A message from Bowls England’s Chair and Chief Executive
In 1930, lawn bowls was one of six sports featured in the inaugural British Empire Games in Hamilton, Ontario. Three disciplines were played – singles, pairs and fours – and England won a clean sweep of gold medals.
Tomorrow, here at Victoria Park, the home of lawn bowls in England, our nation’s bowlers will again take to the sport’s biggest stage with the ambition to follow in those first footsteps.
Much has changed over the last century. I doubt many back home would have been remotely aware of the exploits of Robert Colquhoun, a retired Army Officer and coal merchant, the first ever singles champion. Over the next 10 days, a panoply of media outlets will showcase the competition, and all its drama, across the globe.
The 1930 England team was made of seven, able-bodied men. Our lawn bowls team at Birmingham 2022 is equal gender and includes six para-bowlers, part of the most diverse and inclusive sport’s team England has ever fielded in the Commonwealth Games.
And, for the first time at the Commonwealth Games, the two competing nations in each match will play with two distinct coloured bowls, red and blue. Sometimes the simplest of changes can have the biggest impact. There is little doubt this will be significant in improving the viewing experience of lawn bowls and inspiring people who don’t usually watch our sport to think “maybe I’ll give that a go”.
All that said, at its heart, there are many constants. The fierce, yet sportsmanlike rivalry between nations. The hope, the joy, the anguish and the jubilation of sport at its best. And the pure and simple challenge of rolling a big bowl closest to a little jack, which makes our sport so mesmerising.
Everyone at Bowls England has been working incredibly hard to maximize this once-in-a-generational opportunity of a home Commonwealth Games. With 42% of over 55s in our country inactive, loneliness on the rise and growing levels of childhood obesity, we believe bowls can play a valuable role in improving the physical and mental wellbeing of our nation. We believe everybody should realise the joy and benefit of playing sport, and bowls’ inherent accessibility and sociable qualities make sport possible for many whom have felt it physically, financially or culturally unimaginable.
To achieve this, and to arrest the marginalisation of our sport, lawn bowls must evolve to meet the needs of 21st century lifestyles. Research shows that 93% of non-bowlers feel they are capable of playing bowls and 37% would like to try the sport, but the main barriers to participation are not having enough time and the perception that bowls is slow and boring. Part of our response has been the development of Bowls Bash. Bowls Bash is an action-packed, casual form of the game played in pairs and lasting just an hour. A two-set match, with a deciding tie-break, coupled with a new scoring system provides greater opportunity for players to enjoy success and more potential for drama throughout the game.
Boosted by Sport England’s funding, the first 250 affiliated clubs who wish to deliver Bowls Bash will benefit from an array of free event resources, training and marketing support to enable them to provide an excellent experience for people playing the new format. Bowls England will be supporting the promotion of Bowls Bash through a national marketing campaign and accessing Bowls Bash is being made easier through the introduction of a new Play Bowls website where people wanting to play the new format can book onto a session. If your club wants to attract and keep new bowlers through Bowls Bash, please get in touch.
For those more experienced players, our commitment to competition at all levels remains. It was fantastic to see the success of many England players at the British Isles Championships and a superb achievement for our young England team to triumph at the recent European Championships in Ayr. No doubt many of these players will be at Victoria Park for our National Finals with 18 days of competition starting on the 25th August. This is a great opportunity for those inspired by Birmingham 2022 to watch more high quality bowls, and for the existing bowls community to come together and celebrate the conclusion of an historic summer. If you have never attended a National Finals, this is the year to enjoy a day out at the home of Bowls England.
Sixteen bowlers, two directors of the Visually Impaired Pairs and ten support staff led by Performance Director John McGuinness will represent us all in lawn bowls’ greatest show. Our bowlers’ ages span five decades. They include a married couple, a brother and sister and a grandmother and grandson. They are imaginable role models and the true embodiment of our sport. Like the bowls squad of 1930, bowls is not their day job and they have shown inspirational dedication to the most comprehensive preparation programme Bowls England has undertaken. Tickets are still available for those who would like to see them in action at first hand and, if you’re in the Leamington area, why not pop down to Pump Room Gardens to watch the Games on a big screen.
Thank-you to all of you reading this who put time and energy into the betterment of bowls in England. Let’s seize this moment. Let’s get behind our England squad. Let’s be proud of them, and our sport. Let’s embrace those inspired by the Games. Let’s grow our game.
David Tucker – Chair – Bowls England
Jon Cockcroft – Chief Executive – Bowls England