Bowls Tested and Stamped
The Date April 1st 2002 may have a less than complimentary significance on the calendar, but as far as the world of bowls is concerned it marks a new era in the sport.
Its the day that sees the official launch of the new standardised tables for the testing of bowls, along with the introduction of a new Working Reference Bowl (formerly the Master Bowl) and a brand new World Bowl Stamp.
For the average bowler, the occasion may appear of little relevance and hardly one to get the flags out, but for those administrators and manufacturers involved over many years in long, arduous and expensive experiments and negotiations, it is something of a"Red Letter" day.
In a nutshell, it means the current nine official testers - four in the UK and five in Australia - will be testing bowls on an identical running surface and using the same specially constructed battery operated chute.
Prior to standardisation, chutes were operated manually and the type of rubber table surface used varied from centre to centre, hence marked discrepancies in test results which has caused considerable controversy in the past.
Its now hoped that this move will eliminate the problems:
"It is the opinion of the board of directors and many member authorities and players worldwide that there is an urgent need to reintroduce the re-testing /re-stamping of bowls in all possible countries and within those countries down to an appropriate nationally agreed level of play," explains World Bowls executive officer Gary Smith.
"This move has been brought about by the perceived interest in narrower running bowls and increased cases of deliberate doctoring of bowls seen in some areas of the world, and therefore the demands for action to protect the sport will not be ignored by World Bowls."
The standardisation of the test tables, and hence the introduction of the new Working Reference Bowl, brings this sharply into focus for national authorities to urgently reconsider their position and take positive action according to reintroduce testing and re-stamping.
All those bowls manufactured after April 1st 2002 will bear the new World Bowls stamp, which replaces the World Bowls Board stamp introduced in 1993, and bowls with a current expiry date 2009 or less will be deemed not to have a current valid stamp at World Bowls controlled events.
In conjunction with the changes comes a new World Bowls certification system. A certificate will be completed on every occasion a set of bowls is brought in for re-testing, with one copy given to the person having the bowls tested and the official bowls tester will retain a copy in their records.
A quarterly return giving certain details of certificates issued will be made to World Bowls by each official bowls tester and proper compliance with the certification system will form part of the regular checks that will be undertaken by the World Bowls.
It will now be up to the national associations of the member countries to decide if and when they change their respective stamping rules which at present varies from country to country to country.
In England, for example, a stamp of 1985 or later is acceptable for national competition play, providing it is legible, whereas in Scotland, its 1993 or later outdoors, 1994 or later indoors.
National authorities are reminded that ther requirements for re-testing/stamping of bowls still exists in the world governing bodies "Joint Laws of the Game" and that it is the national authority variations which have removed this requirementfo appropriate levels of play governed by them.
Whilst its down to national authorities to make their own policy decision on this subject, it would surely be in the best interest of the top international players to have their bowls re-tested, if only for peace of mind.
While this bowls testing problem has existed for many years, it was an incident during womens' world bowls in Australia two years ago that brought the matter bubbling to the surface and subsequently probably accelerated the need for some kind of urgent solution.
It centred around an official complaint lodged by Ireland's Margaret Johnston during the closing stages of the singles against the bowls being used by Scotland's Margaret Letham, the essence of her protest being that she claimed the bowls had too narrower a bias and where, in her opinion, illegal despite the presence of a valid stamp.
The bowls were tested on the nearest available official testing table to the event in Moama and were failed, as were some other bowls from other countries that were also checked as a consequence of the initial protest.
When Lethams bowls were re-tested on the table used when they were first stamped by the manufacturer concerned they passed. Since then, there has been a spate of protests questioning the legality of bowls, mainly in the southern hemisphere, but there have been some isolated incidents over here, when once again considerable weakness in the testing procedures were uncovered.
The increasing popularity of narrow running bowls over the past few years has clearly exacerbated the situation. While one manufacturer may have pushed the narrowness of a bias on a particular model to the very limit of legality on their own testing table, those same bowls may well have failed on a different type of testing surface elsewhere.
The new Working Reference Bowl (these will be marked to ensure they cannot be tampered with and will be rotated on regular basis between each of the testing centres) is similar in performance to its predecessor, offering, as Smith puts it, "an acceptable bias to World Bowls and more in keeping with the modern profile of bowls being manufactured."
Small family concern among testing elite
When the new standardised bowls testing tables become officially operational on April 1st 2002, there will be only nine in the world - five of them in Australia - with three of the four UK tables situated at the premises of the worlds principal bowls manufacturer Taylor Bowls and Hensite UK in Scotland and Drakes Pride in Liverpool.
The fourth is tucked away in a small factory unit on the Pershore Industrial Estate near Worcester.
Its the base of the Pershore Bowls Centre, run by husband and wife Maurice and Jean Rogers (son Craig is also involved in the day to day affairs), who are celebrating their tenth anniversary, having taken over the reigns from the late Bill Irish, who in turn had taken over the business from Grays, manufactures of the Concorde bowl.
Although the company has not been in the same unit since 1977, it has remained on the same industrial estate behind the small railway station.
The company no longer manufactures bowls, but the Concorde name lives on, with Pershore buying in semi finished bowls from Drakes Pride to produce their own finishing touch and add the Concorde label.
Apart from operating a bowls shop on site, the main core of their business is the testing, renovation, gripping and polishing bowls, and without any testing centres now south of Worcester, there is every chance the testing side of the enterprise may well increase.
Bowlers travel from all parts of the country, even Jersey, to have their bowls tested, some bringing other sets of bowls from fellow club members to save on the expenditure.
"It makes sense if someone comes from a club with several sets of bowls," explains Jean. Return postage for a six kilo set is around £14, almost as much as having a set tested and stamped.
With the cost of setting up a bowls testing table now somewhere in the region of £20,000 plus the annual licensing fees, it was perhaps fortunate that Pershore were able to adapt their existing 6ft x 34ft slate bed table (minimum distance for a bowls test is 9m, the maximum 9.9m) by adding two feet strips to the width at either end to accommodate the new testing procedure.
There is certainly no shortage of experience here with Maurice having been involved in this side of bowls for around 25 years.
The previous rubber base on the table which was then covered by green baize, is markedly different in both texture and thickness to the one now being used as the standard surface, and the new mechanised chute is now operated from off the table as opposed to a manual one placed on it.
Until he becomes familiar with the new surface, Maurice politely skirts around the question of what differences there are, but is relieved that at long last there is a standardised testing procedure in operation.
Apart from testing the bowls on the test table against the Working Reference Bowl, the official tester has to check.
a) The official registered stamp of "World Bowls".
b) The model (brand) name.
c) The bowl size.
d) The weight symbol.
e) The date of expiry of the stamp.
f) A registered number or serial number.
The new World Bowls Stamp which will appear on new bowls or those re-tested after April 1st
14 - refers to the expiry of the stamp (in this instance it is 2014).
WB - stands for World Bowls, the governing body.
R - is the official registration mark.
A - indicates at which licensed test centre the bowl was stamped (in the case of Pershore Bowls Centre the letter P would be used).