Bowls ‘has to make itself attractive to a wider non-bowls audience’
News that the number of compulsory sports that Commonwealth Games hosts will have to stage in future is set to be cut from 16 to just two has sparked concern for the future of bowls in the event.
Described by one leading official as a ‘killer blow’, there are now calls to make bowls attractive to a wider non-bowls audience.
Under a radical new ‘strategic roadmap’ designed to preserve the event’s future, only athletics and swimming will enjoy protected status.
With Games bosses struggling to convince cities to bid for the event, the shake-up is designed to give potential hosts more choice over their programme.
As well as greater freedom to select urban and e-sports in a bid to appeal to younger audiences, cities will be encouraged to select entirely new disciplines that are popular locally.
In an attempt to drive down costs and innovate, co-hosting will be encouraged and there will be no requirement for an athletes’ village.
However, there is now anxiety among the many sports whose place in the programme will no longer be mandatory.
And for non-Olympics sports like bowls – for whom the Commonwealth Games is the pinnacle of their calendar – the reforms are especially worrying.
Nineteen sports will feature at Birmingham 2022, but the new proposals recommend that is reduced to around 15 for the 2026 event.
According to the CGF, athletics and swimming are being protected ‘due to their historical place on the programme since 1930, and based on universality, participation, broadcasting, spectator interest, para-inclusion and gender balance.’
By restricting the number of mandatory sports to just athletics and swimming, the new roadmap will allow hosts the space to choose the likes of surfing, skateboarding and climbing – all new to the Olympic programme – along with e-sports.
Sports that are especially popular in a host country – such as lacrosse in Canada or kabaddi in India – would also be encouraged.
So, what’s next for bowls?
Darryl Clout, president of World Bowls says: “In releasing the roadmap, the CGF president, Dame Louise Martin stressed that the Games ‘need to adapt, evolve and modernise to ensure we continue to maintain our relevance and prestige across the Commonwealth’.
“Dame Louise’s words and the recommendations set out in the roadmap present a challenge for our sport in the years ahead. The clear message to our sport is that we must build on the record and reputation which we currently hold in the Games movement.
“We now need to look for ways in which we can improve our game and its delivery and appeal and look at this challenge as an exciting opportunity to position ourselves as a ‘must have’ for future Games programmes. How we do that will be high on the list of actions for the World Bowls board in consultation with each of our members in the coming months and years.
“The clear message to all sports is that if we are to remain relevant and appealing to future Games hosts, organisers, sponsors and spectators we need to be prepared to think ‘outside the square’ and not just present the same event in the same manner it has been delivered for many Games. It may be that we have to accept that such a move may take us away from our traditional style and disciplines.
“Our sport has a long and rich history at the Commonwealth Games and it is imperative for many reasons that it remains on future programmes.
“You can be assured that all ideas will be considered by the Board as we work through this critical time in our history to ensure we maintain our position as a key Commonwealth Games sport.”