PBA, EBT at Odds Over Scheduling Conflict, Handicap Policy

by Gianmarc Manzione 0

Jenny Wegner takes home the top prize at the 2018 Brunswick Euro Challenge.
Jenny Wegner's defeat of Anthony Simonsen (left) in the championship match of the 2018 Brunswick Euro Challenge intensified debate about the European Bowling Tour's policy of awarding eight pins handicap per game to women competitors. EBT Director Kim Thorsgaard Jensen announced months later that the EBT had decided to uphold its handicap policy (with Yannaphon Larp-apharat of Thailand).

The Professional Bowlers Association Tour and the European Bowling Tour appear to have hit an impasse over concerns about a scheduling conflict and the EBT’s decision to continue awarding eight pins handicap per game to women competitors in their events.

In a November release, EBT Director Kim Thorsgaard Jensen expressed some disgruntlement with the PBA over its decision to schedule the 10th edition of its World Series of Bowling in March. WSOB X’s March 11-21 time frame directly coincides with one of the most prestigious annual events on the EBT circuit, the Brunswick Euro Challenge, which will be held March 16-23.

“The Brunswick Euro Challenge has been conducted in March over the past 14 years in three different European countries,” Jensen wrote in the release. “This is a very unfortunate and potentially damaging decision, first of all for the organizer in Munich, but indeed also for many athletes and for the EBT in general.”

In an email exchange with BJI this week, PBA CEO and Commissioner Tom Clark explained that the March time frame for WSOB X proved irresistible given the “unprecedented opportunity for the game” presented by the availability of “five straight nights of prime-time national TV” at that juncture on the 2019 calendar. Clark added that, “We met with organizers during Bowl Expo and once again explained our new FOX TV deal calls for a March WSOB.” Indeed, Clark had intimated as much in conversation with BJI soon after news of the FOX deal broke last May.

Designated the highest tier of “Platinum” in the EBT’s five-category tournament hierarchy of Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Satellite, the Euro Challenge is a major draw among the world’s international pool of top pro-bowling talent that has seen the likes of Jesper Svensson, Dom Barrett and Mike Fagan win the title over the years. It is doubtful players of that caliber will choose to head to Munich in March to bowl the Euro Challenge rather than to Allen Park, Mich., to bowl the WSOB, which has become the PBA’s signature event.

“We respect the Euro Challenge as a great event and understand the scheduling conflict for 2019 is unfortunate for some players, but hope in the future players can compete in both and that the Euro Challenge will be recognized on the PBA Tour,” Clark said.

PBA CEO Tom Clark
Addressing the European Bowling Tour's decision to continue awarding eight pins handicap per game to women competitors, PBA CEO and Commissioner Tom Clark said, "Handicap pins don’t have a place at the highest level of the game.”

That final point, about the Euro Challenge being recognized on the PBA Tour, touches upon the fallout resulting from disagreement about the EBT’s decision to continue awarding eight pins handicap per game to women bowlers in its tournaments.

As reported in the May issue of BJI, that policy became a source of controversy last spring when three of the first four tournaments on the EBT’s 2018 schedule were won by women. That included the Euro Challenge, in which handicap pins proved to be the difference as PBA Tour champion Anthony Simonsen defeated Sweden’s Jenny Wegner scratch, 213-211, in the championship match but lost the title when handicap put Wegner over the top, 219-213.

Following that event, Wegner, a 24-year-old Kindergarten teacher who won the 2016 QubicaAMF World Cup and, at age 15, four gold medals at the European Youth Championships, told BJI that, “I agree with everyone that says girls shouldn’t have handicap. I don’t think it’s necessary to have anymore because there are so many good women bowlers that compete on the same level as the guys.”

Simonsen, for his part, said that, “If you have a pro card, man or woman, you should not be getting eight pins per game. You’re telling me I am supposed to give girls like Liz [Johnson], Danielle [McEwan], and Diana [Zavjalova] an extra eight pins per game when their ball goes through the pins as well as mine?”

As the tournament was a World Bowling Tour event in 2018, Simonsen would have been awarded his fourth PBA Tour title for winning the 2018 Euro Challenge. The PBA first put out a release announcing Simonsen the winner but later corrected it, citing “confusion over the application of handicap pins for women.” There is no confusion about the EBT’s handicap policy now, as both Clark and Jensen made clear this week in email exchanges with BJI.

Clark said the PBA “remains unapologetic” about its refusal to award PBA Tour titles to women who win EBT events after accepting the eight pins handicap per game. “We will no longer include any event that uses handicap pins on the PBA Tour schedule, or attach PBA titles to those events. Handicap pins don’t have a place at the highest level of the game.”

Jensen disagrees, telling BJI that, “Indeed [the handicap policy] will be kept and, I will say, with even more sureness than ever. There is no factual reason for [changing it] and there is, unfortunately, in some places a lack of understanding of the different conditions our sport has in different parts of the world.”

European Bowling Tour Director Kim Thorsgaard Jensen
European Bowling Tour Director Kim Thorsgaard Jensen attributes controversy over the EBT's policy of awarding eight pins handicap per game to women competitors in part to "a lack of understanding of the different conditions our sport has in different parts of the world.”

Last spring, Jensen told BJI that, “Introducing a handicap will always for some groups feel unfair, but not having introduced it would have meant a lot fewer women competing at an international level.”

He added that, “All stops with a mixed division [combining men and women] had the handicap system from the beginning” and that some tournament organizers opted out of using it while still others went with fewer pins than eight and some as many as nine. The eight-pin handicap policy became enshrined in EBT rules in 2006 and has been established EBT procedure ever since.

“Over the years the handicap has been an item of discussion, mostly among the top male bowlers,” Jensen said. “In periods where men won most of the stops, the handicap was a nearly forgotten item, but as soon as one or two stops were won by a woman, the handicap became a ‘problem’ for some of the male bowlers again.”

In a November release announcing EBT’s decision to continue its handicap policy, Jensen wrote that, after the Euro Challenge intensified controversy about the rule, “numerous statements were seriously unfair to the women who won.”

When organizers for the Lucky Larsen Masters, a tournament that saw Jason Belmonte win his 15th PBA Tour title in 2017 and that year drew a field exceeding 460 players from 25 nations, announced it no longer would award eight pins handicap per game to women competitors, the event was dropped from the EBT’s schedule going forward.

In a release, Jensen wrote that the EBT “regrets the decision, but we do of course respect that the organizer wants to develop the tournament in a different direction.”

World Bowling CEO Kevin Dornberger said that Lucky Larsen Masters organizer Daniel Ronnback "chose the WBT over the EBT, as EBT continues to require eight pins for women." Dornberger added that, "Effective 2019, no handicap will be allowed in any WBT events."

Currently, no EBT event appears on the World Bowling Tour schedule for 2019, which thus far includes among its international stops the Lucky Larsen Masters in late August, the WBT Thailand Open in late September, and the Kuwait Open in early November.

Clark confirmed that neither the Thailand Open, which PWBA star Danielle McEwan won in 2018 for a nearly $32,000 prize after accepting the eight pins handicap per game then allowed under tournament rules, nor the Kuwait Open will offer handicap pins in 2019.

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