Bowling: An Olympic “Sport”? by James Goulding III

Bowling:  An Olympic “Sport”?

by James Goulding III

 Hello everyone, and a Happy Valentine’s Day to all.  Watching the opening ceremonies of the winter Olympics the other night got me thinking again about two of the more heated debates that surround bowling.  The first one is, is bowling a game or a sport?  This has been debated many times, but I am going to try to go “by the book” so to speak for my definition of bowling later in this blog entry.  The second heated discussion about bowling centers around the Olympics, and whether or not bowling should be an Olympic event.  I think we first have to come to  solid footing on the first question about bowling being a sport or not, before we can even think about the Olympics as it applies to bowling.  So, I am going to break this down and hopefully come up with some ideas for people to think about when it comes to bowling, it’s standing in the sports community, and the Olympics, all tied up into a blog post.



To delve into this debate, I  enlisted the services of Merriam Webster online at  Here is the definition of game: “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement”.  I would say that the argument could certainly be made that bowling most certainly qualifies as a game, at the VERY least.  This holds true for open bowling, and league bowling, but how about the serious tournament bowler who is out to win?  Let me now give you the definition of a sport: ” physical activity engaged in for pleasure”.  The only difference between a sport and a game is that a sport requires “physical” activity, instead of just “activity”.  Now, it does not mention what degree of physical activity is required to call something a sport, only that some form of physical activity is required for a game to be called a sport.  For example, Monopoly is a game, because it requires no physical activity to play, but water polo is a sport because of the physical activity required to play it.  To me, this means that bowling should be called a sport and not a game.  D0es bowling require as much physical activity as, say, playing basketball?  No, of course not, but it DOES require some form of physical activity to throw a bowling ball, and by definition it should be classified as a sport. 

So, now I can get into the Olympic debate.  It would make no sense to even try to classify bowling as a possible Olympic event if you couldn’t even classify it as a sport.  But, if you go by the strict definition of the term “sport”, bowling does qualify, and now I can make the case for it to be included as an Olympic event.



This has been a long debated subject, but to me, up until now bowling should NOT have ever been considered for the Olympics.  I know what you’re going to say, I just made the point that bowling is a sport and not a game, so why am I against it being an Olympic event?  To be honest, bowling isn’t organized enough to become an Olympic event.  Bowling needs three things, in my opinion, to be considered for the Olympics:  A unified governing body for bowling, a standardized set of rules covering the sport, and strict guidelines for lane conditions and bowling ball specifications.  Let me get into each of those three points separately, as each is vital to getting bowling into the Olympics.

The unified governing body for the sport is key to Olympic consideration.  If bowling wants to be taken seriously, then there should be one entity that makes up all the rules, regulations, and awards programs for bowling, so that no matter what continent you bowl on, you can rest assured that you are on a level playing field with someone who may be bowling halfway across the world from you.  This governing body, which I would like to see called the International Bowling Federation, or IBF, can pool together all the different ways the sport of bowling is played in different countries, and come up with guidelines that everyone has to follow.  Now, I would also like to see continental control through smaller sibling organizations to the parent organization, which is the IBF.  There could be the following groups that make sure rules are followed on a more localized level, and report back to the IBF:

North American Bowling Congress (NABC)

Central American Bowling Congress (CABC)

South American Bowling Congress (SABC)

African Nations Bowling Congress (ANBC )

European Bowling Congress (EBC)

Asian  Bowling Congress (ABC)

Australian Regional Bowling Congress (ARBC)

Middle Eastern Bowling Congress (MEBC)

These subsidiaries of the parent IBF would be able to more easily distribute awards, and make sure rules are followed in each region.  You will still have your local associations like you have now, but there would be more strict international guidelines to follow so that if a bowler moves to the United States from Iraq, that person knows they are still bowling under the same rules and regulations they bowled in back in Iraq.  This would be a BIG step forward for bowling as an Olympic sport, as it shows unity and consistency for the sport worldwide, which is key for ALL Olympic sports.

