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Letters & Opinion

by John Riches
Australian Correspondent


Identifying flaws in the "Laws" as a prelude to amending them

After a century of evolution and refinement, there are still contradictions, questions, ambiguities, and outright mistakes in the Laws. The need for sweeping revision is the issue addressed by John Riches, chairman of the Laws Committee of the ACA, in the first of a continuing series on "The State of the Game."
Anyone who studies the laws of Association Croquet cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that they are worded in a way that makes them almost impossible to comprehend fully. They have evolved over more than a hundred years, with later additions and alterations frequently failing to take into account the full consequences of the changes. In many parts they are vague and poorly worded. In some places laws are even seen to contradict each other, and there are literally hundreds of possible situations for which the laws simply give no indication of what to do.

In fact, it says something about the general goodwill and peaceableness of the croquet fraternity that the game has been able to continue for so long without more violent arguments occurring - and they are far from unknown.

There are several compelling reasons why the laws should be seen as in need of urgent revision, including the fact that in recent years croquet tournaments have started offering prizes amounting to thousands of dollars, making it no longer satisfactory to allow situations in which the referee has to make more or less arbitrary decisions which may well decide the result of a game.


Because the laws are so complicated, most players gain the knowledge of them from other players, rather than from a study of the laws as actually stated in the Laws Book. This gives rise to many myths and incorrect ideas. Few know, for example, that in a handicap doubles game there is nothing in the laws to prevent a whole bisque from being taken as two half-bisques. In a singles game this is prevented by law 38(b), but law 43(b) specifically says that law 38(b) does not apply in handicap doubles!

Another surprise for most players is that it is quite possible that a player may not be entitled to a wiring lift, although the adversary is responsible for the position of his ball, and it would need to pass through a hoop in order to roquet the only ball open to it. Law 13(b) states that a ball is wired from another ball if any part of the hoop or peg would impede the direct course of any part of the relevant ball towards any part of the target ball; but it can be shown that if the relevant ball is centrally in front of the hoop and only fractionally clear of the hoop, it will be able to pass through the hoop without contacting the hoop, in a 'direct course' toward any part of a target ball placed at the far end of the court and more or less directly behind the hoop - a possibility which almost certainly was not considered by the lawmakers.

Many such possibilities have not been considered and explicitly incorporated into the laws. Consequently, many laws allow a variety of reasonable interpretations with vastly differing outcomes, and many of the traditionally accepted interpretations can be shown to be logically incorrect when compared with the laws as actually worded.


Part of the problem arises from the fact that there is no officially constituted international body with responsibility for oversight and interpretation of the laws. The British Croquet Association has taken upon itself a custodial role, publishing up-dated versions of the Laws book from time to time (the most recent in 1989) in somewhat loose liaison with the New Zealand Croquet Council, the Australian Croquet Association, and more recently the United States Croquet Association. This has effectively meant that alterations to the laws, and interpretations of them, can be discussed and agreed upon only once every three years, during a MacRobertson Shield competition, when it is assumed that appropriate representatives from each of the participating counties will be in attendance.

In actual fact, countries other than the host country are usually represented by anyone who happens to be there either as part of the team or on holiday, and who can be talked into attending the laws meeting. Team members and officials have a prior responsibility toward the competition rather than laws matters, and holidayers are seldom interested in spending more than a minimal amount of time discussing complicated proposed laws changes. Therefore most of the changes are made without sufficient consideration, and matters which do not lend themselves to immediate resolution are simply set aside as "too difficult".

The formation of the WCF and the introduction of World Championship events do not seem to have made much difference to the laws scene. It will apparently be some time before the WCF is able to set up a properly constituted laws body, and even then there would be doubt about whether the British CA could be compelled to hand over its presently assumed powers.

At the June 1996 World Championships in France it was reportedly decided that the Laws Chairmen of the four MacRobertson Shield countries should be seen as constituting, at least temporarily, an international committee with oversight of the laws of the game. I am one of them, and have received no contact whatever from anybody about it. I have tried to contact laws people in the other countries both individually and through their associations, and have received a reply from only one of the three countries, indicating a willingness to discuss some of the less complicated laws matters, but little interest in making any changes to the actual laws.

For those with the interest, time and patience to undertake an in-depth study of the laws and the difficulties that arise from attempting to apply them, our recently published booklet "Croquet: Problems of Laws Interpretation" will serve to at least indicate the nature of the problems, though in many cases without being able to offer any authoritative solution.

The booklet "Croquet: Problems of Laws Interpretation", 150 pages, is available to overseas purchasers at a cost of $30 Australian plus postage, from:
John Riches
26 Bowman Crescent
Enfield 5085, South Australia

E-Mail inquiries on postage, currency, etc., to:

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