Bowls makes the headlines but for the wrong reasons

Crown green bowls used to enjoy regular coverage in the national or local newspapers. Sadly, most of this ended years ago as many of the publications went on a cost cutting exercise, but crown green bowls has created headlines again but not for the reasons it wanted.

A story of what seemed a rowdy and eventful day at one of the midlands premier venues first appeared in the Shropshire Star before gathering the interest of national newspapers. It is a shame the winner of the competition, Darren Plenderleith, has not received more publicity than the unsavoury reports of the day.

Callum Wraight, with BCGBA President Ken Howarth, with the Senior Merit Trophy

Probably the games player of the year, Shropshire’s Callum Wraight who became national champion with his success in the British Senior Merit in July at Hawcoat Park in Cumbria, was threatened and was verbally abused by a small number of the crowd watching the finals day at The George Masters in Birmingham. The George hosts this popular & prestigious open competition which is widely regarded as one of the best competitions & venues in the midlands and is run by a small and highly regarded committee.

After the competition finished social media lit up with versions of what happened after Callum objected to the behaviour of spectators towards him & was then threatened after the conclusion of his first game before receiving more abuse throughout the day. Of particular concern to Callum was that his young family was with him at the finals day & they became understandably upset.

Although the organiser of the competition, the highly regarded Elliot McGuiness, disagrees with how the events have been described, Elliot does suggest that with hindsight at least one spectator should have been asked to leave. Elliot also suggests some of the other comments aimed at Callum were attempts at humorous banter by people who had too much to drink.

Whether the person on the receiving end is upset or intimidated by shouts from the side is not considered & most of the social media reaction to this has been to strongly support Callum. There have also been reports that efforts have been made by individuals to apologise to Callum for their behaviour.

It seems safe to say that something went on, but I think it depends on how you view it as to whether you think its acceptable or not. It seems obvious to me that if your sole intention when watching a bowls match, or any sporting event, is to abuse the participants then there is something wrong.

The “is it banter or is it abuse” debate has been a problem the sport has faced for years. Games that are played in a quiet or soulless atmosphere are seldom memorable, but games played when it goes too far towards the vitriolic or toxic end of the scale are unpleasant & do the sport no good at all.

When the sport returned to the TV screens in, I think it was 2014, with the ITV broadcast of the Waterloo handicap finals day, plans were put in place to make sure the games were played with the right atmosphere. I was very small part of that production & was sent out to encourage & take part in a noisy crowd. A few members of the crowd were asked to help & the planned atmosphere came over well. A couple of times I did loudly ask if the jockey had fell off any bowl that looked to be short but none of the shouts, by anyone, were personal.

In the recent past comments towards players have seen some, especially junior players give up the sport up because of the comments aimed at them, this is often from players & spectators not affected by drink, and reports of incidents between people who should be old enough to know better are too numerous to list here. I do remember a bit of victim blaming taking place.

A knowledgeable crowd won’t need much encouragement to support the bowlers & Callum is regarded as one of the most entertaining players to watch. You will seldom see these days players running after their bowls, encouraging it go closer. If you were able to see the recent Champion of Champions then Callum, Lee Kington and Greg Smith, and to a lesser degree Ben Harris, were the only ones to do this. Some will even criticise them for doing this, but it is far better than an aseptic, tepid, or uninspiring bowls match.

The atmosphere crown green bowls can generate is one of the things that separates it from the other bowling codes. A classic example is a game between Callum & Greg Smith at the Waterloo, in the 2017 Champion of Champions semi-final, where the atmosphere lifted the player’s performances in what became one the best games seen on the Waterloo. A few days before, a game to rival it was played between Wayne Ditchfield and Michael Beer in the Waterloo Handicap competition, it was technically a better game but lacked the drama. They played each other again at the same time as Callum and Greg played in the Champion of Champions semi-final, but hardly any eyes followed it, Callum and Greg’s game had all the eyes on it. You can see it here.

Callum & Greg are leading the next generation of crown green bowlers & the hope must be that bowlers are supported rather than criticised. The finals of this years George Masters, and the publicity it has received, will add fuel to debate on the behaviour of players & spectators. Already there have been calls for the games governing body, the British Crown Green Bowling Association (BCGBA), to investigate. Though with none of their officers at the event they will have to rely on what will be reported to them.

In the very near future the BCGBA, as will all bowling codes, will have to introduce proposals for an increase in the scope of the safeguarding rules as well adopting procedures to deal with online safety (as well as other proposals expected by the government of a national governing body) the only way it can do this is through its Disciplinary rules, even though it doesn’t have one.

Even without developing disciplinary rules some will question if the BCGBA, which would expect all bowls and bowls venues to be a safe place in a sport for all, will want to look at allegations of threatening physical or verbal behaviour through the rules it already has, though I also suspect many will want to consign the events to history.

I suppose we can expect proposals to police player & spectator behaviour will be pushed to the front of the queue, possibly in January’s Rules Revision meeting. It will probably be the alleged events at The George that will help bring proposals forward. Although I suspect many of those involved at the George, or across the bowling world, would rather see any lessons learned kept to the organising committee to act on.

Whether crown green bowls can get back to a wide exposure on national or even local news publications is doubtful, especially now when a small number of high-profile sports dominate the publications. Bowls has been left to a small number of websites, including social media, to record its news and keep its history alive. Some may think that’s a scandal or a sad reflection of where the sport is, and if it does achieve more exposure then we can all hope it would be for the right reasons.

About Steve Davies 168 Articles
Throughout his bowling career Steve has always supported the admin side of the game as well as a keen player of the game. As a club secretary, association secretary, county delegate on the BCGBA (National Governing Body) Management Committee, Media Officer for the BCGBA, Merseyside champion in 2002 and Merseyside County President (2014-15) Steve has always been keen to promote the game especially through the broadcast of the game on TV or Internet. Steve set up the LIVE BOWLS YouTube channel which became the Bowls Observer channel and, through the LDBA, runs national competitions. Seeing an avenue to report on and promote the game Steve set up the Bowls Observer on-line magazine.