Bowling over Jamaica
By Debbie Ransome, writing
What started as TV viewing and a walk in the park could see Jamaica enter the Commonwealth Games in a whole new way – in the category of lawn bowls.
At least, that’s the dream of Andrew Newell, a man who is not afraid to think differently.
With roots from a country much better known for producing the fastest men and women in the world, and even for its one-off bobsleigh team in the Winter Olympics, Andrew’s aim is to get Jamaicans to embrace a sport with a far more tranquil image.
When asked by Caribbean Intelligence© about why he wants to tour Jamaica and encourage a team that could represent Jamaica in lawn bowls, his answer is, “Why not?”
Andrew says that his earliest memory of interest in the sport comes from watching English players such as David Bryant on TV in the 1980s.
“Lawn bowls was shown a lot more on TV then than it is now and I would often watch it,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“I would always find myself watching matches being played during the summer if I happened to be walking in a public park or passed a private ground.”
He says that his playing days came later in life, during a holiday from work and with time to kill.
South London’s Battersea Park had a bowls green that fuelled his curiosity, so he went to take a look and ended up joining in.
Now he plays competitive leagues and has done for the past 10 years.
For many in Britain, lawn bowls is viewed as an activity for retired people in the suburbs.
So how do they view a young black man of Jamaican origin coming to join the fun?
Andrew said that some older people would ask him whether he was too “young” to be playing bowls, but they veered away from questioning why a black guy wanted to join in.
“Very welcoming. No problem at all,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“I haven’t personally met any racism – they’re very interested. Not many of them have seen black people playing the sport.”
Andrew says he initially took up bowls to keep himself “ticking” outside the football season.
There must have been something addictive about the sport, because it is now the other way around.
“As years went on, I found myself progressing more and more at lawn bowls and almost using football as a pastime for when the bowls season was off,” he said.
So why take this obsession for bowls to Jamaica – the home of his parents?
“I am well within my rights to call myself a Jamaican and legally allowed to represent the country, so why not?” he responds to Caribbean Intelligence©.
“The fact that the sport is not played in Jamaica and never has been even, though it is a Commonwealth core sport, is more reason to bring it there.”
What he means by that is that lawn bowls was one of the six original sports at the first Commonwealth Games in 1930 and has been played at every Commonwealth Games since.
That is, except for 1966, when the Games took place in Jamaica and lawn bowls and rowing were dropped from the sporting line-up.
“So after nearly 50 years, I think things should change. Don’t you?” Andrew told Caribbean Intelligence©.
You might think that this is not as easy as it sounds, given the type of grass you expect to find in the Caribbean, which is tougher and coarser than lawn grass in the UK.
But even this does not thwart Andrew. He is trying to generate funds to buy what are known as short mat bowls sets, with carpets 6ft wide and 45ft long, that could be used at Jamaican schools and colleges.
“As I know we won’t get people building bowls greens right away, I think this would be the best way to introduce the sport to the Jamaican people,” he told Caribbean Intelligence©.
He has been drumming up interest on social media and internet radio in Jamaica and has a following on the internet on the web site www.supportlawnbowlsjamaica.com.
In September, he hosted his own International Lawn Bowls in the UK with players from England, Wales, the United Arab Emirates and, of course, Jamaica, which led to interest in the British regional press.
Trinidad-owned airline Caribbean Airlines provided the winners’ tickets.
Andrew said that he plans to build up the international bowls tournament by bringing on board more players in the UK.
For Jamaica, he has further plans.
“I also need to build the relationship I have with the ministry of education in Jamaica to help my lawn bowls project progress in Jamaica.
“And, most of all, get equipment to Jamaica and progress in getting Jamaica to the Commonwealth Games.”
Rather than objecting to the obvious comparisons with the Jamaican bobsleigh team which, by steering away from Jamaican sporting traditions, inspired the film Cool Runnings, Andrew and his friends have encouraged it.
Their social media presence includes the hastag following #smoothrunnings.
Caribbean Intelligence© asked Andrew whether he felt funds should be raised for lawn bowls when there were more essential needs in Jamaica.
“There’s always something more important,” he responded.
“This is a Commonwealth core sport and always played at the Commonwealth.
“What about the children who can’t run fast and can’t play football?
“You’re giving them another angle. Who wouldn’t want to be in the Commonwealth Games?"
Andrew Newell and the lawn bowls video material can be found on the websites www.actiongamereplay.com and www.supportlawnbowlsjamaica.com.