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The World Darts Championship attracts sports fans and shenanigans alike

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

If the World Cup has left you hungry for more world championships, can I suggest the World Darts Championship? No. Seriously, hear me out here. The competition is wrapping up today in London, and it has been quite the spectacle. As professional darts players face off for the top prize of half a million pounds, about $600,000, darts fans gather in costume and they drink a lot. Writer Lauren O'Neill covered this championship for Vice, and she joins us now from London. Welcome.

LAUREN O'NEILL: Hi, Juana. Nice to talk to you.

SUMMERS: Good to talk with you, too. OK. So I'm thinking about other sports events that I've gone to. Say, if I'm watching soccer or a basketball game, you can sit back and see the action from pretty far away. But it seems like with something like darts, that wouldn't be the case. So tell us, how interesting is it to watch the game in person? And how close are people getting?

O'NEILL: You would think that it would kind of be impossible to see, but the way that the World Darts Championship is set out kind of makes the case for live darts being one of the most compelling sports you'll ever see in your whole life, amazingly. So we have what they call the oche, which has the dartboard, and that's where the players stand to throw the darts. On either side of that, there are huge screens, essentially. So what we're seeing is a live TV broadcast. We're seeing the close-ups that viewers are seeing on TV. So it does really make for quite a tense spectacle, and the fans really do get into it. There's lots of cheering for some players. There's some jeering. But yeah, in the room, the atmosphere is pretty electric, I have to say, which again, you wouldn't expect, but it's kind of amazing.

SUMMERS: You know, it sounds like this can get pretty rowdy. And I've heard that one of the competitors this year actually wore these noise-blocking earmuffs to kind of drown out all that extra noise.

O'NEILL: Yeah, that's right. I don't know if it was a little bit of the showmanship or whether he genuinely did require it, but yeah, it can get really rowdy. It's known for being a big drinking event. People go in all sorts of crazy fancy dress. And, yeah, it's kind of - it's very tongue in cheek. It's just a bizarre spectacle of the likes of which, as I say, I've kind of been around the block, but I've not really seen anything like that. I'm very glad I got to (laughter).

SUMMERS: So for those of us who have not been around the block, have not seen anything like this, would you be able to just tell us about a few of these really elaborate getups that people wear to watch?

O'NEILL: Oh, my God. Of course. I got off the train at the train station closest to the event. I saw these two guys, and they were dressed up as wizards. And I thought, that's quite funny. And then I turned my head to the other side, and I saw about six guys dressed as hot dogs. And I was like, OK, so this is what we're getting into. I talked to a guy on the way up from the station to the event who had come with his friends, and it was very funny, actually. They said that they had come in "Squid Game" costumes because they'd ordered the sweatsuits for a bachelor party. But actually they didn't arrive in time, so they brought them to the darts instead. Like, 18-year-old kids dressed up as the full cast of "The Wizard Of Oz." I saw a guy dressed in a full Spider-Man suit, who was just sitting next to me watching the darts. Yeah, I've seen everything. I've seen it all. There's a big culture of people just wanting to get silly at the darts, and fancy dress is a huge part of that.

SUMMERS: So I understand that you initially went to these championships in your capacity as a journalist, but I've got to ask you, now do you think you're a fan? Are you going to head back next year?

O'NEILL: Yeah. I mean, I've been following the action somewhat since I went. I got the bug a little bit. But yeah, I'm very much hoping to go next year - maybe next time maybe not in such a professional capacity. Yeah, I definitely could see myself as a darts convert, for sure.

SUMMERS: That was culture writer Lauren O'Neill talking about the World Darts Championship, which is wrapping up today in London. Lauren, thank you so much.

O'NEILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.