Are bowling aids an advantage or not?
Recently, we have seen an increase in clubs and individuals trying
to stop disabled bowlers using the equipment and help they need to play the game. This is a sad indictment on our game. You would hope we would all want more people to play and not put-up barriers to stop them. With an aging population, more people will be able to benefit from the aids available to them so when you’re older and players say they are going to have to give up because they can’t bend to bowl, just think of the extra years of enjoyment they can have if they used a bowling arm (writes Judy Plater, Disability Bowls England development and administrative officer).
We recently had an incident where a Visually Impaired player was refused membership of a club as they want to put a thin white string (similar to kite string), down the centre of the rink. This is in direct infringement of law 41.3 which clearly states: Players who are classified partially sighted or blind by their national governing body for partially sighted and blind bowlers can use any form of assistance necessary (including having an assistant with them, and having a white, breakable string placed on the surface of the green, along the centre line of the rink) to allow them to take part in the sport of bowls, as long as the assistance is approved by the governing body for partially sighted and blind bowlers in the country in which the player is playing.
The string is pinned taut down the centre of the rink. Normally it is advisable to pin it at either end and in the centre of the rink to make certain it is flat to the playing surface.
In other countries, some artificial outdoor greens and indoor clubs, rather than having dots down the centre line have a permanent line which is useful to able bodied and disabled players alike. There has been an interesting discussion on this matter on social media.
As VI World Bowls champion Sarah Marshall says: “As a B1, I still need a string to feel as I can’t see the line.”
Sally-Ann Lewis Wall asked if Sarah used a bowls mat with a V cut out of it (some VI players do), but Sarah pointed out that she uses the ‘S’ on a Drakes Pride mat as it’s in the middle, or in Australia, the mats have a diamond cut out in them and she can feel the string.
Other VI players use the string for feet and mat placement, as well as judging delivery line. The extra skills that VI bowlers have to master, I for one will not be moaning any more that I can’t find the line!
The other issue Visually Impaired players are finding is where the role of the director is not understood. They are not there to tell the player what shot to play, but to give them an idea of the skip’s instructions and layout of the head.
Another of our members has qualified in the final stages of his county singles, and one of his opponents has contacted me to say how distracting he found having the director. Again, this is covered in the laws of the sport, this time law 41.4: The person assisting a partially sighted or blind bowler will not be breaking law 13.2 or law 45.3 if the assistant:
41.4.1 repeats the skip’s instructions to the player.
41.4.2 helps to direct the player.
Or 41.4.3 tells the player where the jack or a bowl came to rest.
Not all VI players use a director all the time. It maybe on occasions the director isn’t available, in which case their skip may give the directions, although this is not ideal and can be to the detriment of the player. We have been told about an incident where a player’s director wasn’t available for one round of a county competition and the player relied on her teammate for information, but the director was able to make subsequent rounds and the original team she had beaten complained she either needed a director or not.
The use of wheelchairs is another contention, particularly if the weather is bad. Specially designed wheelchairs which are approved by the sport’s national governing bodies and surface manufacturers should not damage the playing surface. Some players use them only to get from one end of the green to the other but not to bowl from, this doesn’t mean they are fit and able to walk so just being lazy. They may have a condition which means they get tired quickly and by using the chair they are able to play a full game.
The laws governing wheelchair players are 41.1 and 2.
41.1: Wheelchairs must be of a type approved by both WB and the governing body for wheelchair bowlers in the country in which the player is playing.
41.2: Wheelchair bowlers can use any form of assistance necessary (including having an assistant with them) to allow them to take part in the sport of bowls, as long as the assistance is approved by the governing body for wheelchair bowlers in the country in which the player is playing.
I hear a growing complaint about the use of bowling arms and that they give the user an advantage. Bowling arms and other aids are not easy to master, it takes practice and skill to achieve a high standard with each, but they are invaluable to players with mobility issues, or those struggling to deliver a bowl. Again, the laws of the sport are clear law 41.5: A player who has a physical disability will be allowed to use a support or an artificial device (or both) when delivering the jack or a bowl, or when walking on the green. The support must have a base covered with rubber or a similar material. This base must measure at least 76 millimetres across, and it can be placed on or next to the mat.
Did you know a player can kneel to bowl?
41.6: A player who has a physical disability will be allowed to kneel on the green to deliver the jack or their bowls. One or both knees must be positioned either in front of the mat with all or part of at least one foot on the mat, or on the mat with all or part of at least one foot on the green behind the mat.
The final law covers the use of equipment for a player with a hearing impairment to play.
41.7: Players with a hearing disability can use electronic devices to communicate with each other while on the rink of play. Electronic devices must be used in line with the regulations set out in the conditions of play by the controlling body.
Bowls is a game many people can play. Don’t think of these aids giving them an added advantage, rather the opposite, they are another skill a disabled bowler needs to master. The laws of the sport are there for everyone to see and to protect the rights of people with a disability and allow them to play and enjoy the sport we all love.
Bowls International columnist and chair of the World Bowls laws advisory group, Allan Thornhill, says: “I have had the immense pleasure of working with athletes with disabilities and Visually Impaired athletes at the very highest level of the sport. It is a most humbling experience and shows how lawn bowls truly is a sport for all. The laws of the sport, in particular Law 41, allow such athletes to participate equally in this great sport. The aids described are there to assist these players and it saddens me that some feel they offer an advantage. I encourage anyone to try and deliver a bowl blindfold or from a wheelchair and then see if they feel the same.”
Caption: VI bowler Sarah Marshall feels the mat before bowling
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