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Irish players launch campaign to save British Isles Internationals

When Irish captain Ian McClure played a true skipper’s role in the 2019 men’s international series, playing the shot of his life to seal victory for the men in green, little did he know that his beloved country might not get the chance to defend their title.

And while subsequent series’ in 2020 and 2021 have been cancelled because of Covid, McClure now finds himself leading a campaign to help save the top event from becoming a top 10 tournament at senior and Under 25 level.

Back in 2019 at Ayr, Northfield, Ireland were crowned champions in dramatic style after they beat Scotland by one-shot in a winner takes all series decider and moments of bowls history like that now look like they could become a thing of the past.

At that series, the battle by 96 bowlers from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales having played 755 ends and delivered 5,805 bowls (excluding any dead ends and bowls not played in an end of course) to win the pinnacle event of men’s bowls in the UK came down to the last three bowls.

In the two years which have passed since that epic day, the British Isles Bowls Council has been forced to cancel the flagship event because of Covid.

And it has now emerged that the BIBC has plans in the pipeline to drastically change the format of the British Isles Series and Championships which were the brainchild of the legendary Doctor W. G. Grace in 1903.

The plans, although not yet published, is understood will see the event become a Top 10 event with each country competing in singles, pairs, triples and fours to bring it closer to the current preferred format for World Bowls and Commonwealth Games.

As a result, the defending champions after much discussion, careful consideration and review feel that it is incumbent upon them as players to express their strongly held views on the proposals.

Ian McClure, Martin McHugh, Robin Horner, Jim Baker, Andy Kyle, Stuart Bennett, Aaron Tennant and Gary Kelly have formed an international players committee and set-up a campaign group on Facebook.

They say: “Firstly and most importantly, as key stakeholders in the process, we are disappointed that we have not been consulted, nor to our knowledge have our fellow International colleagues in England, Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands in terms of these radical proposals to our pinnacle outdoor event.

“Although we fully recognise the need to modernise our game and agree broadly with the objectives outlined, we differ in opinion on how to best achieve them.

“We do take this opportunity to thank you as players for the work carried out thus far and as our objectives for our sport are broadly similar it is only in the action plan, we differ.

“In summary, we believe that there is considerable merit in these proposals to take our sport forward especially in terms of attempting to create a format that can be entertaining for spectators, appealing to potential sponsorship, television and to present bowls as a modern sport with parity between both genders.

“The proposals appear to be largely focussed on the preparation of elite players for major events.

“We recognise this is vitally important, however, we do not believe this should be in detriment to the British Isles International Series and Championships in their current format which provide an opportunity for players who may never reach the very top level of their national squads but can command a place in a 24-man team or represent their country in the British Isles championships as a reward for winning a national title.

“It is our view that these new proposals should be in addition to the highly competitive and successful Home International, Under 25 Series and British Isles championships event.

“We appreciate that cost is a key factor however, by consultation, review and compromise we strongly believe there is a way to have the best of both worlds for our players and national associations.

“Our sport is wonderful and provides us all with such enjoyment and memorable moments.

“We fully recognise and support the need to embrace change, however we would argue strongly that tradition and modernisation can both be maintained and achieved in parallel. We cite the cricket juxtaposition of test matches and T20.

“The men’s International Series has been competed for since 1903 and can be won by any of the four competing international teams – a team competition second to none other in the world of bowls which has delivered epic finales, none more so that the most recent series at Northfield in 2019 which saw Ireland being victorious on the last end.

“We would accept that this event is primarily for the bowling purist, however, that is still an important market to cater for and should not be neglected. We must be realistic in terms of our target markets.

“Furthermore, since the inception of the Under 25 International series in 1992, it has proven to be an excellent pathway for the sports emerging players to gain experience at International level.

“Many of these young players progress to full representative honours, by reducing the numbers involved within this demographic, undoubtedly, many will sadly miss out on the opportunity to pull on the international shirt of their country.

“We have canvassed opinion of many of the current Irish international squad, past Internationals, selectors and club bowlers and have yet to find a supporter of these new proposals as a standalone option.”

In conclusion, the committee respectfully ask the British Isles Bowls Council to reconsider their proposals and as a minimum consult with some of your key stakeholders by commissioning a research piece with this cohort of players.

They add: “When implementing such a significant change, best practice, would encourage consultation with all key stakeholders not just some.”

FOOTNOTE: The British Isles Women’s Bowls Council have already agreed a new-look for its international events to increase awareness of the women’s game in the UK and closer align with the formats at world events. The revised format will see the introduction of a Top 10 style event featuring singles, pairs, triples and fours disciplines in place of the more traditional four rink and six rink events at junior and senior level respectively