Girls from ethnic minorities are taking up bowls as part of a Sport England initiative

Think you know what type of person plays lawn bowls?

Think again.

Bowls can be traced back to 13th century Britain and is traditionally considered a sedate ‘gentleman’s sport’.

But a group of girls in Oldham, all from British black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, are changing the face of the sport.

“I thought why not just try it,” says 17-year old Qhadijah Begum, who is studying health and childcare at Oldham College.

“It’s fun, it’s not the hardest of sports and you can learn in a good 10 minutes.”

Qhadijah and her friends, all aged 16-18, have been taking part in weekly sessions at Freizland Bowls Club in nearby Saddleworth, organised through the college.

The sessions are part of an initiative by Sport England, in which £5m of lottery funding was invested into 49 colleges across England, with the aim of getting students from under-represented groups active.

What started off as just a couple of taster classes has turned into weekly visits to the club. In fact, this is the second cohort of BAME students to take up the sport.

The college has even bought their own bowls.

‘I was afraid to go out of my home and try new things’

Sport England’s Active Lives Survey (Nov 2015 to Nov 2016) shows that South Asian women are the least likely group to participate in sport, with over 51% not exercising for at least 150 minutes per week.

Qhadijah, a Muslim, says that one of those barriers is that young Asian females are scared of being judged by those within their own community.

“I was afraid to go out of my home and try new things,” she says.

“I was scared that people would look at me and ask ‘this girl wears a hijab but she’s playing sport, doesn’t she have respect for herself?’ – but every human has a right to do what they want.”

This sentiment is shared by Aklima, an 18-year-old student from the college.

“People will think that because she’s all covered up, she won’t be active. But all we want is motivation and someone to tell us we can do it.”

Paul Townsend, chairman of Freizland Bowls Club, has been coaching the girls and praises their enthusiasm.

“We have a lot fun and interaction,” Paul says as he poses for a selfie with the girls.

“No, I don’t have Snapchat, what is it?” he then asks them.

Bowls doesn’t require any specific clothing and is a relatively gentle workout.

Qhadijah and Aklima say this is another reason which attracted them to the sport.

“The only criteria is flat soled shoes, they can wear anything they want to – that’s what makes it accessible,” adds Frank.

“People think it’s an old man’s game but this has to be washed away, because there’s a lot of young people and it would be fantastic for the sport to make it more diverse with other cultures and faiths playing the sport.”

The college plans to continue the partnership with the club and Qhadijah says she will “maybe one day come back to Freizland and teach others to play bowls”.

First Published: 06.12.17:

Written by: Kal Sajad

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