The exasperation can be felt in Olivia “Bong” Coo’s voice as she shares the struggles bowling is going through and what the game could look like when it reopens activities.
The sport Coo has helped popularize in the Philippines has been put on hold, as sporting activities have been restricted in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent quarantine enforced in the country.
“Ewan ko, I really don’t know how we’re going to go through with this,” said Coo, a 5-time Asian Games gold medalist and considered one of the greatest Filipino athletes of all time.
“I just hope and pray that God will just stop the virus and we can come up with a vaccine.”
The government has given the OK for sports with limited contact — such as golf and tennis — to play in some parts of the country.
Bowling should fall under that category, too, but as of posting time, national sports officials haven’t greenlit its relaunch yet.
Should bowling centers open again, however — and should a vaccine still be unavailable — venues and the conduct of play may undergo significant change.
There haven’t been any official guidelines for bowling approved yet by the national coronavirus task force, but Coo has seen how other countries are returning to business and those practices might be copied locally.
She pointed to the United States and its umbrella organization for the sport, the US Bowling Congress, and the new rules that have kicked in across its tournaments.
According to the Congress’ website, Bowl.com, players now are allowed to use one lane — instead of the alternating between two — throughout a game to limit human exposure to the virus.
Participants are permitted to use isopropyl alcohol, an approved disinfectant against COVID-19, to clean balls, a practice that used to be prohibited but would likely be mandatory.
“You don’t what the ball is gathering from the time it leaves your hand and it rolls on the lane and back,” said Coo, the current secretary-general of the Philippine Bowling Federation, the sport’s national governing body.
“It’s really going to be difficult . . . but then we don’t have any recourse if you want to continue the game.”
To take safety measures even further, bowling centers could add partitions onsite and restrict the number of people playing and watching.
“I don’t know if this is going to be implemented here, but various bowling centers abroad naglalagay sila ng parang mga glass shields in between lanes,” said 2003 World Cup champion CJ Suarez.
“They will also limit the number of people playing in a lane. Ayaw na rin ng nila ng masyadong crowded. Tapos very minimal na rin ’yung interaction, so as you go to the bowling counter, probably cash-less transactions. Those I’ve seen online.”
Bowling in the Philippines is two-pronged — the recreational side and the part that develops elite athletes for international play.
Because there isn’t a bowling center dedicated to it, the national team trains at a mall in Mandaluyong City to minimize cost.
Reopening bowling centers for recreational use is out of the question under quarantine guidelines, which puts the national players in a bind — they can’t practice like they used to because opening the alleys exclusively to them would entail expenses that the national program may not be able to afford and can’t be recouped by the proprietor given business operations are closed.
There is no rush to get the players in top-notch form yet because major international tournaments have been suspended this year, such as the world youth and world juniors championships, the World Cup and the Asian championships.
But still, elite bowlers need to get their reps in and they can’t miss a beat even during a lull in action.
“We’re asking (the national players) to just throw a couple of shots in their house,” said 1979 World Cup winner Coo.
“ ’Yung iba, naglagay ng kuchon and they’d just throw the ball to get a feel, but continuous ang fitness training and mental training online.”
Aware of the obviously makeshift setup, Suarez said training at home, unless the player has a built-in bowling alley, is nowhere near actually playing at a proper venue.
“If you try and simulate (the game) not in the actual lanes and they try to play at home lang, iba pa rin ’yung nakikita mong mahuhulog ’yung bola sa lane, you topple down the pins, the sound of pins falling down,” he said.
If physical distancing becomes the norm, team events might be a no-no and spectators would likely be banned.
And that’s how the game — and much like the rest of the sports world — would feel different.
Suarez, who used to manage SM Bowling, said top tournaments don’t rely on gate attendance for profit, but a reduced crowd or a lack of spectators would be noticeable.
The thought that team celebrations would be curbed, too, for everyone’s safety would be unthinkable.
“Mawawala ’yung sportsmanship (gestures), ’yung (show of) camaraderie. ’Yun siguro ang kailangan i-adapt ngayon ’pag may competition. That’s a really vital part of the sport,” Suarez said.
“I think in any sport for that matter, ’yung human touch ang mawawala. It becomes very different — the aura, the ambience. Imagine very competitive ’yung laro niyo pero kayo kayo lang naglalaro.
“It will impact the overall atmosphere of the game.”
When the sport reopens, Suarez said, is out of the sporting community’s control.
“Ayaw naman naming madaliing mag-open. I don’t think the leisure centers, such as bowling, are opening any time soon,” he said.
“Even though we have been offering recommendations to actually open up these centers, it’s really up to the local government to really allow us to open.”
Coo said she doesn’t have a timeline in mind for when games can be played again, but keeping everyone safe should be the foremost concern.
“We really don’t know (when bowling will be back),” she said. “We don’t want to put people’s lives in danger.”
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