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Revised rules for America, new Laws for the rest of the world
by Bob Alman
posted July 9, 2000
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Revised Laws (6th Edition), with Index and Appendices
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It's too bad the Laws of croquet can't be handed down from a mountaintop on divinely inscribed tablets, perfectly resolving every dispute, answering each question clearly and completely, addressing every possible issue. But like the civil laws, the laws of croquet are created by human beings through humanly devised processes. They are imperfect; they are subject to misinterpretation and uneven application by even the most well-meaning players and referees; they must perpetually evolve, and each evolution inevitable gives rise to new questions and uncertainties. Though the form of the "Association" game has remained virtually static for many decades, the precise wording and interpretation of the official Laws remain at issue. Despite the controversy over specific laws and the overall philosophy of the revision process, most players will agree that the new revision is an improvement. Judge for yourself by perusing the online edition.
Not since 1989 has England's Croquet Association produced a new edition of "The Laws of Association Croquet and the Regulations for Tournaments", traditionally acknowledged as the official world standard for the sport.

For the half century or so in which the MacRobertson Shield international team competition has been held between England, New Zealand, and Australia, those countries have agreed to agree on the Laws. The U.S. was included in the MacRobertson Shield for the first time in 1993. The MacRobertson Shield events, happening approximately every three years, provide the occasion for discussion and agreement on the evolution of the Laws. The English Croquet Association assumed the role of "custodian" of the laws, reflected in the makeup of the current International Laws Revision Committee, with Englishman Stephen Mulliner as Chairman of the committee. (The other members are Merv Dunkley of Australia; Graham Roberts of New Zealand, and Jerry Stark of the U.S.)

Stephen Mulliner is chairman of the International Laws Revision Committee established by the MacRobertson Shield countries.
Chairman Mulliner has presided over a prolonged and comparatively open process of discussion and debate - largely on the Nottingham Board and other email newsgroups - which has often become overheated and accusatory. The debate has been dominated by Australians Peter Olsen and John Riches, both of whom have made themselves experts in the fine points of the Laws. Riches has written volumes on the subject (see "The State of the Game"), and Peter Olsen took the trouble to self-publish his own "revised laws" to correct dozens of flaws in the official Laws and to improve the organization, presentation, and indexing. Many if not most of these improvements have been gradually incorporated in the revised Laws - but not to the extent desired by Olsen.

At issue is not only specific laws and rulings, but also the approach to be taken in undertaking a sweeping revision. Olsen strove for clarity of language and the utmost economy of verbiage, to keep the Laws brief. Mulliner's approach was to attempt to make the Laws more reader friendly not by reducing their length, but by making each section as self-contained as possible (with a minimum of cross-referencing), enabling readers to gain a complete understanding of a sub-topic without having to search through other sections of the volume.

A case can be made for either approach, and Olsen has made his case with a stridency and overstatement which has at times alienated potential allies. Nevertheless, Olsen has acknowledged in a letter to the New South Wales Association, "In spite of the problems, a vast amount of effort has been put in by many people and a lot of good work has been done. It would be a great pity if that was overshadowed by the major problems not being addressed."

Riches has adopted a more conciliatory tone, granting that the added volume of the Laws is justified by the benefits of greater clarity and improved organization.

Waiting on the sidelines: the WCF

Although World Croquet Federation president Tony Hall has publicly stated many times that the WCF should be the official organizing body of the sport in all respects, and that all the croquet-playing countries of the world should participate through the world body in revising the Laws, the WCF has diplomatically "recognized" the authority of International Laws Revision Committee to conduct its work - for the present.

And for the present, this arrangement could be a political blessing in disguise for the WCF. Making new Laws is no way to win a popularity contest, as the debate has shown.

It is possible - but unlikely - that further changes could be made in the Laws before they are committed to print within the next couple of months. Chairman Mulliner has called for comments and criticisms based on the online preview, but the wording of his request suggests that he is looking for superficial copy-editing refinements rather than structural "improvements" or substantial changes in wording.

