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IIBC presidential honour for Merrien

Hot off the back of winning double gold at the NatWest International Island Games, Janice Gower caught up with Alison Merrien MBE to ask her about the sport, how it has affected her playing living on an island, the International Island Games and becoming the president of the International Indoor Bowls Council (IIBC).

JG: What age did you start bowling and why and what influence where your parents on your
bowling career?
AM: “I was 10-year-old when I started playing. I followed my mum in all sports that she took part in. First off it was badminton. I enjoyed it but never wanted to get to that next level. Then came bowls; my grandparents played and then mum started playing which got me interested. I then met Ian (my husband), his family played and were competitive which gave me the bug to go further. I did play softball, but then got selected to play bowls for Guernsey at the 1997 Atlantic Championships, so decided to retire from softball so I wouldn’t get injured before I went away.”

JG: What other sports do you follow?
AM: “I follow most sports and have always had an interest in motorsport. We have been to a few Formula 1 Grand Prix’s and Superbike races. More recently, ladies football has sparked my interest. We have a Guernsey girl who has got into the Manchester United team – Maya Le Tissier. Generally, live sport has always got a great atmosphere.”

JG: How does your job fit in with your sport?
AM: “I recently changed jobs which I am extremely happy with. I get to help people with IT systems. I manage the systems, training and meeting the staff that need to use the systems. It gives me a buzz to know that I have made a difference. I get annual leave entitlement each year, most of it is used for travelling away for bowls events, I am lucky that my management are flexible and allow me holidays at the time I require
for events.”

JG: How has living on an island affected your ability to compete at such a high level?
AM: “I am a born and bred Guern. I love Guernsey, it is a wonderful place to live. There are downsides with any sport on Guernsey. If you want to go further or build up experience you have to get off the island to do it. I chose to follow my sport with the help and support of Ian and my family and it has always been in my annual leave from work. The only exception was a sabbatical where Ian and I went to Australia for three months to play for Warilla Bowls Club in 2010. It was great to play bowls somewhere else and with different people, but I missed my family and home.”

JG: What sort of sacrifices have you felt you have had to make to compete at such a high level?
AM: “To travel off island takes money and for most of my career I have been self-funded. I miss social events whilst I am away or have practise sessions leading up to an event. I have also had less opportunities for what some may call ‘traditional holidays’ but I have travelled a lot.”

JG: What do you do to relax?
AM: “Since I retired from outdoors (10 years ago now), I have loved my summers off. I am usually in my garden as we grow a lot of fruit and veg. We also go to France for quite a few weekends as it is just a two-hour boat trip for us. My electric bike is used regularly, most days to work but also to travel around Guernsey. Socialising with friends; we have many fantastic restaurants in Guernsey so spoilt
for choice.”

JG: What venue have you enjoyed most in your career?
AM: “Warilla Bowls Club has done me proud. 2007 was my first world singles title – World Champion of Champions on the outdoor surface, and then five months later winning the World Cup singles on their indoor surface. Between 2008-2014, I played in all the World Cups at Warilla and came away with a medal of some colour every time. I also had a good run at Stanley indoor three years on the trot with the British Isles Indoor Championships winning the ladies’ pairs on all three occasions and then doing the double on the third year with winning the singles at the same time.

JG: What has been your most memorable achievement and why?
AM: “I have many memorable moments – winning World and British titles, but my most memorable was in the IIBC World Championships in Merthyr Tydfil. I played against Devon Cooper in the final. On the last end of the second set, Devon was holding three which would take the game to a tie breaker. I fired my final bowl which took all three bowls out to leave me holding shot to claim the end, set and game. I had a few supporters with me so the place erupted with cheers and applause – best feeling ever.

JG: Have you got a sporting hero and if so who and why?
AM: “In 1999, I met Karen Murphy (when we were both under 25!). I then played Karen at World Bowls in the singles event while in Australia in 2000. I lost by one-shot. I learnt that Karen was a professional bowler while I was there so thought I didn’t do too badly. I admired that a woman was actually playing bowls for a living in those days. It is one thing to play bowls as an amateur, but to do it for a living takes a different mindset. Karen has gone on to win many titles, but to stay at the top for a long period is a fantastic achievement. Karen has inspired me over the years without knowing it, to carry on competing at the high level and to show by example that if you want it you have to work for it.”

JG: Just recently you managed the golden double winning both the open singles gold and the open triples gold at the Island Games? How do you rate those golds in your list of many international achievements?
AM: “I have always been proud to represent Guernsey, but never had much opportunity to do it on home soil. Recently, I had some personal mental health issues, so this was going to be challenging from within. I trained hard leading up to the Island Games but really came on form the week before so I started to believe in myself once again. The games were challenging as we were playing against the guys which made me more determined, and hopefully it relayed into my team as well. The week went so much better than expected (of myself), the team I played with were great in performance and support. Between the triples and singles, I didn’t lose a game all week, including, winning the singles final against Ian (oops!). The home crowd was incredible and it gave me a great buzz knowing that there was so much support across the island.
“From a personal point of view the games were absolutely fantastic, they call it the ‘Friendly Games’, and it was, across all the islands that took part, certainly from a bowls point of view. The players, officials, umpires and volunteers all had a great time and certainly had a few laughs.
“But the response from the public after the games has been brilliant. We have run a few ‘come and have a go nights’ and have had 40-plus coming to try bowls. We have lots of new members from that and the leagues are looking great for the winter. Sometimes it’s all about putting the idea out there and with the Island games the Guernsey Indoor Bowls Club got to do that by showcasing what we have to offer – how it’s a sport for all.”

JG: Which aspect of your game do you see as your strength?
AM: “Throughout my bowls career, we have always played as an open club i.e. men and women played together and against each other. I feel that always gave me the aggressive edge, so certainly my firing and heavy shots were a big advantage in the ladies’ game. Hopefully it has stirred others to play in the same way.”

JG: Having done so much within the sport how is the role of IIBC president different to others you have held?
AM: “I got asked a few years ago to be president of the WIBC in the day but felt I couldn’t put the time to dedicate to the role. I then got asked at the end of the winter season in 2022 to become IIBC vice-president, to then be president in 2023. It felt the right time and it was a wonderful honour to be asked again. I thought it would be a great opportunity to be part of the council to promote the game further. I have had many different roles within Guernsey and also been Channel Islands representative on the British Isles Council. To be president is a step up and I am enjoying the role.”

JG: What are you hoping to achieve holding this position and what are your thoughts on the IIBC and the future of the sport?
AM: “I hope to show others that you can play at any level and volunteer, giving something back, no matter how big or small, to the game we all love. When WIBC membership agreed to change to IIBC and affiliate to World Bowls, I was so pleased with it, I volunteered to help with the process in getting there. I feel this has definitely strengthened indoor bowls around the globe and the participation in both World Indoor Championships – seniors and juniors has grown greatly. I would like to cement this cooperation and see further indoor events being run by these entities. There are quite a few newer countries coming into the sport, so giving them the opportunities to play indoors and gain experience would be great to see.”

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