During the International Referees Meeting at Bunbury one of the things we addressed was the question; "What do the players expect of referees?
While this is a valid question, it can be answered only after a wider, broader question is put: "What is the future of the game? Who is the game for? Do we want the sport to grow? Do we want it to appeal to a wider audience?"
We need to consider two widely separate groups of players:
The elite group clearly do not see the need for formal referees. One UK player summed up the Australian practice of trying to have a referee [on call] for each court as "weird". In our ignorance and isolation we traditionally assumed that we were doing the correct thing and showing proper respect and courtesy to elite players.
This no doubt stems, in part, from the fact that few Australians are "croquet only" players, accustomed to having referees for all the other games we all have played - Squash, Tennis, Cricket, Football, Basketball - all requiring referees as an indispensable part of any serious contest.
In Australia, we are sure that players at 4+ bisques do need refereeing and particularly the players over 10 warmly appreciate referees, as they far too often do not know what to do and need the referee's input.
"Witness my claim to refereeing fame at Bunbury"
The interaction between elite players and the referee is almost non-existent. Witness my great claim to fame: At Bunbury, after Mulliner had performed a TPO on Fulford and pegged him out, he then pegged himself out, leaving the other two clips on hoop 1. As I hadn't been called at all in the previous game and not for this one so far, I had lapsed into a mind-numbing state, despite the clinical perfection and beauty of the Mulliner performance; my duty seemed to be confined to checking the hoops between each of these best-of-five games.
In this state, I dutifully trotted out onto the court and kicked Fulford's ball off and started to check the hoops. I realised my mistake only when I heard some strangled gurgles from Fulford.
My first reaction was an impulse to find some quiet, dark space and commit Hari-Kari - but after deep consideration, I decided that was the easy way out, and I would inflect a fate worse than death on myself by continuing to be a referee.
This mind-numbed state stems from the expectation that you will seldom if ever be called.
The Fulford /Mulliner match came to an end with the usual clinical, methodical, surgical precision we have come to expect of Fulford; the match virtually petered out - almost boring.
The moment for grand theatre - in arguably the most important moment in the most important match of 1997 between two latter day giants of the game - was lost!
The peg-out: an occasion for grand theatre
Just for the moment imagine this possible fictitious scenario: The Player runs Rover, roquets an opponent's ball, the audience's body movement starts - the player takes off to a rush position on his partner ball (also a rover) -slowly turns and majestically raises his mallet - the referee rises and walks onto the court - this is somehow a signal for increased agitation amongst the spectators, who now have the time to rustle in their bags for cameras - many leave their seats and move courtside to gain the best photo position - the player roquets and sets up the final easy peel - the referee takes position at the peg - crowd rustles - player resumes - the referee checks to see that the balls are actually touching - the spectators look at one another - "What is he doing"? - "Is there a problem?" - anticlimax - nerves - cameras out - the whiz of film being advanced - cameras focused (old cameras only)- the delay has allowed the loser to control his shakes and reduce the size of the lump in his throat - the final pegout! - a cheer - the winner extends his hand to the referee - "Isn't he such a nice polite chap" say all the ladies - loser rushes forward to winner, hand extended, and with relief quickly turns to shake the referee's hand (this allows only the minimum of time to eyeball the victor) - before the vanquished darts off the court, the referee arranges them in a photo pose for the hysterical fans now surging forward, their enthusiasm having been honed to fever pitch by the thrilling theatrical climax of the pegout ceremony.
Another benefit of including the referee is seen after the cork popping, when the victor says all the polite words; the referee's presence is a good reminder to spin out the acceptance speech with a eulogy on the referee, as it is often hard for the victor to find suitable words for comment on the loser.
So where is refereeing going? That is really a matter the various Associations must consider. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to get good referees to work while their presence is not made welcome. We know that will not change until the status of referees is raised. This won't happen until the performance of existing referees is raised. Performance will not be raised until referees can read the Laws and Regulations and understand them. This cannot happen be until the Laws are readable and all the unwritten "understandings" that are known to only a few insiders in the elite group (and not all of them understand either!) are written down. Catch 22!
"Croquet is okay."
[Copyright 1998 Owen Edwards, E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org]
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