The highest level of international competition for lawn bowls at present is the Commonwealth Games. It has been a core feature at these games for decades but has not yet found a place in the Olympics. It wasn’t even recognised as a sport by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) for a long time.
Lawn bowls is not in the Olympics because of certain bureaucratic hurdles. The IOC eventually recognised lawn bowls as a sport, but it was seen only as relaxation for many years. Olympic sports must have broad spectator appeal, especially for younger age groups. A commercial interest is also vital.
World Bowls applied in 2016 to the IOC to have lawn bowls recognised as an Olympic sport when the seventy-five country requirement was lowered to fifty. Even so, World Bowls had to make a formal recognition request that included a detailed questionnaire of more than forty pages accompanied by some one hundred and twenty supporting documents. This article looks into why lawn bowls is not in the Olympics.
The Requirements For Inclusion In The Olympics
For a sport to be recognised by the IOC, it must be played widely throughout the world. In the first Olympics, only nine sports were featured. The number has since grown considerably and is now around thirty-three. Ironically many of these sports are much younger than lawn bowls.
Only sports governed by International Federations recognised by the IOC are eligible for inclusion in the Olympics in terms of the Olympic Charter. The IOC has the final decision, but before this, a proposal must be made to the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, which has full discretion to accept or reject it.
No set list of sports always features in every Olympics. Certain sports can be dropped even if they were previously included. For instance, wrestling was dropped in 2013 but subsequently reinstated due to popular demand. For the Beijing Games, twenty-eight sports were recognised, but only twenty-six were played in the London Games.
In 2020 the Tokyo committee listed some considerations for the inclusion of new sports. These include:
- Youth appeal
- Added value
- Attractiveness for TV, media, and the public
- Gender equality
- Infrastructure and operational costs
Why We Are Yet To See Lawn Bowls In The Olympics?
Even though the IOC has recognised lawn bowls as a sport, it has yet to feature in the Olympics. In
1988 it was featured in a demonstration program at the Seoul Olympics, but since then – nothing. Many other sports compete for inclusion in the Olympics, and their level of popularity amongst the general public is critical.
Lawn bowls is not a fast-paced action game that necessarily brings crowds roaring to their feet. However, if one considers that more sedentary sports like golf and cricket are very popular with spectators, there is no reason why lawn bowls shouldn’t have the same appeal. A big problem is the perception that it doesn’t have much interest for the younger age groups that are the primary target audience of the Olympics.
Lawn bowls is extremely popular in Australia, which has high hopes that Brisbane will be selected to host the 2032 Olympic Games. The host nation is allowed to propose the inclusion of new sports in the Olympics for their event. Bowls Australia is optimistic that this may give lawn bowls an opportunity for inclusion in the program. The Olympics will take place in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.
However, lawn bowls must compete for inclusion with other enormously popular sports in Australia, such as cricket, squash, and netball. Queensland, the province where Brisbane is located, has no scarcity of bowling greens on which to play, and spectators and players in Australia heavily support lawn bowls.
Lawn bowls is growing rapidly in China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, which gives added hope. The sport has been recognised in the Paralympic Games in previous years but has not appeared since 1996.
Although lawn bowls has been around for centuries, it has not been included in the Olympic Games because, for a long time, the IOC did not recognise it as a sport. It is also perceived as lacking spectator appeal for young people and may not have the commercial value of other more exciting and action-packed Olympic sports. However, there is hope that it may be included in the future if Brisbane hosts the games in 2032.