Fat man number one waddles, ape-like, onto a platform and, after some preliminary grunting, stoops and hoists 500 pounds of metal weights over his head. Fat man number two steps onto a platform and deftly flicks three darts into the treble 20 to the sound of thunderous applause.
What is the difference between the two? Answer: the first fat man is a sportsman, the second is not. And who says so? The Sports Council in Britain, which refuses to recognise darts as a sport and denies it funding.
The reason it gives is less than convincing: darts, it says, does not require “sufficient physical effort”. One wonders how much physical effort is expended in, say, competitive shooting or archery, both recognised as Olympics sports. But that is really beside the point. What makes the Sports Council’s jock strap itch is not physical exertion, about which it probably knows little, but political correctness.
As everyone knows, the natural habitat of the darts player is the pub. And, for reasons that remain obscure, the average darts player is overweight. In fact, there seems to be a peculiar law at work which suggests that the fatter the player, the better he is at the sport. This is anathema to the Sports Council, which cleaves to the fiction that sport is a healthy, life-enhancing activity when, in truth, as with most human pursuits, it causes as much harm as good.
Professional sport is riddled with envy, greed, cheating, bad feeling and hatred. The Corinthian ideal is now so far removed from modern sport that should a player shake hands with an opponent, commentators leap excited from their seats and exult in a rare show of sportsmanship.
But one thing that characterises players and followers alike is their ability to suspend intelligent thought whenever that corner of the brain that is occupied with sport flexes its muscles and shoves itself to the front.
It is not surprising, then, that the Sports Council should put political correctness before logic. After all, given the encircling hysteria about obesity, it would be unwise to endorse the successful activities of fat men in any field.
Let us consider for a moment how this hysteria comes about. It begins with a young research scientist eager to taste the fruits of success and make a name for himself. To that end he takes a rat and, having first looked over his shoulder to make sure that no animal rights activist has escaped the asylum, wriggled from his straitjacket and borrowed an axe, pumps the creature full of cola, hamburgers and ice cream. When the rodent duly rolls onto its back, twitches all four legs and expires, the scientists licks his pencil and submits his findings to the British Medical Journal.
The article is picked up by scientifically ignorant and gullible journalists who, eager for sensation, report that obesity kills. This is taken up by television producers, who are even sillier than most journalists, and, before you know it, a health scare is sweeping through the land faster than a fit of giggles in a girls’ dormitory.
Who can expect the Sports Council to stand aloof from the prevailing orthodoxy that fat men are a bad advertisement for living? All this is made more illogical still by the conflict between one received and inviolate belief, that fat is bad, and another, that democracy is an unmitigated virtue from which all our freedoms spring.
For there could be no sport that better exemplifies the aspirations of the modern British male (and, increasingly female) than darts. Just consider: darts is played in a bar, and drinking is without doubt the nation’s favourite pastime; darts is a sport whose finest practitioners are fat, wear their shirts outside their trousers, are tattooed, and adorn themselves with chunky jewellery; and darts, at its highest level, is presided over by a master of ceremonies who bellows out the score in the authentic voice of Dagenham or Romford.
Darts, in short, is the people’s game. But if football is beautiful, darts is positively beatific. As for role models, look no further than Andy “The Viking” Fordham. Weighing in at 30 stones, this Olympian of the oche, has a mullet hairstyle, a second chin like a hairy surgical collar, and forearms the size of suckling pigs. His training regime involves the consumption of 25 bottles of beer a night. That’s just training: when he has something to celebrate he lets rip. On his last wedding anniversary he knocked back 62 bottles, a quantity that would cause even the most accomplished lager lout to drop his jaw even lower than his IQ.
Though not a fine physical specimen in the narrow accepted sense, Fordham is without doubt an extraordinary specimen, and one whose physical feats beggar belief. But more important, he is the face of modern Britain and, in the eyes of his devoted followers, the physical embodiment of the spirit of sport. The terraces of every football ground are thronged with men and women whose appearance bears testimony to the Fordham ideal.
For the Sports Council to ignore the popular will in such a high-handed way, is a betrayal of its purpose and a denial of what every true fan holds dear, namely the joy of competitive physical indulgence.