Time's up for grid girls and walk on models

The week in sport

Barry Hearn's spectacular jarred with us this year.
Barry Hearn's spectacular jarred with us this year.

Damian Stack looks at some of the stories making backpage news over the past seven days

There's something inherently laddish about #lovethedarts. That's not to say women can't enjoy the sport as spectators - many do - that's not say women can't compete - they do - it's just that, by and large, the atmosphere at these darts tournaments, the World Championships at the Alexandra Palace especially, is often more reminiscent of a stag night than anything else.

People dress up, they drink, they sing, they chant, they mess around and generally, as we'd say in this neck of the woods, have the craic. Apart from a few idiots blacking up at this year's event as a prominent Labour politician, there's usually no harm done. All good fun.

Just boys being boys and that's fine as far as it goes. It's not for everyone obviously and so what? It doesn't have to be. Still even knowing all this one thing about Barry Hearn's spectacular jarred with us this year.

It's wasn't the faux gladiatorial entrances of the players to the arena - a bit over the top we felt for middle aged and overweight players coming onto the stage to throw a few arrows - but hey that's show-business, it's all about the hype these days (paging Mr McGregor).

No the thing that stuck out like a sore thumb for us was the presence on stage of, for want of a better word, cheerleaders and on the arm of the main men what have been termed as "walk on models".

It was no different than in previous years and, yet, this year it struck us more forcibly as out of place and out of step than ever before. That's the way it goes. Things are acceptable - or at least tolerable - right up until they're not.

In the era of #metoo and of women pushing back, rightfully and righteously, against patriarchy and sexual harassment (and worse) the idea of having women on stage to act as little more than ornaments strikes us as shockingly regressive.

Little surprise then that the TV companies who carry PDC events - ITV, Sky and the BBC - have exerted their influence to have the practice discontinued. A move which predictably prompted a back-lash.

Political correctness gone mad is the cry and it's one for which we have very little sympathy as a rule. Political correctness is just another way of saying that we should treat everybody with respect, treat them in a way as not to give offence, treat them as equals.

Treating women as ornaments, seen but not heard, hardly seems a way to do that. Beyond that it seems more than a little odd that people are so vexed by this. If your reason for loving the darts is the walk-on models then you really do need to think again.

The same goes for those whose noses are out of joint by the decision of the new owners of Formula 1 to ditch the out-dated practice of grid-girls before Grands Prix. Honestly nobody - not even those raising the loudest howls of protest against the CEO of F1 Chase Carey's decision - watches a race because of the grid-girls.

Just about the only argument we find any way compelling for retaining grid-girls or walk-on models or whatever you call the women who hold up the board telling you what round it is during a boxing match, is that it's the woman's choice to do it.

Surely it's not our place - especially as a man, even in the pursuit of a more egalitarian society - to stop women from doing something they want to do? Nobody is being forced to do it. A lot of women really enjoyed doing it.

Even so when one of the arguments we saw being put forward to save the walk-on models is that one of them ended up marrying a player you kind of despair. What kind of message does that send? Look pretty girls and, maybe, just maybe you might marry somebody successful.

That's what it comes down to in the end. It's about the message it sends and if that message is destructive or at least not helpful then really that's all we need to know. Time's up for this sort of thing.

We should be telling girls that they can be on the grid at Grands Prix, but in the cars or, as is increasingly the case, as engineers and team personnel. That's the future we should be striving for not holding on to some relic of the past.

Look at the people most prominent in calling for the decision to ditch the grid-girls to be reversed. They're all men of a certain vintage. Men like Jackie Stewart - so progressive on other issues - Nikki Lauda and, who else but, Bernie Ecclestone. Gentlemen it's not the 1970s any more.

What's more all this controversy will soon be forgotten. When the lights go out in Melbourne in a couple of months time, nobody is going to be talking about the grid girls. When Rob Cross steps up to the oche next December nobody's going to be talking about walk-on models.

Times change and we change with them. Deal with it.