THE HILDITCH REPORT #1
(London, October 1996)
Why aren't there more top
A PROFILE OF THE WRITER
women croquet players?
by Richard Hilditch
MEN AND WOMEN IN OTHER SPORTS
By "top players" I am referring to those within a couple of bisques of the
best player within their country. Although this question might seem to be of
only academic interest, I hope to demonstrate that in trying to answer it we
can learn a bit more about the nature of our sport.
At the risk of being apologetic, I must say that this article would be more
authoritative if it were written by a top woman player. I refer readers to
the comments of Debbie Cornelius on competitive croquet in her courtside
Clearly croquet is not an activity where a man has an inherent advantage
over a woman by virtue of being bigger or stronger. (I exclude the case of
lawns that are too slow to play on without excessive force.) Indeed, I
believe that the psychologists tell us that a woman is better at delicate
tasks by virtue of having smaller hands; so women have an advantage in some
cases, such as playing close hoop positions.
Obviously there are few other physical sports where this is true (I
exclude here games like bridge and chess which require no physical effort at
all, although there may be endurance factors to consider). Other such sports
These sports share with croquet:
- Lawn bowls
- Ten-pin bowling
- Pool or snooker.
Since all of these other sports are also dominated at the top level by
men, we may be looking for a common trend (several of these sports are
typically played as single sex, but the performance of men is consistently
higher than women).
THE HISTORY OF MEN AND WOMEN IN CROQUET
- No direct interaction with the opponent (unlike, say, tennis or football).
- Skill rather than strength being required.
In the croquet history books we read of men and women sharing in the
early social croquet scene. Prichard (in "The History of Croquet") reproduces
several early prints showing mixed games. Tellingly, he also reproduces
a photo (page 42) showing the players at the British Open Championships
in 1870, there are no women in the photo.
It is true that in the Victorian and Edwardian eras women had to contend
with at least two significant hurdles before they could become any good at
We have now overcome the first of these hurdles, and hopefully the second
is of lesser effect (although no doubt still true).
"What about some of the legendary figures of the past?" I hear you cry.
There have been a few women who have equaled and dominated their fellow male
players at times - such as Lily Gower (later Mrs Beaton) and D.D. Steel.
These players, however, great though they must have been, represent an
exception. Look at these figures taken from Prichard's book ("The History of
Croquet") for the percentage of women playing in the top invitation event in
Britain (now called the President's Cup):
- Their clothing only allowed them to play golf style, with the mallet
leaning away from the body. This style does not allow the sort of accuracy
needed for croquet (although golfers seem to cope in their sport!)
- Male domination in society.
The percentages are of course on the up again, with Debbie Cornelius a
clearly established President's cup player. But she is alone at the top,
with no other current female player close to her status.
- 1901-1914 9%
- 1929-1938 18%
- 1946-1965 23%
- 1966-1985 1% (one lone entry from a New Zealander)
Is the problem that there are very few good women because there are very
few women in croquet? Clearly not. Many clubs have more women players than
men. Indeed, when I was in Australia I was told that earlier in the century,
clubs were often organized for women only (with men playing in single-sex
bowls clubs). Even now women dominate the administration of the sport in
Australia and New Zealand, but the top players there are mostly men.
Is the problem that women are simply not good at sport?
I don't think that this is the answer. If we look at the examples of
tennis, golf, athletics and swimming (all sports not in the category of
croquet as defined above) we see excellence being achieved often in a
MY OWN OPINIONS
Having eliminated many possible reasons, I shall now propose two principle
reasons to explain the imbalance in achievement levels between the sexes at
the top levels of croquet:
(1) Croquet is a sport for nerds
I use the American term 'nerd' as it probably fits better than the terms we
have used previously - such as 'character' or 'eccentric'. One of the
central tenets of Nick Smith's book ("Queen of Sports: The History of
Croquet) is that croquet attracts such 'nerds'. The thinly veiled title
"Sport of Queens" (sic.) points out another social connection that is,
perhaps, best left unexplored. Since nerds are (almost by definition)
male, it's easy to see, if one accepts the premise, why there are very
few good players who are women.
(2) Women do not like to think while participating in sport.
Croquet is clearly a sport that requires thinking as well as the other elements
that sports require (physical control, concentration, etc.). I do not mean
that women are in any way weaker than men intellectually, but that women
prefer to use their intellect on more important things. To see this effect,
consider how men take a huge interest in the statistics of sports they are
watching on TV (baseball is the best example). I suspect that this leaves most
women cold. I suspect that the thinking element of our game is what puts off
most beginners - but that it is also what attracts the key future players
(who will be, in the main, male nerds).
Those of you who have been following my train of thought will spot that
these two reasons do not apparently apply to the other "similar" sports that
I identified above. Do these sports have problems of their own (e.g. darts
requires large quantities of beer to play) or have I missed the point?
WHAT CAN WE DO TO RECTIFY THIS
I can see two immediate ideas that may allow us to work towards a more
equitable sex balance at the top:
OTHER "REASONS" - BEER GUTS AND WIGGLING HIPS
- - Focus recruitment on the intellectual class. I believe that the
correct time to get people into croquet is at University (graduate
school would be the US equivalent). The key is to get mixed sex peer
groups interested. Obviously a local club trying to get players this way
will struggle with the turnover, but in the long term there will be more
- - Switch to a less intellectual version of the game such as golf
croquet. I hasten to say that I do not advocate this myself. It would be
interesting to see the number of women playing in Egypt where virtually
all croquet is golf croquet. I believe that the Egyptian players at the
recent World Championships were all men.
The following two suggestions come from some of the players I asked at a
On that absurd note, I leave this analysis and hope to widen my opinion
poll to include you and other readers. Why aren't there more top women
croquet players? E-mail your best opinions and observations on the subject to
the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Women are no good at croquet because they do not have the beer guts
required by the modern test player (see pictures of the Great Britain
team). The theory is that the beer gut forces the arms into a good stroke.
Since men are far more likely to have beer guts, they are far more likely to
excel at croquet. In order to test this hypothesis we need to get information
from pregnant women playing croquet, or perhaps to run a 'pillow tournament'
where players can wear pillows under their shirts if they need to match up to
the better endowed!
- Women are no good at croquet because when they walk their hips
wiggle, which makes it impossible to stalk to the ball properly.