Acknowledging that the Revised Laws cannot possibly cover all possible playing situations, the ILRC has proposed to publish, in addition to the Revised Laws, a "Talmud" of official rulings, interpretations, and analysis which over time will tend to fill in the gaps and clear up the contradictions discovered in real-life scenarios. This approach has been successfully taken in golf and other sports. The "Official Rulings on the Laws of Croquet" will be published well before September 2000, according to Mulliner.

Will Mulliner and the ILRC prevail, despite the objections of Olsen and others? Most probably. Despite an official letter from the New South Wales Association to Croquet Australia appealing to the national body to reject the new Laws, all the major national associations have agreed in principle to the proposed Revisions. In the Southern hemisphere, the Revised Laws will most probably take effect at the beginning of their playing season on September 1. The English Croquet Association at its last annual meeting authorized its Laws Committee "to approve and publish the final agreed text, to come into force within the domain on 1 January 2001, after notification in the Croquet Gazette."

In the meantime, in America...

The Rules Committee of the USCA has struggled with similar issues for almost as long as the International Laws Revision Committee, but with less sweeping results. The chairman of the USCA Rules Committee, former national champion and retired veterinarian Jim Hughes, acknowledges himself to be the protector of the status quo and defender of the rules. In contrast to the comparatively open process of the ILRC, Hughes has not participated in open debate and has in fact declined to respond to or in some cases even acknowledge questions and criticism from USCA members on specific rules issues.

In contrast to Mulliner, Hughes has rejected a proposal to put the revised rules online subject to broad review prior to publication, because, reportedly, this would be "unfair to people who are not online." After all the members of the USCA have received the printed version - which could go to press as early as August 1 - the revision can then, presumably, be displayed on the USCA Website,

Online technology can provide benefits to readers unavailable in print media. The key-word search engine is the best example of this, augmenting the index and providing in many cases quick access to information readers with printed versions could find only by thumbing through the entire volume. (This feature could reasonably be viewed as "unfair to USCA members who aren't online," but so far the Rules Committee - to their credit - has made no attempt to shut down the search engine.)

As for the printed version, because so few changes have been made in the American rules with this new edition - and none of consequence - all of this is a matter of small concern to the majority of players. The index and glossary in the old edition are both reasonably well done. Players seldom even read the sections on etiquette and custom or the rules provided for Golf Croquet or Nine-Wicket Croquet. It will be left to another committee and a future edition to undertake a serious revision of the American rules to untie the knots, clarify the language, and make the rules more user-friendly for novices and experienced players alike - as the ILRC has attempted to do with the "Association" Laws under Mulliner's direction.

The criticism leveled at Mulliner and the ILRC has been intense. Their task would have been far easier if they had followed the "closed" strategy of the USCA Rules Committee. But there is a payoff at the end of their agony: The certainty that opening up the process and inviting the scrutiny of Olsen, Riches, and other critics has helped to produce a 6th Edition of the Laws much better than it otherwise would have been.

In closing: the tenor of the debate

The following excerpt from exchanges between Peter Olsen of the Australia Laws Committee and Stephen Mulliner does not embrace all the points at issue, and is offered here only to illustrate the nature of the disagreements still unresolved. The numbered paragraphs are from Olsen. The unnumbered reposes are from Mulliner. Warning: Only those few readers with a taste for legalese should proceed.

1. Points scored for an opponent ball when playing that ball in error will count for the opponent if he does not forestall (so why would he forestall?)

It avoids cancellation of points by a discovery of an error much later in the game. Why should it be assumed that, in this rare case, the adversary will ignore his duty as a referee of the game?

2. If the striker runs a hoop and makes a roquet but does not see the roquet because he has his head down, then misses the long return roquet, it is end of turn even though the limit of claims has not expired. The opponent can quite legally look the other way after every hoop-and-roquet, hoping the above situation arises.

By whom is this situation discovered if neither the striker realises nor the adversary is looking?

3. A yardline ball no longer has to be replaced nearest to where it went out where multiple other balls interfere. In a very common situation it can be replaced over 12 inches from its correct location and in extreme cases over 21 inches away. Even in the standard case of 2 balls already in a corner, the third ball no longer has to go on the third vacant spot but can go at the other end.

Under the current laws a ball does not have to be replaced closest to where it went out when its replacement is interfered with by another ball. Instead it can be replaced on either side at the striker's option. The only exception was for corner balls. The new laws remove the exception and so extend one principle to all cases. This simplifies the laws.

