Jamaica, the proud sporting nation of sprinters such as Usain Bolt and the fastest of fast bowlers like Michael Holding, is about to discover some new sports heroes – in the more sedate world of international lawn bowls.
Jamaica has a bowls team entered for the first time at the Commonwealth Games, which gets under way on the Gold Coast in Australia later this week, and it is all thanks to the efforts of a Croydon resident who practised the game on an indoor rink in south London.
Andrew Newell had to establish a national governing body for Jamaican bowls so that he and his playing partner, Mervyn Edwards, could get on the start sheet when the bowls tournament begins on Thursday.
Newell has been playing the game for 15 years, mostly on the indoor rinks of an Anerley bowls club. Knowing he was qualified to play for Jamaica, he then realised that if he wanted the chance of playing internationally, he would have to establish a national association.
The somewhat twee and genteel game of lawn bowls has been a fixture on the Commonwealth Games’ sports programme ever since the first Empire Games were staged in 1930.But with one exception. That was 1966, when the Games were held in Kingston, Jamaica. There was not a single bowls lawn on the island.
Teams as diverse as Guernsey, Papua New Guinea and Norfolk Island have been among those getting on the Commonwealth Games bowls medal table. But never Jamaica.
Rolling bowls on grass didn’t seem to be a Jamaican thing, until Andrew Newell came along.
It took him five years to establish the Jamaican Lawn Bowls Association and get it recognised by the world governing body.
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“I investigated playing for the Jamaica team with World Bowls, which is like the FIFA of bowls,” he said in an interview this week with the South London Press.
“And they told me – ‘you can’t play for Jamaica because they aren’t a member’.
“From there, I did everything that I could to get there and set up a bowling association in Jamaica.”
In 2013, he staged the Kermit Newell Championship Cup – named after his father – as a way of creating interest and recruiting other Jamaica-qualified players. There’s a reggae sound system playing during the tournament, to give it the right Caribbean vibe.
“It was hard. But I kept going because I was told that I couldn’t do it. But I could see I was getting closer every year. It wasn’t as if we weren’t good enough. I knew we were close.”
Newell flew to Jamaica to register the national association, and they were given international recognition on January 22 this year. Comparisons with Jamaica’s unlikely entry in the Winter Olympics with a bobsleigh team, which spawned the Hollywood movie Cool Runnings, have been made, and Newell and his team mates have now a nickname: the Reggae Rollers.
“We opened Jamaica’s first bowling green in 2015 – hopefully we can see some home-grown talent there.
“I’m pretty excited about going to the Games but I’m trying to keep my head down and work and practice. I want to be in the best that I can be.”
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