Bowling finally in Olympics?
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - July 26, 2015 - 10:00am

Will bowling finally be a medal sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

This was the question this writer asked the sport’s legends at the third and final day of the national finals for the 2015 Bowling World Cup, held at the SM North EDSA bowling center Thursday. Biboy Rivera displayed superhuman consistency and Liza Del Rosario unfettered tenacity in coming from up the ranks to book a return trip to Las Vegas this November.

Traditionally, a lot of international lobbying and persuading has to go on for a new sport to be included in the Olympic Games. Even sports that were assumed to be permanent fixtures found to their dismay that it wasn’t the case. Baseball and karate, for example are making a comeback, and are so far on track for Tokyo. Other sports have not been so lucky. Generally speaking, a new sport has to go the route of being a demonstration sport and exhibition sport before finally counting in the medal standings. In 1988, Arianne Cerdeña won the gold medal in Seoul, but of course, it was not included in the medal tally. Since then, nothing has been heard from bowling. 

One problem, perhaps, is that the sport is not that strong in Europe, save for Scandinavian countries. That may be one reason why the sport’s governing body has moved to Switzerland, to be closer to the powers that be. If you recall, this writer once mentioned that a reason noted for Chicago’s losing its Olympic bid a few years ago was that the Secret Service agents who clamped down on the hotel where Pres. Barack Obama stayed to pilot the Olympic bid, annoyed International Olympic Committee members who were also staying there with their overzealousness. Building a close relationship with IOC voters will inevitably win you the day.

“They don’t like the fact that we have to oil the lanes,” reveals multiple Guinness World Record holder Paeng Nepomuceno. “They want the playing conditions to be the same all the time, like the floor in basketball. Even the balls are made of different materials. There are wood and synthetic lanes. Then again, look at golf. With all the different clubs being used, that’s why it took them a long time to be included.”

In 2009, golf and rugby sevens were assigned to be included in the 2016 and 2020 programs of the Olympic Games. Again, this was very painful for Filipino bowlers, who have proven to be among the best in the world in their sport. In a shocking development, IOC voters removed wrestling, one of the oldest sports in Olympic history, from the 2020 program. They also decided that they would fill the vacancy with two sports from a shortlist of seven. The loud opposition from national Olympic committees to the removal of wrestling persuaded the IOC to add it to the list of seven. However, bowling, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wushu and surfing were pared down from consideration, leaving wrestling, baseball/softball and squash in contention. Wrestling regained its spot in the Games. 

“Bowling still has a very strong chance for inclusion,” explained bowling luminary Bong Coo. “It is very popular in Japan, and although baseball is also very strong there, Asians are making their presence felt worldwide in the sport. Japan is lobbying very strongly for bowling.”

Based on the Olympic Agenda for 2020 announced last June, a host country can now lobby to include sports that are popular in its territory. Also, a new sport can be added as an additional event of an existing sport. For example, 3-on-3 basketball is a new subset of full-court basketball, and so on, based on this shift towards “event-based” instead of sports-based programs, Japan can now push hard for bowling, as well. Of course, this does not guarantee permanent inclusion in succeeding Olympics, it’s a first step. 

Unfortunately, most of the bowlers this writer spoke with pointed to politics and lack of any clear development plan at the highest level of the sport in the country, the leadership status of the Philippine Bowling Congress is mired in controversy over who should be recognized. Tournaments for national players do not happen as often as they used to. There is no grassroots development program to speak of. Coo herself once ran an inter-collegiate bowling tournament, which has since evaporated. Handicap tournaments which allow newcomers to defeat even the best bowlers in the game have diluted its appeal to the talented. 

“Imagine, the highest score in a game is 300,” Coo continues. “If someone with a handicap of 40 bowls a 270, with his handicap his final score would be a 310. How can I beat that? It doesn’t make sense.”

So it appears that the battle for bowling is on two fronts: without, and within.

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