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August 7, 2017

Letter to Editor: Bowling arm regulation revision

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I  applaud those who get out on the bowling green using a mechanical bowling arm. It’s a wonderful innovation that allows many people with disabilities to commence or continue in an outdoor sport, where, if the arm didn’t exist, they could be confined to being a sporting spectator, instead of a participant, for the remainder of their lives.

However, the bowling arm is unquestionably, “performance enhancing”. Their use is a definite advantage over the majority of able bodied bowlers, in always being able to find and deliver on the correct line required more frequently.

The arm provides the user with an almost certain ‘line’ delivery, particularly when the bowler uses the narrowest biased bowls available.

I’ve been watching mechanical-arm bowlers with great interest for years now, and in my view, nothing has happened to change my mind on this issue.

Ridiculous as it may sound, over a period of around 5 years, I have witnessed ‘arm’ bowlers deliver almost a 98% success rate on their line accuracy (of those experienced in their use) compared to the able-bodied line accuracy in the same matches, rating perhaps around 65%-70%. That’s a huge difference, and too big a gap just to be a coincidence over such a sustained period of time. It can no longer just be ignored.

So, it’s now time to introduce a regulation to bring the mechanical arm bowler back to an even playing field and take away this huge performance-enhancing advantage. It simply means their line delivery will need to be slightly wider to even up the contest which at present is around 20% biased in favour of the ‘arm’ user.

The fair way to deal with this, without unduly penalising the ‘arm’ bowler, is to increase the bias on the bowl that the mechanical-arm user chooses, which is currently mostly of the skinniest variety. Make it a regulation that if a mechanical-arm is being used, then the bowler cannot use a bowl with a bias narrower than say the old ‘Classic-2’ or ‘Maestro.

Certainly, they should no longer be allowed to use any narrow-bias-bowl they choose, which gives them this distinct advantage.

A limitation on the permitted (wider) bias needs to be introduced, in Australia and around the bowling world, ASAP.

For the administrators to do nothing would be negligent.
Geoff Mathers
MCC-Kew Sports Club Inc.

Editor: What do you think? The use of bowling arms has become more popular over the last few years, with many bowlers and clubs embracing their use. However, many bowlers think that arm bowlers have an advantage over others not using a bowling arm. Let me know what your thoughts are by contacting us through the contact page, or commenting below. 


  1. Mck Mitchell says:

    I agree with these comments. A great advantage but I am unsure if this rule change should apply. Just as there are competitions solely for arm bowlers,should there not be competitions that exclude the devices.
    I think it is great to see many bowlers being able to continue solely because of the assistance the arm offers

  2. Ray Douglas says:

    I really do not believe this could even be considered, I have been bowling for nearly 40 years and when I tried a mates bowling arm I was surprised at how difficult it was, I can only imagine what it would be like for someone with obvious physical problems that prevent them playing this great game without one.

    It is a shame that anyone should feel threatened by someone using a bowling arm, they should be rejoicing that these people are out there having a go.

    • OSAAT says:

      Thank you Ray. This post has generated some discussion on our Facebook page too, with varying opinions. Have a look here if you are interested in following it: We’ll also address this topic in our next issue.

    • Fair Game says:

      No one is denying the bowler the right to use an arm but we are upset and fed up with the 20% advantage that they have “NARROW Bowls should not be part of an arm bowlers kit”

      • OSAAT says:

        Is there really a 20% advantage? Has this been measured? Of course, if there is really a 20% advantage, then it’s not fair, but I’m interested to see the evidence of a 20% advantage.

    • Brian bacon says:

      Ray well said i have never bowled with my hand. I taugh myself to bowl with the arm 6 years ago and have never looked back, i roll the jack with my arm my gripe is when you can change from one to the other ie bowl with arm for some ends then change to your hand once you have a doctor’s report to use an aid you should stick to it.

  3. Alan Dawson says:

    I was forced to move to a bowling arm due to debilitating back and neck injuries. How many arm bowlers play premier league, or first division. How many make it through the state and national championships. Only one in Victoria, if my memory is correct. If you are a proficient bowler, you can not put a bowl down any straighter with an arm, than you can with you hand. What you can’t do with an arm, is to feather a bowl out your fingers, step-out and round arm a delivery for a different trajectory, or vary your step greatly etc. There are Pros and Cons in everything we do. When someone starts telling me how easy it is with a bowling arm, I hand it to them and say “Show Me”. Guess what!

  4. Ian Rowan says:

    Great to see “balanced” comments about the use of Arms. Naturally, as a user of The Bionic Arm, I will be considered bias! But I am heartened always at Clubs when I hear top players at Club, District, State and National level, applauding bowlers who could not continue in the sport through impairment or injury, staying as active bowlers solely because of the Arm. Any reference to “cheating stick” or similar is usually made out of ignorance and resistance to change. I too, often challenge doubters to use the Arm for a couple of games, just to satisfy themselves it really does make it easier and gives you this alleged “advantage”! Interestingly, not one has come back to support their original comments as the physics of using the Arm hits home and they realise just how challenging it can be to use the Arm on different surfaces and variable weather. Also glossed over by detractors is the fact that many Arm bowlers were highly competent bowlers BEFORE they were forced to convert to the Arm and could this possibly be the reason that they continue to be good bowlers with the Arm? I sincerely hope Bowls Australia does not bend to the “squeeky wheels” and allows Arm bowlers to compete at all levels with their own bowls and Arms.

    • OSAAT says:

      Thank you Ian. Good points.

      Note from editor: Ian is ‘The Bionic Bowler’ columnist for Bowls Plus. There are varying opinions on the use of bowling arms, but one thing that remains clear is that arms allow people to continue bowling instead of sitting on the sidelines. We need more people who love bowling and arm bowlers might boost our club memberships. Still lots of discussion needed on this topic.

  5. […] Read the entire letter to the editor here. […]

  6. William Gay says:

    Hi guys, I have recently gone to a bowling arm after many years of suffering pain and many visits to chiropractors and etc. The bowling arm has given me a new lease in my bowls life and now back enjoying the game. However, the pain still goes on but not as bad.

    I have played bowls for 30 plus years and coached for many of those years. I find people have certain abilities some not so good, some fair with others playing at a higher level. The same applies to those who use a bowling arm. The bias of the bowl does not make the bowler any better or worse it really comes down to players skills.

    The idea that someone gets better with a bowling arm is more than debatable. Maybe the arm allows the bowler to get back to the player they always were. In my opinion the arm has an advantage when playing an upshot or drive but once again comes back to the skill factor.

    We should focus more on clarifying rules on the use of the bowling arm. I was playing in a tournament in NSW early this year where my opponent was able to bowl normally (by hand) when to my surprise he used a bowling arm to drive. I was not impressed but as there are no specific rules, I had wear it. I doubt if he had a licence licence to use it.

    Let’s face it bowling arms will be around for years to come so it’s important have regulations/rules so we know where we stand.

    One thing I have noticed with the arm that it’s difficult to judge weight because you cannot feel the bowl. On the other hand I can see the line easier. I know people will always have a negative view on those who gone to bowling arms but we need to let go and get on with it.

    Happy Bowling.

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