Coronavirus collides with bowls season, pushing a likely restart to next year

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The bowls season is delayed by lockdown measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, but stringent controls on older members of the population ensure that the sport may not roll out until next year.

Bowls is one of the ten core sports of the Commonwealth Games and is widely recognised for boasting a high proportion of players from an elderly demographic profile, who are regarded in this pandemic to be most vulnerable.  

Mark Bircumshaw, the CEO of the British Crown Green Bowling Association, acknowledged that protecting these susceptible players is a predominant cause for concern within the sporting sphere.

He said: “The issue we have is that a very high percentage of our players are over the age of 60. Something like 70 per cent of our membership is of that age so it’s complicated in terms of shielding.

“Nationally, we’re probably the biggest participation sport for the elderly. For crown green bowling in Staffordshire, we have 4,500 registered players and it’s hitting us badly in terms of the sociability side.

“So even if we can get back to play, the fact that we’ve got a large percentage of elderly players could have a significant impact in terms of whether we can get any bowling done this year at all.”

Bircumshaw is also the secretary and treasurer of the Staffordshire County Bowling Association (SCBA) which hosts 22 leagues, with its member clubs experiencing increased financial strain due to the virus.

The economic impacts threaten the bowls calendar this year, and this apprehension is echoed by Bill Staite, the senior county manager of the SCBA.

He said: “There’ll be a lot of financial impact on clubs not just from the fact they’re not playing bowls.

“Most bowls teams either run from pubs or clubs, and all pubs and clubs are closed at the moment so there’s absolutely no income coming into bowls clubs whatsoever.

“People are itching to get back already. It’s all in limbo at the moment, but I personally don’t think we’ll be having any bowling this year.”

Sport England announced they are providing a fund of up to £195 million to help boost the sport and physical activity sector during the coronavirus outbreak, which some bowls clubs will be eligible for and can therefore apply, if necessary.

Bircumshaw believes that this fund can serve as a lifeline for clubs, but also remains optimistic about the chances of a resurgence in bowling in the aftermath of the global pandemic.

He said: “There’s the emergency fund from Sport England that they can all apply for to try and help out with the situation.

“You have to remember, when we had the last big impact in the financial crisis, we did eventually come out of it and there was a huge uptake in the game because we are a relatively cheap sport for the elderly to play.”

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