Tuesday 2 July 2024

Creating pathways for worldwide players

As is often the case after the World Cup, or any other event which features international players from outside the 128 for that matter, we often get posts like we got from Lendel on Sunday, namely questioning how we can assist players such as An Sheng Lu and Max Dalla Rosa work towards the Pro Tour. That's a fair question, but I think for the two players in question it works very much differently. For Max (let's just give the Italian team big props for a moment, it was only 2-3 years ago where most of us were questioning why the hell they were even in the tournament and France weren't, now they were a couple of visits away from the semi final), I think the infrastructure is basically there. Being in Europe helps a lot. You have a lot of the WDF events you can play. If you're on the younger side, you have the Development Tour, everyone has access to the Challenge Tour. Yes, for the latter, you'll need to stump up for Q-School, but if you're not at a stage where you're able to do that, then this post isn't really for you. If the money's an issue, find a group of eight players locally, each chuck in a hundred euros, have a winner takes all for it and use the money to cover the bulk of the costs - if you can't win that then you're not really in a spot to be looking at Q-School seriously.

For someone more distant however, it's a heck of a lot trickier. Just getting to where the bulk of the tournaments are played is going to incur much higher expenses, which is going to be hard to overcome, never mind the fact that if you were to want to attempt to play the tour, you're going to have to relocate a huge way around the world, and that's if you don't get messed around with things like visa issues, which is why I've got a lot of respect for the likes of Heta, Campbell, Perez, Puha and others who have given it a go to various degrees. For those who aspire to be the next of these players, I think some assistance should be given to having a gateway into the higher levels.

First, I think someone's got to be doing a good job on their local circuit. For these, I'm just going to consider the DPA, Asian and CDC tours - there's others, but either the standard still seems too distant, or they're local enough (e.g. SDC) that expenses aren't an issue. If you're not doing a good enough job at these levels, then it's kind of hard to justify putting effort into helping someone reach the next level. What I think we should do is to say to each of the top five players on that circuit that we will guarantee you two Pro Tour entries for the next season.

This does two things - firstly, it gives someone a couple of shots at the highest level of play, and if you're able to bink a win, that is probably at a minimum clearing the cost of your flights - which you ought to be able to cover anyway from what you have won on your regional tour, but having two chances to clear a lot of your expenses is important. Secondly, dates can be arranged a fair deal in advance. These were all done in September at the latest - and the PDC calendar for the next year is typically known about a month after that. On a quick search I couldn't find the exact dates for last year, but 2022's calendar was known in October 2021. That's going to give a lot of notice for booking reasonably priced flights/hotels as opposed to scrambling at short notice, and will also give a lot of time to arrange a visa if needed, and to look into other events - I'm sure the sorts of players at this level would be more than welcome onto the Modus events, if someone on the younger side was to have got there for this season, maybe they target events 3/4, 9/10, 15/16 or 27/28, which are extremely close to Development Tour weekends. Or maybe they just look when there is a larger WDF open event and go from there. Or pick the early season, when they could do UK Open qualifiers.

Now naturally this would take away spots from the Challenge Tour top up list. But on average, we're only talking one spot per event (5 players * 3 tours * 2 entries), and it's pretty rare, if it ever happens, that we don't have at least a couple of drop outs, so whoever's right at the top of the CT list is not going to miss out. Yes, someone will fall out, but it's not as if there is a divine right to get onto the Pro Tour if you're, say, ninth on the Challenge Tour rankings. There is also the remote possibility that enough of the 128 take their entry that you have more than 128 players in an event - fine, if that does happen, someone's unlucky and has to play a prelim, it's not a big deal. I would say that the PDC if they were to implement such a system as this that they're within their rights to try to spread out the entries as evenly as they can so that there's no more than a couple of players through this method in each Pro Tour, which would limit the chances of this happening, but I just list it as something that could happen.

Finally, I wouldn't suggest this is open to everyone on the respective regional tour. I'd exclude players who have previously held a tour card from being eligible for this - a Jeff Smith or Danny Baggish does not need the chance to test themselves at the next level, as they've already been there and done that. I'd limit the amount of times that someone could utilise this avenue as well - maybe to two or three shots. If you've finished high enough on your regional circuit that often and have had that number of opportunities to see if you're capable of and willing to take the next step, you've got enough information on whether you think you can make it at the Pro Tour level and commit to it - so now you have to do so, and give someone else the chance to test the waters. Lastly, I'd probably put some sort of upper age limit on this - the whole kind of point is to see if someone can be capable of being a trailblazer for their country, and for more than a short period of time. If someone was to get on the tour, but then is looking at starting to rail the schedule back and wind down their career, you would think why have you bothered. If someone is older, then they can always do the Dave Cameron or Leonard Gates route and use the seniors circuit as an additional stop while over here.

It's something to think about. Opportunities outside the main PDC circuit have probably never been better, I think this'd be a decent way of combining those with a taste of where you need to be at to make it at the top level.

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