Sean Van Staden
Columnist
2 minute read
19 Oct 2013
8:00 am

There’s a place for all sports in the SA sun

Sean Van Staden

Can you consider rolling a particular heavy ball down a 105cm wide and 18m deep lane to try and displace 10 "jelly baby" pins, a sport?

Sean van Staden

Is it a business or just something kids do on weekends at birthday parties?

In 1930, British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie uncovered a gravesite of an Egyptian boy dating back to 3200 BC which to date is the earliest evidence of where ten-pin bowling originated. The early part of the 1900s was a time of war and bowling became a very popular “time off” activity for the soldiers. It became so popular that some generals even banned the sport for fear of soldiers not working on their combat and shooting skills.

The 1940s to the 1960s saw bowling as the golden era in the United States and it soon became a multi-million dollar industry. Bowling was introduced to the United Kingdom between 1960 and 1980 and new bowling establishments opened faster than a Californian wild fire. At the peak of the bubble the UK had over 160 bowling clubs across the country.

The sport in the late Eighties hit a decline due to the high costs of re-investment and the complex manual scoring process. With the help of technology, this soon become a thing of the past when the entire system became automated.

This led to the second golden era in bowling and it was estimated at the time that 100-million players were participating worldwide.

Closer to home, bowling has been on a downward spiral even with national Lotto sponsorship. Senior league player and coach Kelvin Way attributes the decline to three main causes.

“South Africa has some of the best weather in the world and people prefer to play outdoors,” he said. “Another reason is that we don’t have enough quality coaches to mentor the youngsters.

“Lastly and most importantly, we just don’t have enough bowling establishments countrywide.”

With just over 20 bowling clubs and at a cost of R1-million a lane, it is easy to see why the sport is battling. Just to maintain each lane, the club owner has to purchase a R500 000 oiling machine.

The high costs associated with this sport and the lack of clubs has a ripple effect on its growth due to supply and demand. Business owners have to keep a healthy balance between making a profit and providing lanes to professional league players at a discount cost. With such a huge investment, the business owner has an obligation to recoup costs and make money.

Should you really care about ten-pin bowling when there are dozens of other more exciting sports to play? Of course you should. South Africa is made up of many strange and wonderful sporting codes and every one of them has a place in our country.