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Five decades of service to bowls

When the secretary of Gorseinon Bowls Club stood down in 1975, David Phillips, the youngest member of the club at the time, was asked to take on the role (writes Sian Honnor).
And now five decades on, after dedicating much of his life to the administration of bowls, David, who turned 70 last year, has decided to take a step back.
He said: “Although I don’t feel any different, it seemed the right time to step down. Whilst I still have passion for the sport, one can outstay one’s welcome and all organisations needs new ideas which often comes from a change in personnel. Furthermore, after being involved for so many years, when my wife asks me if we can go somewhere I will be able to say yes, instead of saying: “I will have to check the diary first,” I think it is now time for us to do more together while I am still relatively fit and able to do so.”
Becoming a founder member of Swansea City IBC, where he remains a member to this day, was the start of David’s life in bowls administration. He joined the management committee in 1979 and served as assistant secretary from 1992 to 1997 before taking over as secretary. David was club president in 1986 and from 2007 to 2014, and vice-chairman from 2008 to 2014.
In 1981, David became the youngest secretary of the Llanelli and District Bowing League and over the next 20 years held various positions with Llanelli League and Carmarthen County Bowling Association, including treasurer, assistant secretary and commercial secretary. He was Llanelli League president in 1989 and Carmarthen County president in 1995.
David was elected to the position of Welsh Indoor Bowls Association (WIBA) secretary in 2000, a position he held until 2013. He was a national selector between 2003 and 2005, during which time Wales won the Hilton Trophy in Perth, Scotland, for the first time since 1981 (they have not been successful since).
“I was also treasurer of the WIBA from 2018 until unification with the women in 2022,” David said.
“I was WIBA delegate to the BIIBC from 2000 to 2012 when, following the sudden passing of Trevor Costall, I was asked to take over as BIIBC secretary/treasurer on a temporary basis,” he continued.
“I was then elected to the position at the following AGM in March 2013, following unification of the BIIBC and BIWIBC the title was changed to chief executive officer.”
While secretary of the WIBA, David was their delegate on the World Indoor Bowls Council (WIBC) and served on the WIBC laws committee from 2004. He was elected secretary of the WIBC, now known as IIBC, in 2007, and served again from 2011-2023.
David has also been secretary of the Welsh Bowls Federation, the forerunner to Bowls Wales between and served as a director of the World Bowls Tour from 2006 until stepping down in May 2023.
So, what kept David motivated over so many years?
“My love for the sport and my wish to see the sport move forward and improve,” he said.
“I have always regarded bowls as a team event, whether playing or administrating. During my time in all the positions, I have held I have had a good team around me to support and assist me. One of my strengths is to utilise their strengths to the best advantage. Having trust in the people around you and delegation is the key to success. Delegation is a strength and not a weakness.”
David regards a major career highlight as bringing the WIBC, now known as the International Indoor Bowls Council (IIBC), into membership of World Bowls.
“This has resulted in one governing body for the sport of bowls,” he said. “A true indoor world championship, where national champions can complete against each other, is so important and the next world championships being hosted in Guernsey will see players from 30 different countries fighting to become world champion; no other indoor world championship can match that.”
Unification of the British Isles Indoor Bowls Council and the British Isles Ladies Indoor Bowls Council, after many years of discussions and debate, came about under David’s watch too.
He also played a part in the unification of the Welsh Indoor Bowls Association (WIBA) and the Welsh Ladies Indoor Bowls Association (WLIBA).
When asked which event has been the most enjoyable to run, David said: “Without doubt my favourite is the Home International Series, I can’t think of anything more exciting than the final match of the series, normally contested between England and Scotland with the stadium filled to capacity with over 500 passionate supporters singing and shouting their team home to victory. I still can’t believe that my colleagues outdoors have decided to dispense with the series.
