OPINION : Commonwealth Games, selections and profile

- Grant Hassall
Event News

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The selection of the New Zealand side to compete in April’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast has generated a good degree of discussion, but, by and large, such debate has only been amongst bowlers.

While TV One, finally, did give some coverage of the sport, with a segment on its 6pm bulletin on the selection, there is a genuine lack of profile and awareness of bowls, as opposed to 30 or 40 years ago.

Yes, society has moved on, there are many more alternatives, especially in terms of leisure time and how we engage through the media. Both points have resulted in a reduction in the profile of bowls.

Therefore there was very little made of the non-selection, for example, of Gary Lawson – perhaps the mainstream media have tired of his on-going run-ins with officialdom? – or the likes of Selina Goddard and Angela Boyd, despite having solid international records and returning adequate results at the nationals.

A story on Goddard or Boyd, however, is unlikely to get much attraction in the main media. Why? Because they are not well known. That is, of course, no fault of their own. It is a further indication of where bowls is at.

Jo Edwards, who surely now ranks as the most successful of all Kiwi bowlers on the international stage, has some profile. But if you walked down the street and asked Joe Public to name a women’s bowler, I’m guessing more would still pick out the late Millie Khan. Khan earned the title legend during those halcyon days at Pakuranga in 1990. There were only two television channels in the country which was swept up in New Zealand’s push at that year’s Commonwealth Games. With her peaceful demeanour and fine on green effort, she captured the admiration of New Zealand.

Ali Forsyth and Shannon McIlroy, both world champions and the two highest profile members of the men’s side, are still a million miles off becoming the household name that Khan, and others like Peter Belliss, were and still are.

As a sport, we need medals in April – and they need to be gold. The men’s results at the Commonwealth Games have in the last 44 years been abysmal. Since the 1974 event in Christchurch, only one man, Ian Dickison, has won gold – in Edinburgh in 1986. For the sport to raise its profile, attract sponsors and a better piece of the funding pie, and encourage new participation and members, its needs winners at the Commonwealth Games. Kiwis love the Games, both Olympics and Commonwealth, and they love even more gold medals.

On a different tangent, should attendance at the national tournament be compulsory for selection in the team? Blake Signal, Paul Girdler and Michael Nagy have all been picked but were not in Dunedin. I’m sure their reasons where justified and approved by the selectors, and especially in the case of Signal, a long-term and successful competitor at the Dominion (he was player of the tournament in 2017), you can understand some leniency.

However, is it sometimes best to stay away? Goddard and Boyd squared off as leads in the women’s fours final; both had, shall we say, modest matches. Did those performances cost them, or were they already on the outer?

Whatever, the earlier point about profile, means that these high-performers need to be there. I am of the opinion that there are only six real New Zealand title, the singles, pairs and fours, men and women, at the nationals.

Likewise, the on-going selection of overseas-based players is a moot point. Of course many sports do it, but are they succeeding at the international level? Netball refused to pick a player based across the ditch and are now re-considering. While the less said about NZ soccer and league, who fill their boots with overseas players, the better. Everyone has the right to pursue their career of choice and if bowls is that career, the level of funding in NZ at the moment means you’ll always be poor! Until that changes, there would seem to be no option but to permit overseas players, although you have to have some sympathy for the fee-paying members domiciled here – because the local game would be lost without them.

* I can completely understand the non-selection of Lawson. He was not involved in any of the lead-up events and how that would affect dynamics is disputable. However, having said all that, I would have picked him. He formed a successful partnership with Forsyth at the championships and has a huge appetite for success. And, he has profile.