Darts is an odd sport, insomuch as anyone who has thrown some arrows in a pub might well feel that they could do it professionally. In many instances, those people may well be right. The thing that separates professional darts players from folk playing with mates is the ability to deal with the pressure. You might well be ok hitting one hundred and eighty when you’re in your local with a pub next to you, but would you be so capable in front of thousands of people at Ally Pally?
Pressure does strange things to people, including causing them to miss the target when they’d be able to do it without a problem in the comfort of their own home. As a result, it’s not easy for the powers that be to spot when darts players are struggling for some reason and when they’re actively throwing poor darts in order to fix a match that they’re playing in. The prevalence of match-fixing in other sports is well-known, but how bad is it in the world of darts?
Kyle McKinstry & Wessel Nijman
On the 18th of August 2020, it was confirmed by the Darts Regulation Authority that Kyle McKinstry and Wessel Nijman had been suspended after allegations of match-fixing were levelled at the pair. McKinstry initially lodged an appeal, but Nijman immediately accepted the charges. The latter was accused of one case of fixing a match, as well as of breaching the DRA’s rules on darts players betting on matches.
It was during an online tournament that was being run by a darts management company called Modus that suspicious betting patterns were reported, with the two players in question being involved in the matches that saw the most unusual betting activity. Both players lost in matches to David Evans during the Modus Icons of Darts event, with Evans beating McKinstry 5-0 and Nijman 4-0. It was not suggested that Evans had anything to do with it, though.
It was coordinated work from Sportradar Integrity Services, the Gambling Commission Sports Betting Intelligence Unit, Malta Gaming Authority, Gibraltar Gambling Regulator and betting operators that flagged up the suspicious betting patterns. McKinstry’s management company, MDA Promotions, expressed disappointment in their client in spite of his decision to appeal the accusation, saying that ‘sporting integrity’ was a key part of their belief.
Nijman, on the other hand, immediately accepted his guilt and referred to being ‘put under some pressure to lose a match’, agreeing to do so. He also expressed his regret at not speaking to his management company, the Darts Regulation Authority or even the police after he was approached. Whilst he referred to is a ‘one-off error of judgement’, many wondered just how likely it was to have been a single occasion on which he was approached by betting syndicates.
Whilst Kyle McKinstry had made something of a name for himself in darts, reaching the world number ninety-two spot and making it to the last sixteen of the UK Open, Nijman was a relative newcomer to the sport. Just twenty-years-old, he was yet to make any sort of impact on the game prior to being caught up in the match fixing scandal. The obvious question is why he felt the need to engage in it at such an early stage of his career.
Is It Because of Money?
There’s no question that darts players at the top end of the sport earn plenty of money. According to the Darts Database, Michael van Gerwen took home £1,992,750 in prize money between October 2018 and the same month in 2020. Kyle McKinstry, on the other hand, earned just £21,005 during the same time period. Wessel Nijman, meanwhile, earned a mere £12,762 over the two years in question.
In other sports, it is often the case that sports people turn to nefarious means of adding money to their coffers when the amount earned from their sport isn’t enough. Why should darts be any different on that front? Approached by someone from a betting syndicate to throw a match in return for money, many players would be tempted to do exactly what Nijman admitted to doing and deliberately throwing a match when requested to.
Darts, of course, is not like a sport such as Premier League football. It is much tougher to find the money in darts to ensure that players are never tempted to accept match-fixing requests. Even if there was enough money in the sport, some players would doubtless do it anyway simply to supplement the money that they earned. Sadly, that is just the nature of human beings, with a good portion always keen to earn more money wherever possible.
That is evident in the ‘dark arts’ of the sport that world number nine James Wade complained about a couple of months before the match-fixing allegations became public knowledge. Wade believes that some players will go to any length to win a match because of how much money is in the sport. The Machine bemoaned ‘gamesmanship’ at the oche, which he believes has reshaped how the world rankings looked at the time he was playing.
How Rife Is Match Fixing in Darts?
Accusations of match-fixing in the world of darts is nothing new. In 2006, for example, bookmakers initially refused to pay out on first-round matches between Gary Anderson and Gary Robson at the Lakeside Country Club. This was due to irregular betting patterns in the match, which Scottish player Anderson won 3-1 against his English counterpart. An investigation was launched by the British Darts Organisation, but both players were cleared.
At the time, a spokesperson for the bookmaker William Hill made reference to ‘some of the strangest ever betting patterns on an early-round darts match in a major competition’. The bookie had believed it to be a ‘flip of a coin’ matchup, but large amounts of money was bet on Anderson to win. Coral, meanwhile, chose to pay out ‘through gritted teeth’ because of the suspicious betting patterns that the company had seen placed on the match.
The fact that both players were cleared of any wrongdoing suggests that all was fine, but bookmakers and the bodies responsible for monitoring suspicious betting patterns are rarely wrong about such things. It’s easy to forget that they have all the information on the sorts of amounts of money that is bet on such matches, so when they goes up exponentially it is usually because the bettors know something that the bookies don’t.
In 2019, two players on the Australian DPA Tour were suspended for a period of three months after fabricating a group match result during a tournament. Though it had nothing to do with betting, it was another indication that darts as a sport might be struggling to maintain its integrity. The trouble for the likes of the Professional Darts Corporation is that most of the sponsors of their events are betting companies, meaning that betting and darts is closely linked.
Interestingly, the case involving Nijman and McKinstry was actually the first confirmed case of match-fixing in the sport. It was believed that the Darts Regulation Authority would try to make an example of the pair in order to dissuade players from doing anything similar in the future. Whether that will be enough to stop match-fixing and corruption from becoming more prevalent in the sport remains to be seen, whilst it’s also unlikely that it truly is the first time that it’s happened.