‘Reclassify bowling centres as sports hub, or risk them ending up in the gutter’

Michelle Wong is more worried about the bowling industry than creating history.

On Nov 23, Wong (left, main image) and Sandra Periasamy became the first Malaysians to win a gold medal at the International Bowling Federation (IBF) Masters World Championships in Dubai.

The pair edged out Germany’s Elke Grawe and Sabine Sonnenschein 60-58 in a roll-off to win the title. The Malaysians lost the first frame 165-187 before winning the second, 202-173.

“We did not expect anything from the competition. We just wanted to give our best. To win gold was a good surprise and a bonus for the team,” said Wong.

Sandra (left) and Wong on the podium. Image: Facebook / Bowling Malaysia

She added that the team of 14 had to self-fund their trip. Wong also took the opportunity to thank Kuala Lumpur Tenpin Bowling Association president, Tan Sri Mohamad Noor Abdul Rahim, Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress, and her employer for helping the team.

“We started centralised training on Sept 20 under the guidance of coach Wendy Chai and Maradona Chok for five days a week. We are delighted to come back with the gold medal.

“However, I am worried about the bowling industry as Covid-19 has not been kind to us,” said Wong, who is the assistant general manager of Sunway Megalanes.

Wong said there are 96 bowling centres around the country, with more than 2,000 local staff. That does not include the professional shops that employ some 500 people.

They could not earn a living during the lockdowns, and many centres struggled to pay high rentals as most centres are inside shopping malls.

“Bowling centres are still recognised as entertainment outlets, and not as a sports facility by the local authorities,” said Wong.

“Many youth development programmes are in bowling centres, and it would be good to be recognised as a sports facility.

“Hopefully, the government sees the importance of bowling centres as Malaysia has produced numerous world champions over the past five decades.”

She added many were hesitant to return to the game due to the emergence of new strains of the coronavirus.

“All the centres have taken precautions to ensure that the customers are safe. For Sunway Megalanes, our staff undergo testing every two weeks,” said Wong.

“We also installed sanitisers at the air-conditioning compressors. Of course, the staff also make sure we do the necessary wipe-downs each time customers finish their games.

“Luckily, we have a youth bowling event next month and that will be a test run to show people how safe it can be.

“Bowling suffered and will take time to recover. It is a long road, and hopefully, the industry can come together and rebuild,” she added.