It’s a gentle sport where participants can compete on equal terms, whatever their gender or age.
But it seems that in flat green bowls equality doesn’t extend to the dress code.
The game has been hit by claims of sexism after officials ruled that men are now allowed to wear shorts when they take to the manicured greens – but women aren’t.
Traditional: Women are limited to skirts, bowling trousers or cropped trousers
Men are allowed to wear grey trousers or shorts in other matches but women are not allowed to wear shorts in any circumstances
A rule change came into effect in April, at the start of the summer season, which states that men can wear ‘white or cream trousers’ or switch to ‘tailored shorts’ if they prefer.
But women must wear pleated skirts or dresses, bowling trousers or cropped trousers but do not have the option of shorts.
Carole Swan: It’s not a ban
The rules even dictate what sort of underwear they should sport, namely ‘white or cream undergarments’.
The rules apply to those taking part in inter-county association matches and national championships.
Men are allowed to wear grey trousers or shorts in other matches but women are not allowed to wear shorts in any circumstances.
For men and women the outfit must be completed with other approved garments, including tops, socks and blazers.
The English Bowling Federation and the English Women’s Bowling Federation said yesterday that if anyone requested introducing the option of shorts for ladies it would be considered at the annual general meeting in November.
But members said men and women should have automatically been given equal treatment.
One Suffolk female bowler said: ‘It is blatant sexism. I’ve been playing bowls for 15 years. It is a fantastic game but it can be so antiquated. I absolutely want to wear shorts.
The new rules state that women will have to wear the appropriate attire, which includes a skirt over the knee or trousers (woman playing bowls, above)
As above, women will have to wear a skirt, while men will be able to wear trousers (stock image above)
‘When it was first announced that shorts would be added to the game, lots of women I know bought pairs of shorts, only to be told at the start of the season that they are for men only.
‘In other countries, men and women get to wear shorts of the brightest colours and, closer to home, female golf players can wear shorts, so why should bowls players be any different?’
Lisa Simpson, women’s secretary for Cleveland, said a ‘common sense’ approach should have been adopted to promote equality in men’s and women’s dress codes.
She added: ‘I know a few of the ladies would like to wear shorts as well.
I think it should be brought in for women.’ John Calver, secretary of the California Bowls Club in Ipswich, said there was a lot of solidarity among men towards the women’s dismay.
He also warned that the sport needed to appeal to the younger generation to survive.
In a professional environment, these women would not be allowed to play as they are both wearing shorts
‘I’m sure ladies would appreciate the choice rather than being dictated upon,’ he said.
‘Many of our players are husband and wife teams and I’m sure the husbands would like to see their wives allowed to wear what they wish. Sadly there are some Victorians in the bowls world who are very old-fashioned and stuck in their ways.’
The revised rules were voted through at the last AGM in November. Flat green bowls has different rules from crown green bowls and in crown green bowls there is a rise in the centre of the green.
Carole Swan, 60, president of the women’s federation, said she was ‘not personally concerned about it, but some are’.
She said: ‘To date, no lady member of a club has put forward a proposal for ladies to wear shorts. The men did and it got passed at the last AGM. So it’s not a ban – it’s just there has been no proposal.’
Any such proposal would have to come through the member’s club and be put forward by the county executive.
Mick Rayson, 71, president of the men’s federation, said he was not aware of any complaints.
‘The rules covering dress code are separate between men and women,’ he said. ‘The women set their own dress code and the men set theirs.
‘The EBF voted at the last AGM to allow the wearing of shorts. The ladies didn’t vote on that because they’ve got their own agenda.’
Mr Rayson added: ‘We are looking at a generational thing here. But we have to move on at the end of the day.
‘The days of wearing trilby hats and ties are long gone, although that used to be the dress code. Things are more relaxed now.’
The English Bowling Federation and English Women’s Bowling Federation’s recently-changed rules
The rules for men:
7.21: Male players participating in inter-county association matches and national championships must wear white or coloured shirts (colour to be registered with the National Secretary), white or cream trousers, or tailored shorts (with EBF logo) as provided by an approved bowls wear manufacturer, to be worn with white ankle or trainer socks.
