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Aligning the separate agendas of the MacRobertson Shield countries and the World Croquet Federation is likely to be a difficult task, as the MacRobertson representatives' proposals draw a pointed retort from WCF president Fred Rogerson.

Representatives of the four MacRobertson Shield Countries met at Chelteham during the 1996 MacRobertson Shield Test Series which ended there on July 4th, to discuss proposals prepared by the croquet associations of England and Australia aimed at making the MacRobertson the officially recognized world team championship.

While the WCF's explicit goal has been to promote croquet worldwide by having the broadest possible representation, the consensus of the MacRoberton teams' representatives favors limiting the final competition in a "world team championship" to a maximum of four countries with 6 players each (as the most recent Macrobertson Shield was configured), but with a shorter duration than the 1996 three-weeks-long marathon.


To give emerging croquet countries a chance to qualify, some of the MacRobertson representatives suggested that a qualifying competition might be held alongside each MacRobertson Shield competition. Unresolved was the question of whether the weakest team - currently the United States - could be challenged before the next MacRobertson in New Zealand in the year 2000, or whether a "qualifying competition" held concurrently with the Test Series could produce a challenger to "face off" with the weakest team in the year 2000 to determine the fourth place for the following MacRobertson series.

The group, in the report of their meeting, expressed their willingness to devise a format that would allow all countries to genuinely compete for a place in the final Test Series, but "without compromising the standard of the event."

The issue of "composite teams" comprised of more than one member organization of the WCF also consumed discussion time. There are several separate member organizations of the WCF representing segments of the British Isles (the most important being England, Scotland, and Wales), which are considered all one unit for the purposes of MacRobertson Shield team selection. If the MacRobertson is to be declared the official world team championship of the WCF, all the constituent members would, presumably, be eligible to field a team. Unless some new and special rules are made to prevent it, conceivably Wales - for example- could displace the United States as the fourth MacRobertson team. This is an eventuality almost everyone would prefer to avoid.


The thorniest issue, however, is one of finances. The World Croquet Federation is asking for a licence fee of 20,000 pounds in exchange for granting the MacRobertson Shield official and exclusive rights to the "World Team Championship", while the MacRobertson representatives are suggesting that this recognition should be given freely - because, they say, the MacRobertson is already the world team championship in fact, though not in name.

The financial aspect of the discussions has particularly drawn the ire of WCF president Fred Rogerson, who commented at length in his column in the July issue of WORLD CROQUET, the newsletter of the WCF.

"It appears from the report of their meeting," Rogerson says, 'that the MacRobertson Shield countries want to: take the 'World Team Championship' title from the WCF; dictate when and where the Championships can be played, the size of teams, and the format of the matches; dictate whether or not two or more WCF members can enter as one team; hold the rights to the title; pay the WCF not a single penny; not allow the minor countries to enter; and effectively prohibit a truly worldwide competition.


"This does nothing to improve world croquet from its present position," Rogerson continues, "whilst taking away the WCF's most valuable asset - a "World Title" - which we insist should not be sold for less than $20,000 in the case of a Singles event."

In the Commonwealth countries, recognition by the acknowledged world organizing body - in this instance, the World Croquet Federation - is not simply an honorary gesture; such recognition carries with it a much increased level of funding from governments who support their teams as a matter of national policy and native pride. (The United States is the only team which would not benefit from the WCF recognition, as US federal and state governments provide no subsidies for national teams under any circumstances.)


Rogerson sums up what he sees as a bad deal for the WCF and world croquet in these words: "The only beneficiaries seem to be the MacRobertson Shield teams, who stand to get more state funding because of the world title, whilst proposing to put nothing back into the development of the game worldwide.

"The MacRobertson Shield countries hold a very powerful position within the WCF. Together they can out-vote the rest of the world. It is therefore of fundamental importance that they take a responsible attitude to their role within the WCF, and keep in focus our primary goal of developing croquet on a worldwide basis."


Although his criticisms of the initial proposals of the MacRobertson representatives are sharp, Rogerson says that he welcomes the debate, confessing that his "knee-jerk" reaction is not representative of WCF management but may serve to "rattle the cages a little."

Rogerson's comments have clearly drawn the lines of a debate which may continue for a long time. It is an old debate in a new form, expressing a natural conflict of interest between the champions who are strongly focused on competing at top level and the organizers who see their primary goal as broadening the sport's appeal. But both sides can surely agree that the official "World Team Croquet Championship" should be organized as a primary image-builder for the developing world sport.

Because the MacRobertson Shield already is the "de facto" world team championship, official recognition by the WCF will only enhance its stature as a vehicle for publicity and financial sponsorship, while calling forth a bonanza of much-needed goverrment support for the event and for croquet. Both sides have much to gain by coming to an amicable agreement.

Rogerson himself is optimistic that such an agreement can be reached. His WORLD CROQUET column concludes, "I hope that all our member organizations round the world will consider carefully the issues involved and let the [WCF] Management Committee have their deliberations as soon as possible."

Representing the member countries in the talks at Chelteham were two national presidents, Ian Reid of Australia and Edwina Thompson of New Zealand; from England, Bill Lamb, CA Chairman of Council, Colin Irwin, Chris Clarke, and Steven Comish; John Prince and Tony Stephens from New Zealand; from Australia, Peter Tavender and Tony Hall, president of the New South Wales association; Rhys Thomas, U.S. MacRobertson team manager; and Chris Hudson, Secretary General of the WCF.

- Bob Alman

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