Darts – also known is lawn darts or javelin darts – is a sport that consists of players attempting to hit a circular board with coloured targets for points. Historically, the game is affiliated with the pubs and working classes of Europe. However, a few enthusiasts are trying to popularise the sport within Ethiopia. EBR adjunct staff writer Abiy Wendifraw spoke with a few of them to learn more about their efforts to raise awareness about the sport within the country.
It has been less than a year since the Ethiopian Darts Federation (EDF) announced its membership at the World Darts Federation (WDF). While some outlets reported their entrance into the WDF, the news failed to get much attention from the public. At the time, however, EDF officials hoped that their status as the fourth African country – after South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt – to join the official world dart governing body would help to popularise the sport.
“Joining the global darts family was a big recognition for us. That means they actually saw a glimpse of our potential to do well in broadening support for the sport in Ethiopia,” says Tilahun Alamirew, the Office Head of the EDF.
However, many in Ethiopia do not even know what a dartboard looks like, let alone throwing a dart on the dartboard. Perhaps that is understandable. Addis Ababa, the capital, is not a proper city for a darts lover, as there are few places to play.
Melaku Benti, 51, and his friends used to enjoy darts over a decade ago, around Riche, the area on the road to Global Hotel. “Thirty years ago, a few hotels in Addis used to entertain darts and bowling lovers,” he says. “Now almost none of those old hotels have a room for darts.”
Darts’ association with pubs and bars is not unique to Addis Ababa. According to sport historians, darts was a game that English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Australian working class pub-goers played beginning in the 1930s.
Patrick Chaplin, the author of several books on the sport, believes darts’ sluggish expansion to other parts of the world is linked with its ill-famed bond with the drinking classes of Europe: “Darts was a relatively cheap hobby, going hand-in-hand with beer consumption. Indeed it is these origins from which the sport has yet to escape in the modern era.”
Though Addis is becoming home to an ever-increasing number of pubs and beer consumers, the Federation does not want consider them as the pool where they look for potential talent. “Pubs are not our target spots [for recruitment],” says Tesfaye Goite, President of the EDF. “We need to work on students and adult working associations.”
The attempts to bring darts to Ethiopia could prove beneficial in a number of ways. According to The Guardian, a popular UK newspaper, darts can help with stress relief and developing teamwork. Since it is a “target sport” in which angles and precision matter, darts can also improve mental agility, concentration, and stamina, as matches can last for prolonged periods.
Yetnayet Mengistu, 32, used to be a darts player – and is a testament to the potential of the sport in Ethiopia. The former physical education teacher represented the State of Benishangul-Gumuz in the national championship in 2008. Yetnayet and his three colleagues did not have extensive knowledge about the rules of the game when the secondary school in which they teach received a dartboard and dart gifts from abroad. “We started to play it at the tea break,” he says. “Later someone who was trained in darts joined us and we became good players.”
The four friends, who teach at Assosa Secondary and College Preparatory School, did not realise their yearlong exercise would make them the best darts team to represent Benishangul: “We challenged the best individuals and teams in the national championship. I think we ranked fourth after losing to the best-performing regions. We could have won the championship, but a lack of experience made the difference.”
Considering the difficulty in spreading knowledge about a new sport, Federation officials know the road ahead is long and steep. After granting Ethiopia’s membership status, WDF officials told them to show more progress in raising awareness about the sport. “Our job was not done when we became members. Rather, that’s when it started,” stresses Tilahun. “We secured membership for showing the commitment to do a massive job. Now the work lies ahead.”
Alongside organising dart championships, the EDF is expected to empower regional federations by supplying sport materials and providing trainings for players, coaches, technical experts and referees. Federation officials understand any financial or material assistance from WDF will only come true if they can show that their commitment yields positive results.
Despite having organised some successful regional and national championships in the last 12 months, the Federation is struggling to manage a single sponsorship agreement so far. According to the President, convincing sponsors to spend on the sport like dart is very challenging: “Darts does not gather thousands of people in a big venue like other sports. The media coverage is very low. This makes things difficult.”
The difficulty in commercialising darts seems to be a worldwide problem. News of the World Individual Darts Championship, the prestigious darts competition, which had been reintroduced in late 1940s, had always been suffering due to a lack of sponsors, which forced organisers to call off the regular event.
Darts is a relatively cheap sport, which is beneficial for its development. It does not demand a wide area or a lot of space. A school or any institution, even a household, can have the dartboard and darts (missiles). Sport kit shops in Addis supply these materials. The dartboard costs ETB800 on average. The dart missiles range between ETB180 to ETB550, depending on their quality.
However, since the sport has difficulty gaining lucrative endorsement deals, advertisers and a large following, it is difficult to raise money to support its development, regardless of its relative inexpensiveness.
For the time being, the major financing source of the EDF, an institution that was established 20 years ago, is a government subsidy. To lead dart federations in nine regional states and two city administrations, Tesfaye’s office receives a ETB250,000 budget from the Ministry of Youth and Sport. “We organise schools dart competitions partnered with the Ministry of Education. We have national competitions between regions. And we want to create club competitions, as well. To carry out these tasks, we need to strengthen our finances,” he says.
Tilahun thinks darts can become a popular pastime in Ethiopia. The Federation of seven executives and an office head is looking for sponsors to fill their financial deficit. Learning Federation officials’ pledge for the sport, Yetnayet, who recently left his teaching job for his own private business, hopes he will find many dart centres around where he lives. EBR
5th Year • December 16 2016 – January 15 2017 • No. 46