It’s one of those questions you’d expect to hear at a pub trivia night: What is Australia’s most popular sport? Most will say AFL or cricket, but there is usually one person on the table who knows the correct answer: lawn bowls.

According to the latest statistics, participation numbers are at their highest levels in 20 years, with 267,382 registered members for the 2005-2006 season. But the real excitement hovers around the 11,000 new “social” members who have taken up the game in the past year – most between the ages of 25-35.

You see, thanks to the “get on the green” program – where teams play on a weeknight in a “casual and fun atmosphere”, lawn bowls has become undeniably cool.

Stubby prices in the club rooms seem to have remained fixed since the late 90s, the after game BBQ is cheap and covered with gravy, and when you sign up to the program you even get a free thermos and bucket hat!

Some clubs have been known to lay down wooden panels over the green after the games so these new “athletes” can have a bit of a dance.

Even the ol’ blue rinse brigade club members are getting in on the act, offering coaching tips and cooking up recipes that good old grandma used to make (actually, maybe good old grandma is the one still making it). The extra revenue can’t hurt either.

And the juggernaut keeps on rolling. In fact, stay tuned for a $780 million TV rights deal for lawn bowls any minute, because you get the impression that Iain Knight, ABC’s head of television sport, doesn’t mind his bowls either. Due to the popularity of ABC’s Saturday coverage of the sport (averages over half a million viewers), Knight recently decided to increase the program to a duration of two hours and pushed it back to a more popular time. “After building a very strong following in the 5pm timeslot, it is clear that bowls deserves a prime time chance”, he said.

Netball Australia and the NBL must be absolutely spewing.

Peter Fray

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