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Bowls England Chief Exec: “We will be undertaking a review”

Bowls England’s chief executive Jon Cockcroft has confirmed to Bowls International that a review of its performance and talent development will take place “during the close season”.

Bowls England has recently received criticism on social media and wider regarding its position on youth development opportunities and international competition.

Representatives from Ireland, Scotland and Wales participated in an Under 18 international event this outdoor season in Ayr, Scotland at the end of August – an event that Bowls England declined to participate in.

“We had a very congested programme of events in 2022 – Commonwealth Games, British Isles Championships, Home Nations Invitation and of course our own National Finals – therefore we declined the invitation,” said Cockcroft when asked by Bowls International about England’s omission from the two-day event.

“The performance review will take a further look at events such as this.”

Bowls England’s Sutton Winson Tournament, a popular weekend event that was introduced in 2014 to provide competition play during the Bowls England National Finals for up to 128 Under 18 bowlers, has not taken place since Cockcroft joined the national governing body as its chief executive in 2020.

With fears that the widely successful initiative has been axed, Cockcroft added:

“Whilst we have not been able to hold the Sutton Winson Tournament during the national finals in the past couple of years, an event of this nature for younger players will be fundamental to our wider development of competitions for all age groups.

“There’s also a discussion to be had about the appropriate age bands of domestic competition.

“Delivering an annual programme of national competitions which provide a structure and environment for all players to be feel challenged, rewarded and committed to our sport is another key part of our strategy.”

Earlier in the season, a Junior Talent ID Day took place at Victoria Park, Royal Leamington Spa, which saw 70 youngsters take part in coaching, workshops and match play.

Cockcroft confirmed that the intention is to hopefully make this an annual event, stating: “It needs to be better integrated within a Junior Player Pathway, which we’re committed to developing as part of our ‘Fit for the Future’ strategy. 

“Whilst it was an excellent day, we had fewer than 100 nominations so evidently have a huge challenge to attract and identify more juniors into our sport.

“We will be undertaking a review of performance/talent development during the close season. Our ‘Fit for the Future’ strategy includes as an objective the development of a Performance Pathway to stretch our talented athletes and retain more young people in the sport.”

Cockcroft also advised Bowls International that “discussions are ongoing with the other Home Nations with regard to British Isles events in 2023,” while also advising that any details regarding a British Isles Championship next year for the Championship winners to compete at are “to be confirmed”.

Additional changes have been made to Bowls England’s domestic competitions in recent years, including qualification numbers to the National Finals and the introduction of Regional Finals events prior to the final stages taking place at Victoria Park, Royal Leamington Spa.

Cockcroft added: “A review of the National Finals, including qualification, will be taking place. 

“We recognise that the qualification systems is unequal with significant disparities across the country between the numbers of rounds a player has to win to reach the National Finals. 

“We’ll be looking at the 2023 schedule in the coming weeks.”

Launched in August 2021, Bowls England’s ‘Fit for the Future’ strategy is a five-year plan designed with the ultimate goal of getting more people playing and enjoying bowls.

It sets out Bowls England’s vision for the sport, how they plan to achieve objectives and what success looks like in 2026.

The priorities within the strategy include:

  • Building the brand of bowls
  • Ensuring the sport is truly accessible to all 
  • Creating positive playing experiences for everyone 
  • Putting volunteers first
  • Leading the sport with purpose 

The ‘Fit for the Future’ strategy can be found in full here.

HAVE YOUR SAY! What did you think about England’s decision to decline the invitation to the U18 international event? What are your thoughts on the current qualification status for the Bowls England National Finals. Email matt.wordingham@keypublishing.com to have your views considered for a future piece within Bowls International.

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