Speculation continues to mount about a return to some form of normality which in turn will dictate when our bowling season can open for the 2021 season.
There are lots of things we don't know but two things we do know:
A Road-Map for a return to normality will be published by the Government on 22 February as stated by the Prime Minister yesterday.
Schools will not reopen until 8 March at the earliest as stated this week by the Prime Minister. He has always said that the resumption of schooling will be the first step in the return to normality.
The Road-Map is likely to be dictated by the success of the vaccination programme and will be flexible depending on the pace of the roll-out and impact it has on the nation's health. This Road-Map is likely to see a return to a Tier system of controls with monthly reviews based on the success of the vaccination programme.
The Prime Minister has also indicated that shops will not be allowed to reopen until a month after schools go back so taking it to just after Easter (6 April) at the earliest. Then another month before pubs and restaurants are allowed to reopen. This pace of change will be dictated by infection rates so again the success of the vaccination programme is key in making any progress at all.
So what does this mean for crown green bowling and all the clubs and bowlers chomping at the bit to be allowed to return to the greens? Only when an area is at Tier 3 level or less will bowling be allowed based on the previous guidance. It appears most likely that the earliest possible date for the resumption of competitive bowling will be 6 April although how much notice will be provided to allow preparations to commence is unclear at present. It is also likely that clubs will have to obtain the approval of the BCGBA/YCCGBA to reopen their greens as they did during last summer. To do that some work is required by each club to ensure that they comply with the BCGBA rules at that time. A mid-April start may be a more realistic target date for any League but even this is dependent on a number of other factors falling into place before then.
Bowling has then to come to terms with what steps are going to be taken to ensure the safety of all bowlers in the future. For example - will only bowlers who can prove that they have been vaccinated be allowed on the green? Will vaccinated bowlers be prepared to run the risk of mixing with unprotected individuals? It is not yet known whether the vaccine will prevent the transfer of the virus between others so we can expect some not prepared to run the risk?
In addition, a recent survey indicated that only 41% of people aged between 18 and 35 confirmed that they would definitely have the vaccine when it became available to them. How will this be viewed by other bowlers? It is clear that we are some way away from a full return to competitive bowling but at least we have some hope of bowling in 2021.
As to what it means for 2021 fixture programmes well it seems that there is little point in publishing any fixtures before 22 February and the publication of the Government's Road-Map back to normality. This in turn will give each club the opportunity to consult with their bowlers and ascertain how many of them are prepared to return to bowling and what impact that in turn will have on the ability of clubs to field full teams. Any club assuming that all their bowlers will automatically return to competitive bowling is well off the mark and we should heed the lessons learnt by the Winter League.
It is not just about the Government allowing bowling clubs to reopen, it is as much about the willingness of bowlers to return to bowling when allowed. You can make as many plans as you like but if bowlers are not comfortable in returning to bowling then it won't happen in its former state. It just seems a little premature to me for leagues to publish fixtures before 22 February when so much is likely to change over the coming weeks. Late February is soon enough for any league to prepare for a start in April so why risk introducing confusion by publishing plans before then?