“While every event is enjoyable, each as its own challenges. The BIIBC Under 18 Mixed International Series is without doubt the busiest, due to its format you can’t complete the score cards prior to the event because after the first round of matches you must wait to see who wins and losses to determine who plays who in the next session.
“I have in the last year taken to wearing a Fit Bit and on the Saturday of the series in Sully, Wales, I completed 27,500 steps!”
David has only ever belonged to one outdoor club and this month marks his 55th season.
“I am looking forward to it with as much enthusiasm as my first season at Gorseinon,” he said.
“It all started when a group of us, after playing football and cricket in the local park, would go into the bowling green and watch the old men playing bowls. In 1970, bowls was not regarded as a young person’s sport and our large group of 15 and 16-year-olds was not welcomed by all. However, one particular member had the foresight to see the benefit of involving us, so at the end of the season we were challenged to enter a brand-new under 18 tournament.”
After beating the favourite, Peter Williams, in the final, David’s lifelong love of bowls began.
He said: “Bowls can be played by anyone irrespective of age, gender or physical attributes. When you turn up for a match you can never take anyone for granted, you must show total respect for your opponent, if you don’t it will be at your peril.
“Outdoor greens not only change from day to day, but during the match so it is constant challenge against your opponent and the conditions that appeals to me. Indoors the change in temperature affects to speed of the carpet so you can never relax.
“There is also the social aspect of the sport, I have met so many people from so many walks of life over the last 50 odd years, many remain friends to this day.
“When you are on the green, it matters not what your background is, it is all about the sport.”
Another feather to David’s cap is his work as an umpire.
“Umpiring has played a major part in my bowls life and has given me the most pleasure,” he said.
“I qualified as an umpire in 1981, becoming one of the youngest umpires in the country and my first involvement with the BIIBC was in 1984 when I umpired at the BIIBC Championships and International Series at Folkestone, Kent.
“It was there that I had the privilege to meet and mark for the legend David Bryant CBE who lost 21 shots to 16 in the semi-final against Michael Dunlop from Ireland. For the next 20 years, I was a member of the TV umpires panel, umpiring at 18 World Indoor Championships at Coatbridge, Scotland, Alexandra Palace, London, Preston Guild Hall and Potters Leisure Resort. During that time, I marked for the greats of bowls alongside the greatest of all time David Bryant, there was Tony Allcock, Willie Wood, Bob Sutherland, Ian Schback, Peter Bellis, Jim Baker, John Price, Andy Thomson MBE, David Gourlay Jnr. MBE and the familiar names of today, Alex Marshall MBE, Paul Foster MBE and Greg Harlow.”
Having spent so long in the bowls world, I’m curious about David’s views on how more people can be encouraged to play the game?
He said: “Much has been tried in recent years with varying success rates. The lack of TV coverage is not helping and what is shown I believe is not a true reflection of our sport; while the World Indoor Championships at Potters has its place in the sport, it is not what you get when you turn up to play at your local club. The sombre atmosphere and the demographic of the audience is not conducive to attracting people to go down to their local club and have a go.
“If only we could get the TV people to turn up at one of our junior events and transmit for an hour, it would do more to increase participation than the whole six days of coverage from Potters.
“National associations must do more to grow the sport; while much of their money is spent on sending their elite players to play in events across the world, the sport is declining around them, unless they confront this, they will not have a sport.
“National co-ordinators are required to drive the sport forward working with local clubs to promote the sport, not only in schools but looking at sportsmen and women who have been involved in more active sports and due to age and injuries etc are now unable to play those active physical sports but still have the desire to compete at a high level.
“The bulk of our members are the 50-plus age group, but they have very little opportunities in the sport, we have Under 18 events, Under 25 events and Over 60 events, but since the BIIBC lost its sponsor for the Over 50 International Series, they have nothing, so I am pleased that the BIIBC are looking at reintroducing this event.
“While I hope I am wrong, I fear that the best of our sport has come and gone, during the 1980s and ’90s we had four events on TV; great days indeed.”

Caption: David Phillips

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