Now that I have covered the governing body, and the need for standardized rules for the sport of bowling, I will show where lane and bowling equipment specifications are the final key to the Olympic puzzle for bowling.  One problem facing bowling throughout the years is that you can bowl in one bowling center, and then move to the next bowling center, and the lane conditions are COMPLETELY different.  Sometimes it is like night and day.  Opponents of Olympic bowling sight this as THE reason bowling will never be an Olympic sport.  It is just too hard to regulate lane conditions.  Maybe so, but there has never been an international body like the IBF that I suggested to oversee the sport of bowling and make sure the local center comply with international guidelines to keep their sanctioned status.  The IBF could expand upon the red, white, and blue oil condition program that the current USBC is trying to implement.  Basically this program has three oil pattern going from easier to more difficult.  The first oil pattern would be used for your recreational bowling, and the second oil pattern would cover all sanctioned league bowling.  The third oil pattern would be for tournament bowling, and would be used everywhere there is sanctioned tournament bowling.  This would show the Olympic community that no matter where you bowl, depending upon what type of bowling you are doing (recreational, league, or tournament), you would always be bowling on the exact same lane conditions as a person doing the same thing on the other side of the planet.  The local and continental associations would be responsible for compliance with the lane condition regulations, and report back to the IBF for final sanctioning of bowling centers, leagues, and tournaments.  If you want to learn more about the current red, white, and blue lane condition program by the USBC, go to and type in “red, white, and blue” under search, it is very good info, and a good step forward for the sport of bowling.

Lastly, bowling ball specifications and lane inspections would have to fall under a “one size fits all” definition for bowling to be considered an Olympic event.  You can’t have one country allow different ending bowling ball statics, ball hardness, or lane length and width (for example) from another country.  The IBF would have to come up with a blueprint for EVERY country that sanctions with the IBF to follow, or else they lose their sanctioning status.  This is no different than what we do now in the United States with the USBC and their equipment specifications, it would just be amped up on a global scale to cover ALL countries and ALL bowlers who sanction.  If this can get done, there would be no other reason to exclude bowling as an Olympic sport.  Bowling would have a unified governing body, standardized rules for EVERYONE who sanctions, and strict equipment and lane specifications for every sanctioned bowling center to follow.  I have felt that, up to now, bowling should not have been considered for the Olympics.  But, if the sport wants that kind of status, I think the guidelines I have outlined could be done so that bowling is on par with other international sports.  Bowling is the #1 participation sport in the world, it is time we get it recognized for the great sport that it truly is, and get bowling in the Olympics!  Thank you for reading, as always the opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and in no way reflect the opinions of the MSUSBC or any of its members.   Please feel free to comment on anything you read in the blog, and I will make sure I get back to you ASAP, thank you.

-James Goulding III

9 responses to “Bowling: An Olympic “Sport”? by James Goulding III

  1. You have some great ideas and the IBF sounds like it could work. Maybe the USBC could expand and utilize some of these ideas, but there are so many factors: Type of lane (synthetic vs wood) bowling ball manufactors, type of oil used for conditioning, inside temp, types of pins, etc.

  2. Dave, thank you fror the feedback. I have also thought about some of the variables that you mention, but hopefully those would be things that could be ironed out by an international governing body. Also, once the ball got rolling on trying to implement this type of international system, ball companies should want to comply with any new regulations if they want to get their equipment sanctioned for use in any IBF venue.

    When it comes to the lanes themselves, wood vs. synthetic may be something we have to live with, as long as the oil patterns are consistent. Just like a sport like skiing, where different mountains cause differing speeds, skiing conditions, etc. you can’t control ALL the variables, so you try and control as many as possible to minimize the effect the actual lane surface has on the level of competition. Thanks for the input, maybe someone high up in the USBC will read the blog and let me know what they think about it!!

  3. Dear Jim,

    I enjoyed the article and am glad for the starting discussion of “game” verses “sport.” One thing Merriam Webster does not talk about in those definitions whcih I feel colors them would be the idea of respect. You do not need to respect an effort if it is a game, a new can be played at the conclusion of the current game (think of Cribbage, or Monopoly and its mirriade of variations); where as a sport requires respect to the effort, the traditions and the history. By doing that we elevate an effort like bowling to a sport.

    I would take issue with your idea that no one is minding the store and that there is no international governing body would be (at least partially) incorrect.

    I like your notion of one body setting the rules – the “IBF”; although I think that organization is currently called “Federation International des Quillers” (FIQ) and it exists at the direction of the IOC for the promotion of international competition of bowling through out the world. In 2007 there where 134 federations supporting the effort of standardizing the play of the sport.

    As for the notion of setting a universal standard for lane oil – that would be difficult if not impossible since lane oil behaves diffferently at various elevations, specific gravities, air densities, temperatures, etc. – a one size fits all approach fits none, and probably only serves to weaken the Olympic effort. It would be like changing the mountain to support the skiing effort in your reply to Dave Martin – doable yet imminently impracticle.

