Natalie Melmore wants more support for elite bowlers

Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Natalie Melmore says the sport must do more to keep elite players in the UK.

Melmore, who will play in the Atlantic Rim tournament this weekend in Cyprus, is going to move to Australia in order to play professionally.

"The elite level of bowls isn't being touched on at all and they're the people they're going to lose," Devon-born Melmore told BBC South West.

"They're going to want to go elsewhere to make any money out of it."

The 22-year-old added: "I'm planning to go over to Australia early next year because I can get paid to play over there."

Melmore, who claimed took gold in Delhi last year will also represent England in the Champion of Champions tournament in Hong Kong in November.

But Bowls England chief executive Tony Allcock says there simply is not the money in the sport to help finance every player.

He told BBC South West that the only funding outdoor bowls gets is for the Commonwealth Games.

"Bowls as a sport, other than that, gets no performance funding whatsoever," he said.

"The players have enjoyed that type of funding for Commonwealth Games, but when we're sending them out to World Championships they have to fund their expenses out of their own pocket."

And Allcock has welcomed Melmore's planned move to Australia.

"Australia has a lot more opportunities and it's good that Natalie wants to make that choice in terms of her own development," he added.

"New South Wales, as a state, is bigger than Britain bowls-wise.

"But a lot of the players are still subsidised by their own clubs and they have to work as a bar staff or help on the greens."

But Melmore says that without financial support, Bowls England will not get the best out of their players.

"It obviously gets frustrating because they expect no less from you working full-time and playing bowls as well four or five times a week."

And Melmore is also critical of Sport England's decision to hand £750,000 of funding to over-65s, rather than to younger players.

"I've worked quite hard this year to raise the profile of bowls and try and make people understand that it is a game for younger people," she said.

"For them to focus all their money and attention on the over 50's because they want to keep the older people active is very frustrating."

But Susan Cooper, the manager of the Bowls Development Alliance, says the funding is targeted to help older people stay healthy.

"Our funding is specifically to drive up participation for over-65s," she said.

"The reason for that is that bowls is thought of as one of the few sports that can keep the nation active for longer."

Cooper also pointed out that the sport does have roadshows and outreach programmes aimed at younger players.

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