After just two years in existence, the head of Iranian darts proudly boasts that his association now has 600,000 members and the game continues to grow in popularity following international success at a recent Asian championships in Malaysia.

"When we went to the world darts federation meeting in Australia and said we had this many people taking part, everyone laughed at us. They could not believe it," says Massoud Zohouri.

In a country where alcohol is strictly forbidden, pints of beer are not be seen flowing nearby and players tend to be clean-living models of athleticism rather than replicas of past arrows legend Eric Bristow.

In Iran, daart is a healthy pursuit for both men and women that is also good for families and can even do its bit to help foster world peace.

High ambitions

Zohouri says: "We look at darts as a sport. It's played in prisons, the civil service and factories. The parliament speaker, even the clerics are playing."

Dart boards have even been installed in mosques.

He said that thousands attended introductory training sessions at a cable car station 3,000 metres up in the Alborz Mountains above Tehran this summer. This may be the first high-altitude training camp in the game's history.

"Now I'm thinking about the world and I want a top three in the world championships"

Sahar Zohouri,
Iran's top female darts player

Dressed in the compulsory Islamic headscarf and a knee-length mantoh coat, Sahar Zohouri, 20, is Iran's top female player and part of the six-strong national team of two women and four men

"When I started playing darts I wanted to be the best in Iran. Then I wanted to become one of the best in Asia. Now I'm thinking about the world and I want a top three in the world championships," she says.

Alcohol free

Sahar Zohouri continues: "It's a thought game. Your head has to be clear of every idea. When your head is clear you concentrate well. I hit the maximum often in training. In competition, with all the pressure, it becomes much harder."

For his part, Massoud Zohouri laughs off the suggestion Iranian players could be ill-equipped to cope with the raucous noise and pressure that is generated in the big championships in Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

He says: "Don't think that there is no noise because there is no alcohol. But we are spreading the game without alcohol and as such we can become a role model for the rest of the darts world."

Iran's number one men's player, Nima Ghisasvand, a 17-year-old who knocked out a world-ranked New Zealand thrower in the first round in Kuala Lumpur, marks out the English multiple world champion Phil "The Power" Taylor as his hero.

The ambitions of the Iranian darts association, from its modest headquarters in an apartment in central Tehran, do not just stop at sporting success.

'Spirit of darts'

It has spread darts in schools and universities, encouraged the disabled to take up the sport, and organised a darts Olympiad for children that gained plaudits from the UN.

"Families of different cultures can get together and play it without distinction according to religion, language or race"

Massoud Zohouri,
head of Iranian darts

Stepping into more political territory, the darts association and postal service earlier this year joined forces to issue stamps showing a darts board and a nuclear reactor bearing the slogan "peaceful nuclear technology is the absolute right for Iran".

Zohori said he believed that all such initiatives are within the spirit of darts, saying the sport can bring people around the world together irrespective of their background.

"Families of different cultures can get together and play it without distinction according to religion, language or race. And that is the Olympic spirit."