Lawn Bowls / No Mere Desert Mirage

A Scottish member of the international peacekeeping force in Sinai fulfills his dream of building a bowling green for his adopted sport.

If all goes well, Israel's lawn bowlers will have a new opponent to play this fall - the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai. Norman Spiro, former president of the Israel Lawn Bowls Association, longtime enthusiast and Anglo File Sports contributor, said yesterday the association sent out an invitation to the team from the multinational force asking them when a good time would be for them to come up to Israel and play.

Robert Hatrick
Sharon Hart

The driving force behind the multinational's team is Robert "Rab" Hatrick, a Scotsman who has been serving there since 2000. He oversaw this spring the completion of a bowling green that helps him continue playing the sport he enjoyed in his homeland.

Hatrick, 50, says his original sport was soccer but "then I got too old, so I joined the Governor's Club." He is a long-standing member of the Greenoch club, just south of Glasgow, 26 miles down the river. He says he immediately fell in love with the game and was fairly successful locally with a couple of championships and district tournaments. Just when he got to a reasonable level, he joined the Sinai contingent at the North Camp in El Gorah.

The MFO, an independent international organization with peacekeeping responsibilities in Sinai, grew out of Annex I to the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, in which the parties undertook to request the United Nations to provide a force and observers to supervise the treaty's implementation. The parties established the MFO as an alternative to the UN force that failed to materialize. Twelve nations contribute to the contingent overlooking the implementation of the treaty's security clauses.

Hatrick, who is married with two children aged 20 and 16, says he applied online to be procurement manager after leaving Compaq and thought he'd come for just a little while. "But this place gets a hold of you," he said. He calls the camp "a very small piece of hope," a place where he interacts with people that he'd otherwise have no chance of meeting. The downside is that families are not allowed, so he visits Scotland on a regular basis.

After his arrival, Hatrick says he kept talking to people at the camp, where there are well over 100 civilians, until he finally secured funding to build a bowling green. The camp has a morale support group, but most of the committee is made up of Americans who have never heard of the game. The camp has several facilities, such as tennis and rugby, whose contingents get invited to Israel, Cairo or Alexandria. "I don't know how, but we got it done," he says.

Using soldiers as voluntary labor, Hatrick says he managed to buy everything in local markets. The camp has a contingent of Uruguayan road engineers who helped lay down the tiles to get a flat, 40 meter by 60 meter surface. On top, he and a friend spent a couple of months putting down some rows of felt bought in Cairo. "It's not actually bowling material but it's pretty close," he says.

The result is a more modest version of the "If you build it, they will come" field of dreams, replacing an old volleyball court. "We had a lot of strange looks," says Hatrick of the final product.

"Soldiers from Fiji, Columbia and Uruguay never saw it before, but they've all been trying it." He added: "The director general popped his head in to see this big green square in the middle of a desert," and "liked it a lot." Right now, the green is for civilians only.

The green will likely wear out in six months or a year, but Hatrick says he hopes that if it proves popular he'll be able to find a company to build "the real deal" when the time comes.

Hatrick said last week that his group just held a singles tournament. Playing a round robin format in very hot conditions, participants hailed from Britain, Canada, Australia, Fiji, Italy, New Zealand, the U.S. and Uruguay. Howard Blatch, an Englishman currently residing in Israel, defeated American Jim Haines and was presented with a Scottish Quaich as first prize.

The group is now setting up its first pairs tournament, which will be played at night under floodlights "as it is very, very hot at the moment," Hatrick said. "We're looking forward to holding trials, which we will have before coming to Israel to play as we have a very good core of good players now from various countries who are very keen to play in a formal friendly there."

"The group which has picked the game up the quickest is our American contingent," he notes.

The multinational force hopes to play both in Ramat Gan and Ra'anana. Spiro says the association will decide the makeup of the teams to face the MFO.

As for the locals, Hatrick says the Egyptian civilians are curious when they walk past the green. "They kind of smile," he says. "When I tell them it's an old Egyptian game they like it more. I don't think they really know what it is." He adds the locals aren't playing yet, but their eventual participation may be a possibility, "if they get keen on it."