Member Op-ed

Disclosure:  The comments and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not represent the opinion of Bowls Canada Boulingrin, Bowls BC, Bowls South Island or the Oak Bay Lawn Bowling Club.

The Laws of the Sport of Bowls, Crystal Mark 3rd Edition, 2015

If that long title hasn’t turned you off, then read on……

Have you ever found yourself being told that you must do this or do that because “it’s a rule”?  But when you ask to be shown the rule in the book, you get a reply something like “never mind, let’s just continue”.  Well, you’re not alone.  Understanding the rules for playing bowls is right up there with trying to understand your insurance policies.  Difficult yes, but if you approach it the right way it’s not that hard.

This article is intended to help you understand how to tell fact from fiction.  You will need to distinguish between what the book requires and what can be allowed that isn’t mentioned in the book.  It’s important to understand what Conditions of Play you can introduce without running afoul of the Laws.  The content which follows presumes you’re managing a tournament but it can be equally viewed from the perspective of a player participating in any game of bowls.

The Laws book goes on for 93 pages before it arrives at the Appendices which are an integral part of the Laws.  The last Law before the Appendices is Law 60, a very important one which reads “Contracting out of the Laws of the Sport of Bowls.  No Controlling Body or individual has the right or power to contract out of any of the Laws of the Sport of Bowls”.  Controlling Body is just another way of saying tournament manager.  In laymen’s terms this Law is simply stating that you must follow what is in the book and you can’t introduce something if it will contradict or be in violation of what is in the book.

OK, so Law 60 says we’ve got to comply with what’s in the book.  This catch-all Law makes sense.  But a new twist was added in the 2nd Edition (2011) booklet with Law 17.2.2.  This Law remains in the 3rd Edition (2015) but with minor revision and is shown as Law 57.2.2.  The purpose of this Law was to allow some variety and deviation from the normal Laws but only for club tournaments which are purely social or recreational in nature.

Law 57.2.2 reads as follows:

Controlling Bodies that govern club competitions which are purely social or recreational (that is, competitions that do not directly or indirectly lead to the winners being awarded a club title, qualifying to compete for a district, national or international title, or receiving financial rewards within limits set by the Member National Authority) can set Conditions of Play which include aspects of play that are different from those described within the Laws of the Sport of Bowls.

This Law is sometimes taken to apply for “fun” tournaments in which case you can ignore the Laws and do what you like.  But since we like to think all competitions are “fun”, what other criteria can we consider to know if Law 57.2.2 should apply?  Well, the smell test can help.  For example, if your tournament permits the purchase of Wrong Bias Insurance vouchers to allow for the replay of a bowl, you can be sure that would meet the definition of “different” from the Laws as written.  Or if teams bowl all their bowls on an end and only then deliver the jack, as is done in some “fun” tournaments, then you’re also clearly playing a “57.2.2 tournament”.  Therefore, carefully read and apply the text of Law 57.2.2.  In addition, look at what you intend to introduce regarding format and Conditions of Play to see if an exemption from the normal rules, as allowed by 57.2.2, will apply.

Is there anything else I should know about the Laws?  Yes!  Within the Laws there is reference to something called “Domestic regulations” or DRs as I’ll call them.  You can find these DRs starting with Law 57.1.  DRs are really just concessions World Bowls has made to member nations to allow them to deviate from the World Laws.  One example is the minimum jack length.  World Bowls allows nations to elect to make a DR that would require all clubs within a country to play under a Law that says a jack is to be delivered to a minimum distance of 21 metres, even though it remains 23 metres as a World Bowls Law.  Canada decided to take advantage of this option and approved a DR that allows us to deliver a jack two metres shorter than for the World Bowls Law.

Let’s move on to Appendix A which provides information about Conditions of Play.  Some of this, like A.1.3 is “must do” stuff, while over on the next page you’ll see A.1.4 which provides “If appropriate” conditions that you can introduce depending on what you prefer.  Can you provide an example of something you can introduce as a Condition of Play? OK, the next paragraph will contain one.

The book allows for restrictions on visits to the head.  You can either implement them as laid out in the book for each player’s position, create your own custom list of restrictions, or not show any restrictions at all in your Conditions of Play.  If you intend to have restrictions, make sure you say what they will be in your tournament Conditions of Play.  If you are silent on this subject it will mean there are no restrictions and players will be free to visit the head after any bowl.

The key to understanding what can or cannot be allowed in any game is this – be familiar with the content of the Laws book, look at what is being proposed as a rule or condition and ask yourself if what you are planning to require of players contradicts or violates anything in the book.  If the answer is “yes it does” then it is fairly safe to say that your rule or condition will have no validity.  If the Laws book does not contain anything which suggests your proposed Condition of Play is contrary to the Laws, then it should be fine.  This Q&A process is illustrated in the following example which concerns conveying a declared bowl to the head.  A second example deals with what markers should do respecting pushers.

