LEAMINGTON SPA (AFP) – The Falkland Islands, Niue and Norfolk Island are unlikely to produce a 100-metre champion but lawn bowls is a chance for them to “put their flag on the map” at the Commonwealth Games.
“Niue is a rock, it’s a big coral rock,” Olivia Buckingham told AFP after she and her partner lost 26-9 to South Africa in the women’s pairs.
“To have a bowling green on there, I’m bloody proud of them.”
The sport, which has appeared at every Commonwealth Games apart from the 1966 edition, is often viewed as a game played by the elderly in quiet suburbs, but the verdant greens of Leamington Spa, near host city Birmingham, gave the lie to that.
There were packed stands watching the men’s pairs final, in which Wales beat England, with the crowd largely made up of families not shy of raising the decibel levels.
Away from the hullabaloo – the music being played was mellower than the rap that accompanied the beach volleyball in Birmingham – there were more subdued ripples of applause for the pool matches.
Legend has it that British naval officer Francis Drake was playing lawn bowls when the news came through that the Spanish Armada was approaching Britain in 1588.
But both Norfolk Island and the Falklands can also lay claim to a shared passion for bowls and an intriguing naval history.
Many of Norfolk Island’s population, including members of their bowls team, are descended from Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers, who seized British ship the HMS Bounty in the South Pacific in 1789 before initially settling on Pitcairn Island.
The Falklands were recaptured by British forces following an invasion by Argentina in 1982.
Their bowls team – comprising five of the 16-member squad, which also includes an aunt and nephew competing in badminton and a hairdresser in the table tennis competition – have been practising in unusual surroundings.
“We play in a school corridor,” Daphne Arthur-Almond told AFP.
“Obviously it is quite narrow and we are beholden to school hours. We cannot play when children and teachers are walking down the passage.
“It will be superb when the two artificial greens are finished. Then it will be up, up, up for bowls.”
Arthur-Almond, 60, was speaking after she and her triples partners had suffered a 22-10 defeat by Northern Ireland.
That hurt Northern Ireland-born Arthur-Almond, although it did not take the gloss off her thrilling 21-20 victory over India’s Tania Choudhury in the women’s singles.
“I thought we had won the gold medal,” said Arthur-Almond, who has lived on the Falklands on and off for 30 years.
“It shows other people what they could do.”
Falklands-born Trudi Clarke, 62, said she had been “incredibly nervous” playing in front of so many people, but proud at the same time.
“It is amazing to actually fly our flag and put the Falklands on the map,” she said.
Clarke and her team-mates can dream one day of following Norfolk Island onto the podium.
The island has won two bronze medals in the sport, including one in 2018.
That is a good return considering they only have around 50 people playing bowls.
“Norfolk Islanders are rightly very proud of the history of the blood links with the mutineers,” Ellie Dixon, 17, said after she and her team-mates had lost 22-10 to Canada in the women’s triples.
“That can be good for tourism but bowls is also. It is a good way to represent our island. It is how we promote it to tourists and they come over and play bowls with us.”
Niue has the youngest competitor at the Games – 14-year-old Tukala Tagelagi, who partners his father Dalton, the premier of the territory, in the men’s pairs.
“There is a little bit of pressure (to perform),” said 45-year-old Buckingham, referring to Dalton’s presence in the Niue team.
“But I am sure he will still clap for us as we are out here, a small nation trying our best.
There are just not many of us who get out and play the game.
“I hope it grows and we make babies and they become bowls babies.”