Sport on TV: Rednall rolls out the portable carpet for the ladies


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The Independent Online

They haven’t tried to “sex up” bowls to appeal to a wider audience: no semi-naked girls cartwheeling down the rink, no hellish bursts of naked flame, no garish wigs – well, there are probably a few hairpieces as the crowd is largely of a certain age. (The men are generally happy with their bald lot, though, so the seats at the World Indoor Championships at Potters in Norfolk actually look like they are being occupied by rows of shiny pink bowling balls.) The organisers wouldn’t want to make the spectacle too exciting, would they? When it comes to tie-breaks there are no references to sudden death.

Brian and Judy Potter were in the crowd for the ladies’ final of the World Indoor Bowls (BBC2, Thursday), acting as an interactive advert for their holiday village Potter’s Resort – presumably not the last resort – and very tanned, leathery and pleased with themselves they looked too, though one suspects their orange hue did not come from spending a lot of time on the East Anglian coastline.

The event’s sponsor is called Just Retirement, which doesn’t add to the sense of spring chickenhood. Bowls may have a reputation as a sport for those people who are too old to play any other sport but still, it must be rather galling when Rishi Persad introduces highlights of the contest between Andy Thomson (58) and John Price (a mere 53) as the battle of “the oldest swingers in town”, complete with caricatures of them with zimmer frames.

But bowls really is becoming a young man’s – and woman’s – game. This year’s ladies’ final was won by 18-year-old Katherine Rednall, the youngest ever female champion; she beat last year’s winner Rebecca Field, an old hand at 24. She should have been in a double period of A-Level textile studies at school.

“A lot of young players are playing bowls, of course,” said commentator David Corkill. “The Under-25 teams are just littered with talent. I’m amazed they’re not in the qualifiers.” His summariser Thomson chimed in: “I’m sure after this event we will see a lot more ladies entering, and even the young men as well. It’s time to get yourselves on this portable rink. It’s a fantastic experience.”

Incidentally, if there is a bowls version of exciting innovation it seems to be this portable rink, although it remains something of a mystery to the uninitiated – after all, it looks like just another carpet. But apparently it bowls ’em over.

It is fantastic to see young women emerging to dominate the sport. Rednall may be the daughter of former England lead John but now she can attract others who don’t come from such a background. It is not so long since female bowlers were required to wear ridiculous hats, pleated skirts and stockings, but now they wear the same garb as the men and one of the best aspects of the sport, compared to most others, is that there is no bias against them – they essentially compete on the same level carpet, if not directly against the men.

One thing, though: surely it is time to stop calling them “ladies”. After all, when they’ve gone out and had a few rinks, they might not be so ladylike.

It was timely to see Thierry Henry on The Graham Norton Show (BBC1, Friday) an hour after Arsenal beat Coventry in the FA Cup (BT Sport 1).  The legendary striker, a throwback to the days when the Gunners won trophies, said the reason he left was the club’s lack of ambition. Meanwhile the comedian Lee Mack kept asking him what he thought of the running joke that is Nicklas Bendtner.

After 35 minutes of the game, the Coventry fans all held up signs saying “Why”, supposedly bemoaning the fact that their team has to play 35 miles away from Coventry in Northampton. Or were they in fact asking why Bendtner is still playing for Arsenal? Later they held up signs saying “When”. Presumably they were worried Arsène Wenger wouldn’t sign another striker before the transfer window closes this week.