Will Olympics be convinced to take on lawn bowls?

LAWN bowls is likely to make the Games one day, but it will probably arrive too late for Foster
Scotlands Paul Foster, left, and Alex Marshall, right, won gold at the Commonwealth Games. Photograph: Andrew OBrienScotlands Paul Foster, left, and Alex Marshall, right, won gold at the Commonwealth Games. Photograph: Andrew OBrien
Scotlands Paul Foster, left, and Alex Marshall, right, won gold at the Commonwealth Games. Photograph: Andrew OBrien

THE rewards are already plentiful, from Scottish and British titles to World Championship trophies, a trio of Commonwealth golds and an MBE but there is one trinket Paul Foster dreams of competing for – an Olympic medal.

The Scottish bowler won his second Commonwealth pairs gold with Alex Marshall on the Kelvingrove greens just a few weeks ago and was part of the successful Scottish quartet responsible for another rendition of the national anthem before the Glasgow Commonwealth Games ended but he harbours a sense of frustration that while other members of Team Scotland can now switch their focus to the Olympics in Rio in two years’ time, he and his fellow bowlers will be left on the outside, looking in.

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The sport has been included in the Paralympics since 1975, but moves to have it inserted into the full Olympics programme have been thwarted. There had been calls to include it as a demonstration sport at London 2012, but they fell on deaf ears and there was another unsuccessful campaign for 2016. But while World Bowls are taking steps towards meeting the criteria, the outcome Foster is hoping for still looks a long way off.

“I am quite angry and upset that bowls isn’t part of the Olympics. There are so many other sports in there now and even golf is in the next one. Nothing against golf, it’s a very skilful sport as well, but I don’t think people realise how skilful bowls is. To not get the opportunity even once to play at the Olympics is disappointing. I don’t know how long I will be at the top of my game and to not get the opportunity to play at an Olympics is frustrating. But the sport has never been in the Olympics, so maybe we can’t expect it when it’s never been there.”

The reintroduction of golf and rugby in two years and the debut of kitesurfing follows on from the inclusion of beach volleyball and mountain biking in 1996, taekwondo, trampolining, triathlon (2000) and women’s boxing in 2012, while the list of sports removed from the programme or selected and then deselected since the first Games in 1896 shows that there is scope for lawn bowls to make it onto the Olympic stage one day.

It’s unlikely to be in time to let Foster sate his desires, though.

“I’m just fortunate that I have been involved in three Commonwealth Games,” says the man who, along with Marshall, has dominated the pairs format indoors and outdoors in recent years. “I would love to see bowls in the Olympics, even if I’m not there and it’s some time in the future because it can only benefit the sport. I understand that nothing can happen overnight, but hopefully the people at the top of our sport can push for it now and then we can see what happens. We don’t have a big influence on it and from the bowlers’ point of view it’s out of our hands, but we can only hope that something is done.”

Proud of all he has achieved, he admits to pangs of jealously and waves of frustration as he hears other Team Scotland members discuss how success in Glasgow can act as a springboard ahead of Rio. “I think everybody would love the opportunity to go that one step further, to go to an Olympics, be part of Team Great Britain and prove to everybody how good you are. One thing I’m not is big-headed but I have done everything in the game and I have been very fortunate. The one thing that’s missing is an Olympic medal. As I said, bowls is not in the Olympics, so I can’t do too much about it. But it would finish things off nicely.”

In the absence of that step up, Foster has to content himself with striving for more glory on the world stage and console himself with his hat-trick of Commonwealth golds.

His first of this summer’s Games, replicating the gold he and Marshall won in Melbourne in 2000, was notable. It was the one that took Scotland into new territory, the 12th gold in Glasgow breaking the nation’s previous record of 11 golds at one Games.

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The passion showed by his playing partner en route to that final has made him something of a cult hero. “Tattie” Marshall was given the honour of carrying the Saltire at the closing ceremony and was named Scottish Sportsperson of the Year at the Commonwealth Games Scotland Awards dinner on Friday night. But his “get it up ye” gesture as he dealt the winning blow to their English rivals in the semi-final captured the imagination of the Scottish public.

“Personally, I think it was [a nice moment],” said Foster. “I know some people have said it was out of order but I don’t think it was. The guy just played two unbelievable bowls to get us into the Commonwealth Games final to play for gold and emotion just took over. I’m just glad he did it, because if I did it I’m not sure what I would have done! I don’t think it is bad for the game, to be honest. I know some people still classed it as an old man’s game and they thought it was boring, but that proved it is far from boring.”

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