The Professional Darts Corporation has revealed that the 2018-19 World Championship will feature two female qualifiers as part of an expanded field of 96 players, while bookmaker William Hill has also renewed its title sponsorship of the sport’s showpiece event.
Female players have previously been eligible to qualify for the event, but two places will now be guaranteed for a UK Ladies qualifier and a Rest of the World Ladies qualifier. Gayl King and Anastasia Dobromyslova have previously competed at the event, while China’s Momo Zhou represented her country at last weekend’s World Cup of Darts.
The World Championship, which takes place at London’s Alexandra Palace, has featured a field of 72 players in recent years. The addition of 24 further qualifiers will result in six more sessions being added to the 2018-19 event, which runs from December 13 to January 1. As a result, UK pay-television broadcaster Sky’s live coverage of the event will increase by 30 per cent to over 110 hours.
The PDC had already announced that the 2018-19 event would feature a prize fund of £2.5m (€2.9m/$3.3m), with the winner to be awarded £500,000 – up £100,000 on the 2017-18 edition.
William Hill’s new title sponsorship agreement will run until 2022. The bookmaker has sponsored the event since the 2014-15 tournament.
PDC chairman Barry Hearn said: “The World Championship has grown year-on-year in the decade since our move from the Circus Tavern to Alexandra Palace, which is the perfect home for such a prestigious event.
"Moving to 96 players will not only reward more players from our ProTour, with 32 qualifiers joining the world's top 32 players in securing places in the World Championship, but also gives us the opportunity to expand the international qualifiers.
"Our worldwide growth, in particular through our affiliated tours, has seen greater interest than ever for spots from around the globe as emerging players battle to compete on the biggest stage in darts. We also felt that it was important to guarantee two places for female players, which will go to qualifiers from the UK and Rest of the World.”
England’s Rob Cross (pictured) won the 2017-18 World Championship in what was his tournament debut, defeating 14-time champion Phil Taylor 7-2 in the final.