violating it are particularly specific there is no mistaking the intent. There is a process defined for dealing with infractions and mention of a series of sanctions ranging from fines to suspension, and an appeals process.

But none of these bodies are specific as to exactly what penalty shall be levied for any specific infraction. None of the governing bodies specifically prohibit a player banned from another organization from participating in their organization.

Then there is DARTSLIVE.  Steve Ngu, Rob Heckman, Paul Lim and others continue to blaze a trail. In part, from the DARTSLIVE “The World” and “America’s Tour” (and World Soft Tip Darts Association – WSDA) rules:

Players who engage in any of the following acts without due reasons will be suspended for one year from taking part in THE WORLD.

  • Abandoning matches and walking off from the venue without any notification after the commencement of the tournament.
  • Playing darts while intoxicated, intentionally delaying the game and engaging in any other acts that are disturbing to the operations of the event.
  • Committing any other acts against public order and morals and/or acts that lack the sense of sportsmanship.

Players who engage in the acts listed below will be subject to the revocation of their participation in THE WORLD and other events hosted by WSDA permanently and/or their entitlement to the prize money.

  • Using false ID… or ID of a person other than the player himself/herself.
  • Playing dishonestly and fraudulently… playing fixed games.
  • Becoming liable to criminal charges during the tournament participation periods.
  • Using abusive language during matches, slandering and defaming others, committing violent acts and/or making false reports during the tournament.

Of course, there’s also a crystal clear dress code.  Players can’t even check-in for an event unless they are dressed.

And then there is the NAPDA.  What they have done is adapt for North America the DRA’s rules.  It is worth noting that the DRA’s aim is to provide and administer rules and regulations that will improve the image and profile of darts within the professional and amateur ranks.  The DRA rule book is the cornerstone of this and sets the standards of behavior for all players in DRA sanctioned events.

To share the sections of the NAPDA adaption of the DRA’s rule book would require 23 pages – it is that comprehensive.  There is a crystal clear Code of Conduct.  There are sections on attire, smoking, alcohol, drugs, discipline, how to file a complaint and to appeal a ruling.  The document can be read in full here: http://www.napda.net/dra_2013/dra_rules.

Other organization like Dartoo-Phoenix and Dart Players New York (DPNY) address behavior but it would be to their advantage and darts advantage if they closely reviewed the DARTSLIVE and NADPA documents.  And it would be of value to DARTSLIVE and the NAPDA if each looked at the other’s rules.  Sadly, it would be to the ADO’s advantage to just do anything.

As it stands today, the DARTSLIVE rules, Code of Conduct and enforcement policy are the gold standard for the soft-tip side of our sport and the NAPDA rules and standards of behavior and process for enforcement are the gold standard for steel.

I ask you again: Should a player who lights up a joint in the bathroom during a tournament or calls another player’s mother a whore or flings their darts in anger across the room or posts lies online or pours beer on someone or strikes another player be tolerated – and if they are not tolerated and suspended or banned by one organization should they simply be permitted to join one of the others?  I think not.  So even DARTSLIVE and the NAPDA should consider a provision that addresses how to handle situations where a player has committed and been disciplined for an egregious rules violation of the other – or any other – darts organization.

The governing organizations have all the best intentions and have made a good start but there’s a ways to go and the time to head there is now.  I can’t fathom how taking the necessary next steps – establishing a National Darts Regulation Authority that comprehensively governs the behavior of all involved, soft and steel, national and local –  can lead to anything but the enhancement of the image and future potential of the sport of darts in America.

From the Field,

Dartoid

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Dartoid
Author of the column that since 1995 has been featured by Bull’s Eye News, the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) Double Eagle and numerous other darts publications and websites around the globe.