The Lawman: Instantaneous penalties, is it worth eight shots?

by John Roberts

Occasionally in Pennant you hear on the greens some friendly banter along the lines of ‘move that bowl or jack or do this or do that and you will lose eight shots.’

In reality, according only to the Laws of the Sport, this cannot occur.

The Laws of the Sport refer to defaulting players, teams and sides (C2) as defined as not meeting the requirements of any specific law or laws. C10 refers to forfeiting a game to an opponent as a penalty for the defaulting player, team or side not following the laws.

So, basically going outside the Laws of the Sport can result in a forfeit.

The Laws of the Sport do not specifically state that if a player, team, or side, behave in an inappropriate way or use offensive language they will automatically forfeit.

However, Bowls Australia, in response to a growing National trend of a small number of players not undertaking a polite and sporting manner on the green and applying the principle of playing fair amidst an equitable competition, developed their Instantaneous Penalties Policy.

Bowls Victoria has adopted this policy and it included in the Conditions of Play for Metropolitan Pennant, Region and Division Pennant, and State Championship Events.

So, what does this mean for officials and players?

In simple terms show good sportsmanship, don’t use offensive language or behave in an intimidating or violent way and nothing will happen. Continue to enjoy our great game of bowls.

However, if the umpire of the day by their own observation or on appeal by the Controlling Body, a Side Manager, a Skip, or an opponent, decides that a player is non-compliant then the end shall be immediately regarded as completed and the opponent of the offender shall be awarded as many shots as there are bowls in use by the opponents. In Pennant that’s eight shots!

On the second offence by the same player in the same game, the player shall be excluded from taking any further part of the game. No replacement player or substitute would be allowed in his or her team. If it was a team that was part of a side as in Pennant, Bowls Australia’s Domestic Regulation 2.5 – Absentee Player in a side game would apply.  In a team game, the defaulting team will forfeit the game to their opponent.

Serious offences may also be subjected to police action – a decision that should be made in consultation with the venue manager, the controlling body and the umpires.

Any individuals can report matters to the police as they see fit.

All umpires need to know is that they can invoke the Instantaneous Penalties Policy and would have the full backing of Bowls Victoria in doing so. If Umpires invoke the instantaneous penalty, they need to inform Bowls Victoria in writing as to what occurred.

The message has to get out there to the small number of recalcitrants that it’s simply not on – change your ways!

Where there is no penalty specified in laws or rules like:

  1. Acting in an abusive, threatening or intimidating manner;
  2. Using obscene, offensive, abusive, threatening or intimidating language. This would include racist, homophobic, sexist and any other vilifications;
  3. Threatening any person with physical violence; and
  4. Assaulting any person.

The first action would be to declare eight shots to the opposition, for the second offence in a team game the team is out and in a Side game the player is out.

Umpires at all times and in all situations need to use their common sense and be authoritative rather than authoritarian. At the same time, they should not allow these poor behaviours to continue on our greens.

For most topics covered for instantaneous penalties a prior warning to invoking an eight-shot penalty I feel is not necessary.

Players, side managers, and officials must remember that failing to follow Bowls Victoria Metropolitan Pennant Conditions of Play, 2018-2019, relating to Player Conduct and Behaviour, Smoking and Personal Electronic and Communicating Devices can result in the Umpire applying an Instantaneous Penalty.

However, sometimes players (and or side managers) just need one warning particularly in regard to offensive language, smoking or using mobile phones on the greens. In a tight moment of the game where everyone is keen and tense, it’s not difficult to express disappointment through the use of an unacceptable expletive. Sometimes in the vagueness of the moment, people just forget. A gentle reminder is usually enough. Repeat the same offence and the instantaneous penalty should be applied.

Even though not required by the Instantaneous Penalty Policy, suggested best practice in this circumstance would be to give a warning.  If it is not identifiable as to the individuals using offensive language, then as an umpire with consultation with the team manager and the skip they should put the side on notice. Watch your language!

However, if the language is totally over the top and

continuous or directed at an official, umpires would be expected to invoke on the first instance the eight-shot penalty, that is, no warning.

As we are heading to finals, we must remember this is the time when we have the most spectators at our games. We are all on display and notice. Show our passion for our wonderful sport by all means but not show behaviours that are offensive, intimidation, or abusive.

Umpires – be on notice. Players – be on notice. Make sure we do not have to invoke our instantaneous penalties. Is your poor behaviour worth eight shots to the opposition?


John Roberts is one of Australia’s most experienced lawn bowls officials. John works in a volunteer capacity for Bowls Victoria as a Laws and Rules Official and Chairman of the association’s Umpiring Committee.