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Should Bowling Become An Olympic Sport?
In my opinion, however, we will not see bowling in the Olympics in the next 25 - 40 years, if ever. My hopes are that I am wrong but I cannot see the day in the future where bowling will rise in stature sufficiently and financially to earn a spot in the Summer Games.
The industry made a push to get bowling added as a demonstration sport years ago and was successful in doing so. In 1988 at the Seoul Summer Olympic Games, bowling was an official demonstration sport for the first and only time. Unfortunately, only 20 nations competed in bowling during the 1988 Games held on September 18th at the Seoul Royal Bowling Center and the events were never adequately covered by television nor the media in general because of the demonstration status of the competition.
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During the Men's division of the 1988 bowling event at Seoul, South Korea won Gold, Singapore won Silver, and Finland won Bronze medals. In the Women's division, the Philippine Islands won the Gold medal, Japan won Silver medal, and Finland won Women's Bronze. During that Olympics, no bowling professionals competed in the demonstration events. Carol Gianotti of Australia, a former multiple LPBA Champion, competed in the 1988 demonstration events and did not medal. International competition has always been fiercely contested.
The bowling industry lobbied long and hard to get bowling recognized as a worthy demonstration sport. The outcome was not successful in getting bowling a part of the regular Olympics curriculum for future Games. Plainly and simply, politics and money likely played a role in the outcome of bowling being excluded in subsequent Games after 1988.
Although bowling has been the Number One participatory sport for many years, it is not a sport which provides inexpensive nor easy access to most youngsters in third world countries to develop skill and proficiency. If bowling merely required an open field and a ball and pins, it might be easier for young people to capture interest in the sport.
Bowling requires use of an expensive-to-construct and expense-to-operate facility plus use of consumer bowling equipment just to expose prospective athletes to the game. Once an athlete gets interested enough to pursue the game seriously, then it is not inexpensive to practice or purchase more personal equipment to continue to develop if, in fact, a bowling center is near enough to a town or village to where an athlete may live. Other than possibly golf, most Olympic sports are less expensive to pursue than bowling.
Some examples of Summer Games sports where relatively less expensive props compared to bowling are needed are weightlifting (weights and a mat), table tennis (a table, a small net plus paddles and a ball), tennis (a net and a court on any smooth surface plus rackets and a ball), swimming (a pool or body of water), boxing (two people, a referee, a ring and gloves), basketball (a court, two hoops, and a ball), and so on. Other Summer Games sports where less expensive props with easy access to a venue in comparison to bowling are rowing, cycling, track and field, and shooting.
No doubt that third world young people of today may not have the ability to access bowling centers and afford to practice in order to get to a point of proficiency to pursue the game seriously enough to compete at a very high level. Golf, however, is a sport popularized by the affluent and has grown to an extent where it is highly regarded on the world sports stage. Yet not until 2016 is golf and all of its enormous corporate support and media exposure scheduled as a Summer Olympic event in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Will being in the Olympics help golf? The Commissioner of the PGA, Tim Finchem, thinks so as he has commented recently that he sees two positive developments from golf in the Olympics:
- There would be a significant boost to the popularity and perception of the game around the world.
- It would bring the world of golf together to work at the initiative of what benefits would accrue to the game of golf from inclusion into the Summer Games. Certainly the same could be said if bowling were included as an Olympic sport. No doubt the Olympic exposure certifies any sport on the world stage.
There are successful bowling Team competitions throughout the world which lack media attention to capture the interests of the average sport's enthusiasts and, most importantly, the attention and financial support of corporate executives as does golf, for example. Team USA has long competed in amateur events around the world but without the culmination of an Olympic competition, amateur bowling will never reach the lofty world status it deserves.
When Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Annika Sorenstam endorsed golf during the campaign to gain inclusion into the Summer Games of 2016, it surely had a massive effect on the International Olympic Committee's decision to welcome golf into the fray, to say nothing of the corporate sponsorships and athlete endorsements surely to follow. Bowling simply does not have the clout to gain entry as an Olympic Sport.
The decline in participation in competitive bowling over recent years, as evidenced by the vast reduction of sanctioned league bowlers from nine million several years ago to two million bowlers today, does not help the industry create an aura of wealth, growth, and corporate interest. For these reasons, I do not believe bowling will become an Olympic sport in the foreseeable future.
My real belief is that bowling does indeed qualify in levels of difficulty and with challenges to excel from a sport aspect to belong in the Olympics, despite the perception of many people that bowling is merely a recreation. No professional athlete who ever competed in a PBA National Tour event ever left the experience doubting that the touring players were highly skilled enough to be considered athletes. Former professionals from several sports such as baseball, football, and basketball have participated in professional tournament events and all left with the same opinion that to excel in bowling is not to be taken as lightly as many talk-show hosts and many high-profile media members have depicted bowling over the years.
John "The Count" Montefusco of the San Francisco Giants bowled in a PBA Tour event, Larry Sieple of the 1972 World Champion Miami Dolphins bowled in a PBA event, Jerome Bettis of the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers bowled in a PBA event, and Chris Paul of the NBA did the same. Hell, several international players and women have have competed in PBA events and have won PBA national tour tiles on television in recent years. Bowling is a legitimate sport too quickly perceived only as a game, a recreation.
Bowling belongs in the Olympics but sadly will not become an Olympic sport. That's my opinion, what is yours?
Rich Carrubba, bowlingball.com.