Nancy Gillen

Alexandra Palace has been the venue of the annual World Darts Championship for the past 11 years. 

Having grown up a 15-minute train journey from the landmark, perched on its hill in North London, it was not unusual to see drunken spectators in various states of fancy dress make their way to and from the three-week competition organised by the Professional Darts Corporation.

Aside from that, the event floated on the periphery, occasionally offering something to watch during the nebulous days of the Christmas period. This year, however, the Championship gained prominence outside of its usual circle of fans. In fact, it received world-wide interest.

The attention started after 25-year-old Fallon Sherrock became the first woman to win a match in the history of the tournament, defeating fellow Briton Ted Evetts in the opening round. She then recorded a 3-1 victory against Mensur Suljović of Austria, the 11th seed.

Sherrock’s notable journey came to an end this week when she lost 4-2 to compatriot Chris Dobey. Nonetheless, she has already made her mark on the sporting world, with congratulatory messages sent from icons such as America's former tennis player Billie Jean King.

Some came from more unexpected quarters, with Hollywood actress Sarah Jessica Parker posting her support on Instagram. "Making history and our hearts stop as we watched in astonishment and awe. A household of fans and admirers send their congratulations," she wrote.

Clips on social media showed the exuberant crowd at Alexandra Palace cheering and chanting Sherrock on as she competed, with fans even dressed up as the blonde-haired, pink-shirted dart player. Every move from the opposition was booed, with Dobey resorting to wearing ear plugs to block the noise.

The world was captivated as Sherrock made history. She may have only made it to the third round, but her legacy will last for much longer. Her performance demonstrated that darts is not just a game for men but can also be played by women at the highest level.

With darts a technical rather than physical sport, there is no reason why a repeat of Sherrock’s heroics will not happen again in the near future. More women will be inspired to take up the sport they may have previously felt ostracised from, with the door of opportunity now wide open thanks to the trailblazing Sherrock.

Traditionally viewed as a male sport, the landscape of darts is now changing.  It will be interesting to see if this also happens in other sports where there is a hypothetical equal playing field for both genders, resulting in a rise in women competing against men.

Fallon Sherrock became the first woman to win a match at the World Darts Championship ©Getty Images
Fallon Sherrock became the first woman to win a match at the World Darts Championship ©Getty Images

Colleague Mike Rowbottom wrote an intriguing piece earlier this year on the possibility of a woman making a significant impact in snooker. It is again another sport which relies on technicality rather than physicality, and subsequently makes it possible for women to be among some of the best players in the world.

Snooker, however, is not as inclusive as darts. It was announced last year that two spots for female players would be ring-fenced at the World Darts Championship, while women still struggle to play snooker even at a domestic level.

In February, Britain's Rebecca Kenna, third in the World Women's Snooker rankings, quit her local snooker league after being prevented from playing matches due to her gender. Some clubs in the league still retained a "men-only" policy.

It seems like policies such as these may still be a barrier to women holding their own against men, then. These will have to be eradicated before the sporting world sees more women take on men.

This was one of the intriguing aspects of the Teqball World Championships, held in Budapest earlier this month. Created just three years ago, teqball is an extremely new sport and, therefore, does not hold any of the traditions and dated rules of older sports.

Natalia Guitler's success may contribute to a rise of female participants in teqball, a sport with no gender division ©Getty Images
Natalia Guitler's success may contribute to a rise of female participants in teqball, a sport with no gender division ©Getty Images

There is no gender division in teqball, with anyone welcome to compete in the singles and doubles events. A mixed doubles contest at the flagship tournament enforced a battle between the genders. Brazilian Natalia Guitler was one of the stars of the competition, winning the mixed doubles alongside Marcos Viera. She also finished 13th out of the 53 nearly all-male participants in the singles competition.

Her stand-out performance in the mixed doubles gold-medal match saw her dubbed as one of the best teqball athletes at the moment. 

Natalia counts Brazilian footballing royalty Ronaldinho and Neymar as friends and is now one of the faces of teqball as the first elected representative of the International Teqball Federation Athletes' Committee.  

The number of women featuring in the World Championships has already risen from one in 2017 to 22 this year, but Natalia’s success and profile should encourage an even greater increase of female players. 

As teqball evolves, it will be interesting to see whether the creation of a separate competition for men and women will be part of that development. Maybe it would ensure more success for female athletes, but with the sport focusing on technicality, is there any need for a gender division? 

We have even seen women pitched against men when physicality is involved, with a mixed gender 4x400 metre relay given its debut at the World Athletics Championships in Doha.

This was mainly used as new attraction in a jaded programme, but still created the possibility of seeing a female athlete fighting to maintain a lead against a chasing pack of male athletes. 

As Sherrock has shown, women can hold their own in the sporting world when given the opportunity. She may have revealed a glimpse of the future.