Things are looking up.
The World Junior Indoor Bowls Championships are once again a truly global event, and spectators at the Jim Baker Stadium in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, from December 5-9 can expect a sensational display of international talent that augurs well for the future (writes David Rhys Jones).
In its early days, there was a cosmopolitan feel to this event, which was created and organised by the World Indoor Bowls Council (WIBC).
Players like Karen Murphy and Stacey Collier from Australia won the women’s title in 2000 and 2001, while Aussie Mark Casey and Kiwi Jamie Hill lifted the junior men’s crown at the competitions in 2003 and 2005 respectively.
But, just like the WIBC senior championship, the event temporarily lost its international profile, its lustre and its credibility. Essentially, it became a British event, and, although you could say that at least 95% of the world’s indoor bowlers are based in the United Kingdom, the absence of overseas players made it much less attractive.
Now it’s back in business, big-time. Since the World Indoor Bowls Council changed its name to the International Indoor Bowls Council (IIBC), and joined forces with the global outdoor body, World Bowls (WBL), there’s been a new look to this special event.
In 2019, Leung Seen Wah and Yau Tze-Fung won the mixed pairs for Hong Kong, and last time around (in 2020), Paris Baker, from Tonga, and Jessica Srisamruaybai, from Australia, contested the women’s final.
This time around, while players from the home countries and Guernsey are still hotly tipped to do well, they will have to cope with strong challenges from competitors from Australia, Canada, USA, Norfolk Island, Israel, Namibia, Hong Kong, Hungary and Switzerland.
Looking at their profiles, they are an interesting bunch. Consider for example, the achievements of Ellie Dixon, a teenager from Norfolk Island, who has been playing bowls since she was 11. At 15, she was selected to play for the New South Wales State Combined High School team.
Now 17, she has already won eight club titles in Norfolk Island, and recently represented the External Territory of Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where her performance was so outstanding that she was selected to carry the Norfolk Island flag at the dazzling closing ceremony.
And what of Ronan Olivier, from Namibia, who played in the WB/IIBC senior World Indoor Championships in Bristol in March? The talented teenager, who has won eight gold medals at Namibia’s national championships, celebrated his eighteenth birthday during the event, and looked a fine prospect.
Canada’s Amy Spence, aged 21, plays for the Sherwood Lawn Bowls Club in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. She has been playing bowls for ten years, and is also a dab hand at curling and five-pin alley bowling.
Then there’s Shira Eshel, who is a member of the Ramat Gan club in Israel. She’s 24, and has been playing bowls since she was 14.
“Bowls is a beautiful and very special sport – I can’t get enough of it,” she says.
Shira made her full international debut when she was 18, and, in 2016, while serving in the Israeli Army, she was selected to play in the world outdoor championships in Christchurch.
“That was a great honour for me,” she says.
Of course, there is no shortage of talent among the British players, with Adam Rankin and Shauna O’Neill carrying home hopes, Ben Matthews and Lauren Gowen turning out for Wales, Harry Goodwin and Ruby Hill representing England, and Bradley Buchan and Kara Lees hoping to strike gold for Scotland.
Guernsey’s Ben Harvey and Catherine Snell are highly experienced, but it is disappointing that there is no entry from Jersey. Australia’s hopes rest with Nick Cahill and Brianna Smith, but New Zealand, sadly, will not be represented.
Section A: Nick Cahill (Australia); Harry Goodwin (England); Chow Ho Yin (Hong Kong); Adam Rankin (Ireland); Ben Harvey (Guernsey); Angel Gomez (USA)
Section B: Owen Kirby (Canada); Ben Matthews (Wales); Mate Dobos (Hungary); TBA (Ireland 2); Ronan Olivier (Namibia); Bradley Buchan (Scotland)
Section A: Brianna Smith (Australia); Amy Spence (Canada); Yu See Sin (Hong Kong); Shira Eshel (Israel); Kara Lees (Scotland); Laura Gowen (Wales)
Section B: Ruby Hill (England); Catherine Snell (Guernsey); Sarolta Schrank (Hungary); Shauna O’Neill (Ireland); Ellie Dixon (Norfolk Island); Larissa Rubin (Switzerland)
Section A: Cahill and Smith (Australia); Goodwin and Hill (England); Harvey and Snell (Guernsey); Dobos and Schrank (Hungary); Gomez and Dixon (USA/Norfolk Island); Ireland 2 and Rubin (Ireland/Switzerland)
Section B: Kirby and Spence (Canada); Buchan and Lees (Scotland); Chow Ho Yin and Yu See Sin (Hong Kong); Rankin and O’Neill (Ireland); Matthews and Gowen (Wales); Olivier and Eshel (Namibia/Israel)
Regular updates will be shared on the Bowls International website and social media channels throughout the event.
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