Conveying a declared bowl to the head.  Years ago, as skip in a men’s pairs tournament I declared my final bowl of the end.  After announcing this to all present I rolled my bowl up the rink.  My opponent claimed I was required to carry, rather than roll my declared bowl to the head.  His justification was that a fellow club member who was a senior umpire, told him this was the approach to use.  I pointed out to my opponent that there was nothing in the Laws book that said this was a requirement nor was it in the tournament’s Conditions of Play.  Therefore, I was within my right to roll my bowl to the head.  The issue here isn’t which method is best.  Arguing about that becomes a distraction from the core issue of which method am I obligated to follow.  My belief is that this umpire was teaching what he probably considered a best practice rather than as a must do.  I suspect he believed it was better to carry a bowl rather than roll it, probably to reduce the risk of the head being disturbed by the declared bowl.

So, in the incident just mentioned the Laws didn’t provide guidance on this question.  Nevertheless, if it had been published as a Condition of Play, we would all be required to adhere to it.  But since it was neither covered in the Laws book nor in the Conditions of Play, we were under no obligation to follow the practice.  Again, it matters not whether this was a good or bad practice, I’ll leave that for others to decide.  What mattered was to answer the questions – do the Laws require a declared bowl to be carried to the head (they don’t) and if they didn’t can it be made a Condition of Play (it can).  Why?  Because making it a Condition of Play would not in any way contradict or violate the Laws.   Therefore, had the tournament manager made this a Condition of Play we would have been required to comply whether we liked it or not.

Duties of a marker. Here’s another example where you apply the question “Does this contradict or violate what the Laws say?”.  The Laws book contains about two and a half pages of content for the marker’s duties.  It’s not a lot of material but nevertheless largely covers what is necessary for a marker to perform his or her duties.  Follow that and you’re fine.  But it doesn’t contain a number of other minor items that many clubs like to see written as guidelines or Do’s and Do Not’s.

One item I’ve noticed that for some reason seems to be controversial is the question of whether or not a marker should bring the pusher onto the rink at the completion of an end to assist the players.  There are arguments for and against which are of less interest to me than finding an answer to the question – is one way right and another wrong?  Since the Laws don’t speak to the pusher question, the manner in which the tournament manager wants it addressed can be included in the Conditions of Play or made part of a club’s standing Guidelines for Markers document.  Many clubs have such guidelines which include minor “tips” such as “don’t cast your shadow over the jack” along with many others.  These are presumably considered too minor to be included in the Laws book so are left to individual clubs and tournament managers to decide.  So, the answer to the question about whether markers should bring pushers onto the green is – “yes, do it” or “no, let the players do it” depending on the personal preference of the Controlling Body.  In either case you are not contradicting or violating the Laws.  If you’re silent on this issue in your Conditions of Play then a marker is within his or her right to position the pusher on the rink following the last bowl or leave the pusher on the surrounds for the players to use if they wish.  If you wish to have it one particular way, just make sure you say so in your Markers Guidelines or the tournament’s Conditions of Play.

The Laws naturally cover as many aspects of play as can be foreseen.  And, of course, they become amended from time to time necessitating a revised edition.  An example of one such amendment is where the previous edition (2011) required that two points be awarded for a win.  This was changed to three points in the current (2015) edition under Law and Appendix A item A.1.4.4.  That’s a clear and specific change in the number of points to be awarded for a win and thus we can no longer award two points, or any number other than three, if we are to be in compliance with the Laws.

None of us want to spend a lot of time learning a bunch of rules.  We just want to enjoy a game of bowls without getting into discussions over what is and isn’t permitted.  To avoid confusion, disagreements, misunderstandings and various unpleasantries, it is essential that we understand what the Laws require.  But equally important is that we understand how to determine whether a Condition of Play being introduced is valid, and thus is in compliance with the Laws.

In summary it’s worth remembering the words below from the introduction to the Foreword in the Laws book. They provide sage advice for arriving at a resolution for a particular occurrence that is not provided in the book.


No laws governing a sport can cope with every situation, and the laws governing the sort of bowls are no exception. Unusual situations not covered within the laws can often arise. The Laws of the Sport of Bowls (‘the laws’) have been drawn up in the spirit of true sportsmanship. So, if a situation arises that is not covered by these laws, players, markers and umpires must use their common sense and a spirit of fair play to decide on the appropriate course of action.

Eric Ballinger