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Wayne Mardle calls for ‘stubborn’ darts players to receive media training

Jamie Shaw in PDC Darts News 19 May 2021
Mardle has led the calls for players to receive media training

Wayne Mardle believes professional darts players should receive media training to help improve their personal brand and protect the image of the sport.

The multiple major finalist, who retired from professional competition in 2012, is now a leading commentator and analyst for Sky Sports.

In his new book, Slinging Arrows (How Not To Be A Professional Darts Player), Mardle reveals how his calls for media training have continually fallen on deaf ears.

While some darts players are Chatty Kathys, it’s no secret that others seem to have severe difficulty talking and standing up at the same time, and you may not be surprised to hear that I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve told darts players they should have media training.

As a sport we’re not as bad as footballers (nobody’s as bad as footballers) but on occasion we’re not far off, and I’ve been campaigning for new players to get schooling in how to behave on camera since at least 2005.

I convinced the PDC to set up a session once, and no bugger turned up.

My motivation wasn’t entirely selfless. When I was still a pro there was a period when TV crews figured out that most players were either monosyllabic, totally incomprehensible, likely to accidentally swear, or all three.

So if they wanted to speak to a player at a tournament they’d always pick one of two people: me, or Phil Taylor.

If Phil said no, they’d ask me, and if I said no they’d ask him. It would go round and round in circles.

And that’s what led me to eventually say: “Look, Phil, I can’t be doing all the heavy lifting here, other players need media training – they can be on TV week in, week out, and at the moment they’re making a mockery of the game.”

The players I’d suggested for media training were not happy with this idea.

‘We’re not doing it,’ they huffed. ‘We’re there to play darts, not speak, we don’t want to do media training and we’re not changing our minds.’

Many of those players are still knocking around, and I’m dismayed but not surprised to report that they still have trouble stringing together a coherent sentence once the camera is on them.

All I can say is that it’s only through having been dependable on camera that I showed the TV networks I could be a capable commentator and pundit, and without having shown them that, I’d have had a rather challenging retirement, work-wise.

I still think those stubborn players should embrace the opportunity to show the sports world how articulate they can be, because when retirement comes along they’ll be grateful for whatever options they’ve got.

As well as helping players seem interesting, which in turn will build their brands, media training would also help newer players avoid making absolute fools of themselves.

And I know a little about that. If I can offer up-and-coming darts players one piece of advice, it’s this: for the love of Christ, if you’re doing an interview, ask in advance what’s actually happening!

Mardle was famously left red-faced following a colourful post-match interview live on Dutch television in 2006.

In the book, he goes on to relive the incident, footage of which regularly resurfaces on social media, and says players must be wary of how they conduct themselves in front of the camera or risk an uncertain future after retirement.

Nowadays, Mardle finds himself on the opposite side of the microphone during his work for Sky, and recalls one particularly frosty exchange with Phil Taylor live in the studio at Alexandra Palace.

As an interviewer I’ve had my own fair share of sticky moments and they’re not ideal when you’re on live TV.

At the 2015 World Championship I was interviewing Phil Taylor, and by that point, well, he wasn’t the Phil Taylor the darts world once knew, he’d changed.

He was no longer the best player on the planet.

Imagine being the best at something for two decades, then waking up one morning and realising you’re on the slide… it’d be a shock to the system, and Phil hadn’t taken favourably to the situation.

Rather than work through it, he was taking a lot of frustration out on other people in the darts world.

He became aggressive in games, and in interviews he became even more argumentative than usual.

Maybe I should have been treading more softly, but I asked him: “You played really well in spells, but you allowed Kevin Painter to get to you, why was that?”

“Why are you asking me that?’ he scowled. “You’re putting me in the sh*t.”

He was getting very defensive and really quite irate. But I’m not one to back away from that type of situation, so I doubled down: “I only asked you a question about why you were mentally strong against others and not Kevin.”

“You’re putting me in the sh*t, Wayne.”

We left it there. I was glad we were live on TV because I picked up a strong sense that in any other scenario he might have punched me.

Imagine me and Phil rolling around a TV studio trying to hit each other. Ridiculous.

Even on a good day, Phil ended up becoming unpredictable in those last few years before retirement – he used to pop up on TV and say, for instance, “Am I allowed to say bollocks?”.

And like I say, he was once one of the more responsible players, which just about sums up why we don’t interview certain people.

I often get fans asking: “Why didn’t you interview James Wade or Mark Walsh?” I’m not going to say it’s because we’re afraid of their answers but the fact is 90 per cent of the time they’re just trying to be awkward.

It does them no favours and it’s car crash TV.

I do think darts as an industry has a responsibility to present itself in a good light.

While I can’t say that fiasco in Holland had a massively positive effect on the sport’s reputation, elsewhere I’ve been conscious of wanting to put across a better image for the sport.

The main reason is that I’m old enough to remember the period when darts was widely ridiculed. There wasn’t as much money in the game back in the day, and money always makes people take things more seriously.

Now, players are aiming to win £500k rather than £20k, darts is ‘important’, but back before darts was officially recognised as a sport, the media saw it as an easy target for cheap laughs.

Slinging Arrows (How Not To Be A Professional Darts Player) is available in hardback, audio and eBook from May 20th.

In his blisteringly funny memoir, crowd-favourite Mardle blows the lid off one of the UK’s most loved sports, whilst also delivering witty and brutally honest advice on life on the oche.