On screen, a dangerously overweight man in a Hawaiian shirt is pretending to be an aeroplane. This is his victory lap. We can only presume he’s hit a double-bull, the red spot at the centre of the dartboard, or a triple-20. I’m not entirely sure what this means yet, but judging from the devastated expression on the equally bloated and beery face of his adversary, it’s safe to say he’s top of his game right now.
Darts isn’t high on the list of the world’s sexiest sports. There are (let’s be honest here) no real celebrity darts players. It’s a game that most people reserve for pub Olympics and, in the UK, a world often associated with sizeable guts, polo shirts and disastrous facial hair.
Yet I’m keen to find out what Dubai’s darts scene has to offer. Following a reader’s letter we received a few weeks ago enquiring about tournaments taking place in the city in the new year, I called up a representative of the Dubai Darts League, whose bounding enthusiasm was so infectious that we decided to give it a whirl ourselves.
On his advice, I got in touch with Ibrahim Abdul Karim, the man alleged to have sold the first dartboards in the UAE. With this feat under his belt, Ibrahim is the de facto captain of the darts team he takes us to meet in Bur Dubai. In ‘training’ for the start of the new league, which kicks off on January 10, Karim’s crew of 10 is made up entirely of UAE nationals who, I’m told, meet to brush up on their feather-throwing several times a week.
As befits the very social slant of darts, I’m instantly welcomed and treated to a display of several highly competitive games between members of the team. ‘Darts has been huge here for almost 30 years,’ says Ibrahim, holding his feathers in one hand and a mug of black tea in the other. ‘It was big business in the ’80s. We’ve hosted world tournaments here for police officers – around 30 US players came over here for that a few years ago. And every week there would be tournaments up at the Jebel Ali Hotel.’
These days the league is operated at Al Nasr Leisureland and has an impressive roster of 140 players from Dubai’s various communities. Ibrahim insists that the social draw of the sport is what keeps people coming back and it’s easy to get on a team even as a solo player. He’s also insistent of the popularity of the sport among locals, explaining that one of Dubai’s sheikhs heads up a team in the league.
After watching a few games, I’m keen to give it a bash. Instantly Ibrahim notes my slightly off-kilter forearm stance. ‘Don’t try to go for numbers at first; just warm up with bullseyes until you feel comfortable.’ A few hapless flings later and Ibrahim steps in with pointers. But I don’t get much chance to put his tips to the test, as another game kicks off on this hotly contested board and I’m politely booted off.
But while darts may still be darts, the immediate appeal of getting into the league here remains its social side. In contrast to the perceived exclusivity of a number of Dubai’s sports leagues, this is very much an open, inclusive game with a good mix of nationalities involved. So, after a few more games of ‘Mickey Mouse’ (players have to eliminate each of the high numbers on the board in triplicate, designed for training purposes only, I’m told), I head out, content with the memory of having been taught to play darts by a man in a dishdasha.
Want to join in?
The Dubai Darts League meets every Sunday at 9pm in the coffee shop at Al Nasr Leisureland. Membership costs Dhs250 per season, which allows you to take part in all upcoming tournaments throughout the year. This includes both summer and winter leagues as well as league tournaments and open tournaments, which are held at different hotels and clubs across the city.
You don’t need to worry about the standard of your game, either – when you join, you’ll be asked to perform on a trial basis, then assigned to a team that’s suited to your standard. For more infrmation, call 04 396 5558, email email@example.com or see www.dubaidartsleague.20m.com.