4. There is no indication of exactly when the striker "quits his stance", for example if he bumps a ball while stepping back after playing a stroke. Not even the world's top lawmakers can agree.

It is a matter for the referee on the spot.

5. The opponent may read a book on tactics to decide which stroke to play next.

Correct. As he has always been able to under the current laws.

6. Either player may use a computer for playing advice.

Not the striker. See Law 50(b).

7. It is a fault if the striker touches his own ball to move it into position for a croquet stroke before quitting his stance from the previous stroke.

Correct. This is indistinguishable from retouching during the striking period which is a fault.

8. It is illegal for the opponent to assist the striker by offering genuine advice, even in social play. In tournament play an infringement will lead to possible disqualification according to the ILRC.

Correct. Advice can be indistinguishable from gamesmanship.

9. Playing to a time limit in a non-tournament game is illegal.

The players can do what they wish. They can always treat their game as a match covered by Law 53.

10. The new laws are 50% longer than the old ones and significantly more complex.

No. 40%, simpler and much easier to read.

11. The current laws use a simple form of cross-reference, for example "subject to (1) above". Under the new laws that becomes: "Subject to Law 28(h)(1)". The reader flicks the pages looking for Law 28, then (h) then (1), only to discover that it is the immediately preceding paragraph.

Only if he does not realise that he is already looking at Law 28.

12. Taking croquet from the wrong ball will be end of turn if it is a dead (used) ball but if it is a live ball there is no penalty. Intended to cater for an extremely rare situation where the striker gains a significant advantage as a result, but the change will simply penalise inexperienced players and make the laws more complex.

No. The laws are simpler than old Law 30(a).

13. If the striker is about to take croquet from the wrong ball, then if it is a live ball, the opponent must forestall immediately. If it is a dead ball, he must not forestall. If he doesn't know whether it is live or dead, he won't know whether to forestall or not.

No. If he is not sure, he should not forestall. See ORLC [Official Rulings on the Laws of Croquet.]

14. If the striker commits an error (eg. plays a wrong ball etc.) and is then about to run the wrong hoop or play the wrong ball a second time, the opponent must not forestall. He has to let him play the stroke, then it gets canceled anyway.

No. He must forestall immediately. See Law 23(b).

15. If the striker is about to run the wrong hoop because the opponent misplaced a clip, the opponent is banned from forestalling until after he runs the wrong hoop. The stroke then gets canceled anyway due to the replay.

Yes. So what? In many cases the running of the wrong hoop will not be caused by a misplaced clip.

16. If the opponent whistles, waves or screams at the striker he has not forestalled play. Those actions are an attempt to gain the striker's attention, not request "that play cease".

No. A request to cease play can take more than one form. It may properly begin by calling out the striker's name.

17. If the opponent asks: "Did that ball move?" after a fine take-off, the striker can play on and ignore him until after the limit of claims. That is a question about the state of the game, not a "request that play cease".

There is an obvious implication that the adversary wants the striker to stop play and answer the question.

18. The laws do not cater for forestalling in a situation where calling out would be likely to distract a player from a double-banked game in the middle of a critical stroke.

Agreed. This has never been a problem in the past.

19. Changing the rotational alignment of a roqueted ball is still illegal and has now been expanded to cover additional situations. The whole requirement should be removed.

No. It is limited now to peeling situations (as suggested by P. Olsen).

20. There is no indication of what happens if the striker plays, or roquets, or takes croquet from, or sets up beside a ball from a double banked game which he mistakes for one of his own.

No. Law 7 states that such a ball is an outside agency. Doing anything with it does not constitute a stroke.

21. The laws do not ban ball tampering (applying grease etc.) and the ILRC has claimed that it is permissible.

This is not a real issue. Law 55 could be used if necessary.

22. The striker gets a replay if a hoop is slightly too tight and a ball jams in the hoop, but if a hoop is so tight that it is impossible for a ball to even jam, let alone pass through it, there is no replay.

No. If the hoop is too narrow to admit the ball on any axis and the referee is satisfied on the evidence that the striker has played a plausible hoop stroke, he could award a replay under Law 55.

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