Hot on the heels of an outstanding Commonwealth Games campaign, England’s lawn bowls community is now counting down to its annual National Finals event which sees thousands of competitors descend on Leamington Spa to contest 33 competitions.
Bowls England Chief Executive Jon Cockcroft is expecting some riveting action in Victoria Park and he hopes for plenty of interest from those who discovered bowls through recent TV coverage.
“The Commonwealth Games were an amazing moment in time and incredible for our sport,” he said.
“It is our pinnacle – to have a home event soon after everyone came out of COVID and have a national celebration together was just fantastic. Given that Birmingham had two fewer years to organise themselves than Durban would have had due to the global pandemic the whole thing was just incredible.
“Anyone visiting the Nationals over the next three weeks will see some great quality bowls including some of the Commonwealth Games stars but also plenty of the amazingly talented bowlers who compete week-in, week-out across every county. The timing of this is ideal and we can’t wait for it to start.”
Looking back on Birmingham 2022, Cockcroft said there was huge amounts for the bowls community in England to celebrate.
“We had amazing success on the greens and seven medals is England’s best-ever level of success,” he said.
“But what I was most proud about was how the players carried themselves, their character and resilience and how they represented both our sport and our country.
“I was also really delighted to see how brilliantly able-bodied and para-athletes were able to compete together on the same stage.
“Our youngest player was 22 and our oldest was Chris Turnbull who put in an incredible display at the age of 74. We had men, women and competitors from a wide range of different cultures and backgrounds including the Malaysian team in niqabs. This all showed plenty about how accessible and inclusive bowls is.”
Cockcroft was also delighted by the heightened profile which the Commonwealth Games brought for his sport and also for the local area.
He said: “When bowls lovers had the opportunity that football fans get all the time to watch their sport on TV the levels of engagement we saw and the love that the team felt through people sharing their success was palpable. There are lots of stories of clubhouses full of people watching and cheering on our England team.
“One of the challenges we have is that not enough people in our local area know that they have a national sports venue on their doorsteps in Victoria Park.
“Showcasing that our home is in the middle of Leamington and very visible was brilliant and it definitely brought plenty of people to South Warwickshire to experience everything the area has to offer.”
As a result of this, Cockcroft said his team – with the assistance of bowls clubs across the country – now have an opportunity to grow participation in the sport.
“There were plenty of bowlers watching the Commonwealth Games but also plenty who saw our sport for the first time and the event really showcased just what a high-quality sport bowls can be. It kept huge crowds of spectators on the edge of their seats both in the venue and at home watching TV,” he said.
“With us also having our ‘Have a Go’ event across the road in the Pump Rooms Gardens around 5,000 people picked up a bowl and tried our sport which created a nice link between our superstars and complete beginners which hopefully in turn gets more people playing our sport.
“For newcomers fitting bowls within their existing lifestyles doesn’t seem to be straightforward so we have introduced a new version of the sport called ‘Bowls Bash’ to try and help the clubs grow participation and membership on the back of this heightened profile.
“It is a casual version of the game played over an hour which provides fun and excitement for all ages and we are now working hard to get as many clubs as possible delivering that new programme.
“The Nationals are a fun, sociable event for all the family with food and drink available plus some music and entertainment at the weekends and we will be doing our best to make everyone very welcome and to provide a really enjoyable day out.”
The Bowls England National Finals take place between Thursday August 25th and Sunday September 18th.
Tickets start at just £4 for adults and £1 for Under 21s for a full day of top-class sporting action. Tickets increase to £5.50 adults and £1.50 Under 21s at weekends. Event passes are available and all tickets are cheaper in advance.
Please note: U16s must be accompanied by an adult. Under 3s enter free of charge.