The Falkland Islands, Niue and Norfolk Island are unlikely to produce a 100m champion, but 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 rock of coral,” Olivia Buckingham told AFP after losing 26-9 to South Africa in the women’s pairings.
“To have a bowling green there, I’m damn proud of them.”
The sport, which has appeared at every Commonwealth Games except the 1966 edition, is often seen as a game played by old people in quiet suburbs, but the verdant greens of Leamington Spa, near the host city of Birmingham, have denied this.
There were packed stands watching the men’s pairs final, in which Wales beat England, with the crowd largely made up of families who are not shy about turning up the decibel levels.
Away from the din – the music played was softer than the rap that accompanied beach volleyball in Birmingham – there was more subdued applause for the pool matches.
Legend has it that British naval officer Francis Drake was bowling when news broke that the Spanish Armada was approaching Britain in 1588.
But Norfolk Island and the Falklands can also claim a shared passion for boules and a fascinating naval history.
Much of Norfolk Island’s population, including members of their bowling team, are descended from Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers, who seized the British ship HMS Bounty in the South Pacific in 1789 before seizing initially settling on Pitcairn Island.
The Falklands were retaken by British forces after an invasion by Argentina in 1982.
Their bowls team – made up of five of the 16 team members, which also includes an aunt and nephew competing in badminton and a hairdresser competing in table tennis – trained in an unusual environment.
“We play in a school hallway,” Daphne Arthur-Almond told AFP.
“Obviously it’s quite narrow and we’re beholden to school hours. We can’t play when kids and teachers are walking through the passage.
“It will be great when the two artificial greens are complete. Then it will be high, high, high for the balls.”
– ‘Baby bowls’ –
Arthur-Almond, 60, was speaking after she and her treble partners suffered a 22-10 loss to Northern Ireland.
It hurt Northern Ireland-born Arthur-Almond, though it didn’t tarnish her thrilling 21-20 win over India’s Tania Choudhury in the women’s singles.
“I thought we had won the gold medal,” said Arthur-Almond, who has lived in the Falklands on and off for 30 years.
“It shows others what they could do.”
Trudi Clarke, 62, born in the Falklands, said she had been “incredibly nervous” performing in front of so many people, but proud at the same time.
“It’s amazing to fly our flag and put the Falklands on the map,” she said.
Clarke and her teammates can dream of one day following Norfolk Island on the podium. The island has won two bronze medals in this sport, including one in 2018.
That’s a good comeback considering they only have about 50 people bowling.
“The people of Norfolk Island are rightly very proud of the history of blood ties to the mutineers,” 17-year-old Ellie Dixon said after she and her teammates lost 22-10 to Canada in the women’s triple.
“It can be good for tourism, but so is boules. It’s a good way to represent our island. That’s how we promote it to tourists and get them to come and play boules with it. we.”
Niue has the youngest competitor at the Games – 14-year-old Tukala Tagelagi, who partners his father Dalton, the territory’s premier, in the men’s pairs.
“There’s a bit of pressure (to perform),” said Buckingham, 45, referring to Dalton’s presence in the Niue squad.
“But I’m sure he will always cheer for us as we are here, a small nation doing our best. There are just not many of us who come out and play.
“Hopefully he grows up and we make babies and they turn into bowl babies.”