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Bowls has been in decline for years. Membership has been falling and the knowledge to change that has been in short supply. It is easy to state the obvious, but solutions are harder to come by. David Corkill doesn’t proclaim to have the answers, but there are areas that need to change and quickly he says. He put a number of ideas to a few bowlers to check if he was on the right track with his suggestions and this is his opinion.

Not all bowlers want to pursue the challenges of competitive play, but a surprising amount do. Not least the younger element of the sport. This is replicated across a lot of sports where competition is the bait to attract new interest.

The start of this quest is usually club then county and national championships whether it is in the outdoor or indoor code. Either way it is the place to begin to test your growing skills against others.

The problem I have is that some of these disciplines are so out of date in their current format it is no longer an attractive proposition to enter them.

Singles – No change

Twenty-one shots can be scored by the winner usually within two hours. Occasionally it may last longer but as a general rule is it concluded within a normal two-hour time scale.

Pairs – Change

Change to three bowls and the lead can’t visit the ‘head’ until after all deliveries are made. I would also contemplate that the skip should only be allowed one opportunity to review the ‘head’. Too often matches just don’t get finished due to unnecessary mid green discussions about which shot to play.

Triples – Change

Change to two bowls and stop the boredom of 18 bowls an end. This discipline has for a long time been one that doesn’t enjoy the support of pairs or fours. Believe me there is a reason. I suggest the lead and second stay together and are not allowed up to the ‘head’ for a discussion. Instruction comes from the skip who is the only player allowed to visit the ‘head’ after their first bowl.

Fours – Change

Keep to the normal two bowls, there is not much you can do about that, but have a discussion about changing to 18 ends. This should at the very least guarantee all the ends will be completed within three to three and a half hours.

Pairs, Triples and Fours have reached the stage that sometimes four hours is not enough to conclude a match. This is ridiculous. How on earth are we to pull in new blood to the sport if they have to play in or worse still watch players crawl through four hour matches and not even get the required number of ends completed.

It is not unheard off to see only 17 ends of a 21-end match finished within a four-hour period if a time scale is stipulated. A number of the outdoor matches my club team played last season meandered their way to close to four and a half hours. Excruciating? Yes. Though on a warm summers day not as much of a hardship as waiting for four-five minute discussions taken by some to decide what shots to play in lashing rain.

Bowlers need to be sensible if you can’t work out what shot to play within 10-20 seconds there are issues. The difficulty is if there is a two-three-minute discussion at some stage every end you lose 12-18 minutes per hour. That often equates to at least two ends. Over a four-hour match that becomes untenable and takes us into the realm of ‘continuous play’ rules never mind the more ungracious descriptive elements of any sport.

I appreciate its bowls and it’s not a particularly fast sport but if we are to be attract new people into the game something has to be done to move the sport on. When it can take over five hours to play a match, and we know that can happen, there has to be change. Bowls is a sport not a battle of who can stay out there the longest. I have witnessed some games of croquet that make bowls look positively glacial.

The Commonwealth Games employes a strict time limit on sectional play in addition to a continuous play rule. This has not only enhanced the sport it has reduced the ‘slow play’ tactic to a point of non-existence and the officials are continuously watching to enforce the rules.

This however is at the highest level and doesn’t have any real-world application at club, county or even national level but it proves the very best bowlers in the world can adhere to these rules without any real problems. So why can’t we do the same at every level by implementing reasonable time or ends to played limits.

The rules need to show that continuous play is exactly that. Yes, there may have to be some leeway when it comes to vital moments in a match e.g., the last end. That will be at the discretion of the umpire if one is in attendance.

I would also put it forward that bowlers as a whole that they have a right to openly discuss what they perceive to be deliberate slow play with their opponents. At the very least they should not to be vilified by anyone if they do so. By addressing the problem, it is bringing it into the open thus not letting it fester just below the surface. Whilst I can see that being a touchy subject for some, I am sure others will embrace the opportunity if it is done sensibly.

The introduction of re-spots has helped keep the game moving indoors but not totally solved the problem. Maybe this needs to be standardized within the outdoor game as well. It may well help. Four or five ‘dead’ ends are not unheard off. Yes, it could be argued it is part of the game, but re-spots are now universal in the indoor code and other outdoor major events. 

I and many other believe that the rules of how many bowls are used in Pairs and Triples at the very least be discussed at national and British Isles level. Three bowls pairs and two bowls triples are very attractive to play in.

Reviewing the number of ends required to constitute a full match may only apply to fours there would be support for 18 ends.

Revisiting the Laws of the sport to enable umpires to have the facility to address any issues is imperative. It’s a hard job to officiate championships but to do effectively they need the tools to enable them to do it as fairly as possible. As one opponent this season said to me, he could make a cup of tea and drink it in between each end due to it taking so long before it became his turn play again.

Don’t get me wrong I appreciate change is not easy, but something has to be done. The sport is suffering and the thought of asking any potentially interested new bowlers to watch some matches that crawl along to a conclusion over four hours or nearing five is ridiculous.

That is a sad indictment of where we are and change is needed very quickly, without it we will see our sport suffer even more.

At the very least we should be moving swiftly to a two-year trial period. If it works great if not, we go back to the same old rules. The problem will be that, like bowls, the decisions required can take a long time to agree to and implement.

In today’s world of video meetings this is no longer an excuse. I hope that is not too forward thinking.

Please note: Views expressed by David Corkill do not necessarily represent those of the team at Bowls International.

Photograph: The Commonwealth Games employs a strict time limit on sectional play in addition to a continuous play rule Credit: Allen Simms


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