    With bowling the “sport”, it is and has always been about reading what a ball is doing on a specific lane at a given time, and adjusting to that maliable invisible experience. In my bowling experiences the bowler who does that best, knocks down one more pin then his opponent wins – be it on Red, White or Blue or any other pattern or lack there of.

    Some how bowling has moved away from that concept and now the sport has become a characture of what it was when lanes, lane conditions and bowling balls were tightly regulated and relatively the same. Today’s game has become a pariah of sorts, embracing variance and that variance promotes a lack of unity and thereby a lack of respectablity and integrity. The lack of understanding of these variances leading to the “sport” being down graded to a “game.”

    I strongly believe that is the rub which prohibits bowling from the recognition it deserves is the ideas of integrity and respectability. When we fail to respect the game, honor all of the traditions we move away from the effort being about the best man or women winning the competition. Since we have moved away from that place, we will need to move back in that direction to rebuild the Olympic dream – to do that we need to take bowling and remove it from a best technology kind of contest, back to the best skill set kind of contest. Only then will bowling be welcomed into the Olympic Rings.

  4. Well the IBF is a good idea but we are talking about something it needs decades to be done. It might be easier if the current federations and congress made a new body as a worldwide federation.

    Regarding the lane conditions, I would say that 3 oils patterns or even 5 would be a desaster for the sport as it would no longer require the “mental” part of the games. If you always play on the same conditions with the same ball type, in a few months you will only have to be accurate with your shots. Bowling is as it is boring for people just watching. Imagine how boring it would be come if the see the same shots over and over again. And also it would be “boring” for the players (the pors) if they always score 250+ as they are deadly accurate. More patterns require thinking and more action in the game. The federations could solve the problem of the lane condition from cneter to center with making an official list of 10-15 patters (3 easy, 4 medium and 5 hard) so you know what you are playing but also have to think and ajust. (Like PBA does)

    Lastly, I agree with the ball types. There are more bowling balls in the market than bowlers. There you could have less ball types with more strictly drilling rules, so that the player makes the shot and not the ball. But something like this could be against the popularity of the game, as making it easier for amature player to bowl “like pros” bring more people to the game.

    IMO the reason why bowlign will never become an Olympic sport is that it is not “good to watch”. People will not say “lets get together to watch the PBA final, I’ll bring the beers”. They say “lets go and play some bowling”. There are many sports in the Olympics that are “boring” (a lot more) but they are called “classics” for so many years that with out them, Olympic games would not be the same and people watch tehm once every 4 years just for the feel of the Olympics.

    Despite this, I would love to see bowling as an Olympic sport and of course I would watch every game.

  5. PS. Of course bowling is a sport. It is called a game when you go out with friends on Friday and play 1 or 2 games and laugh. But in a tournament, when you play 12 games in 1 day, then it is definitely a sport. Physicaly and Mentaly, it requires a lot of effort and good fitness.

  6. good website needs more infomation about history bowling love it

  7. I have to agree with you. Since the summer Olympics are coming up and I’m a young bowler I was questioning why it wasn’t in the Olympics. And the idea of a international bowling federation sounds like an awesome idea that could actually work. Plus even the fact that you just proved bowling is a sport made me happy. (You’d be surprised at how many people say that its just a hobby) I really hope that the USBC will at least put some effort into trying to put bowling into the Olympics. That would be pretty awesome to go to the Olympics for bowling. (The only sport I play) Honestly was disappointed to learn when I first started bowling that it wasn’t a sport.

  8. I will say this much bowling is a sport with a high degree of skill !! And the reason why I say this is all the people I have known including myself who have injured themselves while bowling. The high degree of skill being there are aspect of the game that you need to learn. You can’t just throw the ball at the pins that is not how bowling works. We have the U S B C and this bowling organization is governed throughout the world,

    The lanes are inspected and approved by the U S B C annually and each bowling establishment has an approved sticker on their door. The lanes may vary from manager to manager but the variations are still there. The rules are strictly enforced by a rule book that is handed out ever year with the rule changes on a annual basis..

    Bowling has not allowed smoking in their establishments since Dec 1, 2009 in most states in North America. But bowling is not just a reason go an chug down some beer.bowling is more than that. Bowling requires great physical stamina and mental toughness. I believe bowling would be an engaging sport in the olympics for the simple fact that there are so many great bowlers in the world and the fact that bowling would be one of the more competitive sports.

    I am stating these facts based on my 35 years of bowling in league and tournaments as well as the special olympics for the last 18 years.

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