Why tenpin bowling should be in the Olympics

Updated: August 7, 2012

Jason Byrnes asks when the International Olympic Committee will recognise that the demand for tenpin bowling to become an Olympic sport has grown too great to ignore.

Tenpin bowling is played by over 100 million people worldwide. Of these over 10 million compete at either amateur or professional level. The number of bowling lanes worldwide has now risen past the 250,000 mark. Petitions have been posted and signed by huge numbers on the internet, including a Facebook petition which had almost 10,000 members before it was taken down by its creator. Yet somehow the sport continues to be snubbed by the Olympic Games.

Tenpin bowling is now probably the biggest sport in the world which is not yet part of the Olympic Games, especially now that golf has been confirmed for the 2016 Games. The Bowling World Cup, which is held annually in destinations all over the world, has proven extremely successful and shown that there is an appetite for the sport. Amateurs love the opportunity to travel the world, to represent their country, to walk out at the opening ceremony with their nation’s flag, to wear the colours of their nation proudly. To do this at the Olympic Games would be a high-point in any bowler’s career, and a moment which they would never forget.

And the tournament has become even more appealing now that it has been opened up to professionals to take part. For every amateur, and I say this from personal experience, playing alongside the best players in the world is the most exciting experience you can be involved in, not just in bowling but in any sport. The Olympics is, admittedly, still technically considered an amateur showcase. However, so many Olympic events are now open to professionals and even in some cases only professionals compete, as in tennis and basketball. It will be the same when golf takes its place in the 2016 Games. So why then, is a sport with a rich amateur and professional base being ignored?

Bowling has seen huge growth in Western Europe over the past few decades, especially in Britain and France. It also has a massive base in Asia now, with one American Professional Bowlers Tour event a year taking place in Japan, and several World Bowling tour events also taking place on the Asian continent, in such places as Thailand, which also just hosted the World Youth Championships last month. The sport also has a growing popularity in Eastern Europe, and added to its ever-strong popularity in the Americas, the argument for the sport to be given Olympic status is simply becoming too great to ignore.

In 1979, the International Olympic Committee officially recognised the Féderation Internationale des Qulleurs as the governing body of tenpin bowling. The FIQ has been lobbying tirelessly for the sport to be included in the Olympics ever since, but illogically the sport has remained on the side-lines. The closest the sport has come to Olympic participation was as a demonstration sport at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. It was well-received then and looked on the cards for inclusion possibly in the Atlanta Games in 1996, but it was ultimately overlooked again and the issue has barely been looked at since by the IOC.

Tenpin bowling appeals greatly to a large segment of the population worldwide, a point enhance by the sport’s popularity as a disability sport. There is one key reason why its popularity is so widespread: despite subtleties of skill in the professional game it is, in essence, a very simple game. It can essentially be played and enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, a point which is backed up by the sheer volume of people playing the sport worldwide.

The sport is officially recognised as a Paralympic discipline, and it features at numerous disability games throughout the world. However, as with the Olympics, bowling has never featured at a Paralympic Games. This simply does not make sense. The reasoning behind it has been rationalised by Steffi Klein of the International Paralympic Association: “Sports or disciplines which are not on the Olympic programme will not be considered for inclusion on the Paralympic programme, unless it is considered to be a special or distinctive sport for athletes with a disability.”

Apparently tenpin bowling does not fall under the category of “a special or distinctive sport for athletes with a disability.” However, many believe that this is not the case. Advances in technology and equipment, such as ball ramps, lane barriers and computerised scoring, have made the sport much more competitive, enjoyable and easy to play for people with a range of disabilities. There is also enough of a distinction between the sport at able-bodies and disabled level to be considered distinctive for athletes with a disability.

In the seemingly unknown third member of the Olympic family, the Special Olympics, tenpin bowling boasts a long and illustrious history. It has become one of the biggest sports in the Special Olympics. So how long must we wait for the able-bodies and disabled alike to get the chance to perform on the world stage at an Olympic Games.

It is quite clear that the case which is being put forward by such a large number of people involved in tenpin bowling for it to be granted Olympic status cannot be ignored. 100 million people simply cannot be wrong. It is surely time, then, for the International Olympic committee to sit up and take notice of the sport, and to give it the respect it deserves.

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