Right now, 10-pin bowling is played and enjoyed by over 100 million people throughout the world. Over 10 million of these people compete at either the amateur or professional level and the number of bowling lanes worldwide is now up to 250,000.
What does this have to do with the Olympics?
Petitions for 10-pin bowling to be included as an Olympic sport have been posted and signed by huge numbers on the internet, including a petition page on Facebook which currently has over 9,000 members.
Yet, even in the face of this mass appeal, bowling somehow continues to be snubbed by the International Olympic Committee.
As such, 10-pin bowling now probably shares the distinction as being the largest sport in the world which is not yet part of the Olympic Games. The Bowling World Cup—an international tournament pitting teams of one male and one female bowler from every participating nation against one another—is held annually in destinations around the world and has proven extremely successful.
Participants in the Bowling World Cup certainly enjoy the opportunity to represent their country in this annual tournament, but to be able to walk out at an opening ceremony of an Olympic Games would be another level entirely.
To be under their nation’s flag and to wear the colors of their nation proudly as they enter the stadium with their fellow countrymen at the Olympic Games would be the high point in any bowler’s career, and one they would surely never forget.
Part of the Bowling World Cup's appeal is that professionals of the game are allowed to take part alongside amateurs. For every amateur—and I know this through personal experience—playing alongside the best players in the world is the most exciting experience you can be involved in—not just in bowling, but in any sport.
Granted, the Olympics is considered an amateur showcase. However, this should not be a sticking point for bowling's potential inclusion. And to be fair, even professional footballers can now take part in the Olympics, with teams allowed to field a certain number of professionals in their side.
A sport that has truly demonstrated international appeal, bowling has seen huge growth in Western Europe over the past two decades, especially in Britain and France. It also has seen the growing of a massive base in Asia with one of the American Professional Bowlers Tour events now taking place in Japan, and one of the events of this year’s World Bowling Tour set to take place in Thailand.
Moreover, it has a growing popularity base in Eastern Europe, and has added even further to its already strong popularity in the Americas.
The basis for the sport to be included is almost unavoidable—it is simply too big a sport to ignore.
In 1979, the International Olympic Committee officially recognized the Fédération Internationale des Qulleurs as the governing body of bowling. The FIQ has been tirelessly lobbying for the sport to be included in the Olympics ever since, but illogically, the sport has continued to remain on the sidelines. The closest the sport has come to Olympic status was as a demonstration sport at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
Ten-pin bowling not only appeals greatly to such a large portion of the able-bodied population worldwide, it has also become extremely popular as a disability sport.
There is one key reason why its popularity is so widespread here, and that is, despite subtleties of skill in the professional game, it is a very simple game—it can be played and enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, both able-bodied and disable-bodied, and yet another point evidenced by the sheer number of people who play it today across the spectrum.
The sport is officially recognized as a Paralympic discipline and it features at numerous disability games throughout the world. However, as with the Olympics, 10-pin bowling has never featured at the Paralympic Games level.
This simply does not make sense.
The reasoning behind this particular exclusion has been rationalised by Steffi Klein, spokesperson for the International Paralympic Association who stated, “Sports or disciplines which are not on the Olympic programme, will not be considered for inclusion on the Paralympic programme, unless it is considered to be a special or distinctive sport for athletes with a disability.”
Apparently, 10-pin bowling does not fall under the category of “a special or distinctive sport for athletes with a disability."
However, I do not agree with this in the slightest. The introduction of physical aids such as ball-ramps, lane barriers and computerized scoring have made the sport much more competitive, enjoyable and easy to play for bowlers with a range of disabilities. There is also, I believe, enough of a distinction between the sport at able-bodied and disable-bodied level to be considered distinctive for athletes with a disability.
Finally, in the all-too-ignored third member of the Olympic family, the Special Olympics, 10-pin bowling has a long and illustrious history. It has become one of the biggest sports in the Special Olympics today and is a living example of how the sport can thrive in international competition.
So just how long must we wait for the able and disable-bodied alike to get the chance to perform on the grandest of world stages?
Clearly, the case which is being put forward by thousands of people involved in ten-pin bowling for Olympic status cannot be ignored. It is surely time, then, for the International Olympic Committee to sit up and take notice of the sport, and to give it the respect it deserves.
Simply put, 100 million people can't be wrong.