T-shirts (no collar) will not be allowed whether white or coloured. White belt (if worn), white braces (if worn), white undergarments, white or cream socks, bowling shoes as approved by the county association concerned, white or cream pullover or cardigan (if worn), white cap or white hat (if worn) and white or cream waterproof clothing (if worn).
In a team event players must all have same coloured shirts or must all wear white shirts.
Tailored shorts (with EBF logo) as provided by an approved bowlswear manufacturer may be worn with white ankle or trainer socks.
Tops such as sweatshirts, sheen jackets or pullovers shall either be of an identical matching colour or white or cream providing all players wear the same.
Ties are optional wear during play.
Approved clothing may display an identifying County badge, a sponsor’s name/logo that must not exceed the area/size of that County’s badge and a sponsor’s name (not exceeding 300mm wide x 75mm high) on the front or rear of the garment.
The display of the garment manufacturers name or trademark is allowed. Uniforms must be checked by relevant county association officials. Male players participating in non inter county association matches or national championships may, as an option to grey trousers, wear grey tailored shorts (with EBF logo) as provided by an approved bowlswear manufacturer, to be worn with grey ankle or trainer socks.
7.21 (1) For male players participating in mixed games (pairs rinks and Durham Centenary Trophy) the dress code shall be as per 7.21 excepting the Durham Centenary Trophy where club shirts (as approved by the county executive) may be worn for all stages of the competition.
7.21(2) Dress for all presentations shall be match dress. For arriving at a match and after match meals, dress shall be, county association or club blazers or county jackets and grey trousers with county coloured shirts or white shirts with county tie at the discretion of each county bowling association.
The rules for women:
(a) Female players participating in Inter County matches and National Championships must wear the Ladies standard uniform that may consist of any combination of the following as agreed and approved by each individual County Bowling Association.
(b) White or Cream Blazer.
(c) Coloured Blazer (colour to be registered with the EWBF)
(d) White, Cream or Coloured tops: Fleece/ Sports type Jacket/Cardigan/Jumper/Pullover/Sweatshirt, or Waistcoat, of a design to incorporate County Colours and /or Badge (colour to be registered with the EWBF). The County Badge must not exceed the area /size of the Counties Standard Badge. In an Individual or Team event, players must all have the same coloured tops, registered with the EWBF or must all wear White or Cream.
(e) White or Cream regulation Bowling Skirt or Dress, having two inverted pleats front and back, made of the correct material and be of a length to cover the knees.
(f) White or cream Tailored or Casual Bowling Trousers as supplied by a Bowlswear Retailer.
(g) White or Cream Cropped Tailored Bowling Trousers, as supplied by a Bowlswear Retailer.
(h) White or Cream Undergarments.
(i) Brown or Beige Tights, Stockings or Footsies may be worn.
(j) Pop socks or ankle socks may be worn with full length Trousers.
(k) Girls 13 years or under may wear White or Cream ankle socks.
(l) White or brown regulation bowling shoes.
(m) White, cream or coloured Sports or shirt type blouse, with turned down collar, long or short sleeves (not sleeveless) of a design to incorporate county colours and/or badge (colour to be registered with the EWBF). The county badge must not exceed the area/size of the Counties Standard Badge. In an Individual or Team event players must all have the same coloured shirts, registered with the EWBF or must all wear white or cream shirts.
(n) County Bowling Association Tie.
(o) Off green dress shall include brown, white, or cream handbag and brown, white or cream walking shoes or sandals. (Mules or Flip-flop Style Footwear are not permitted)
(p) White or Cream Regulation Bowling Hat in original shape with County Association colour Hatband, not twisted, shall be optional.
(q) White or cream baseball or sun type hat shall be optional during play.
(r) Sun Visors shall be optional during play.
(s) Scarves and cravats, if worn shall be removed before play.
(t) Waterproof clothing, when worn, shall be white or cream.
(u) A minimum amount of jewellery may be worn.
(v ) Approved clothing may display an identifying county badge and either additionally or instead of the county badge one sponsor’s name/logo that must not exceed the size of that county’s badge. The sponsor’s logo must be approved in advance by the organising Committee. Acceptable manufacturer’s trade marks are not regarded as advertising.
(w) Any need to deviate from the dress detailed in (a-v) for Medical reasons must be referred to the EWBF Secretary and may require a Doctor’s letter.
(x) Uniforms shall be checked and be the responsibility of the relevant County Officials.