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The view from here:
cracking croquet's public image
by Bob Alman, Editor
Posted August 24, 1998

The players are old, stuffy, genteel, mostly wealthy; the game is tedious, slow, inpenetrably mysterious - but in a dull way. That's the image we've learned to live with, which we have too often seen reflected in the mainstream press. But this summer, the public media have discovered a few new ideas and images, perhaps inspired by some genuine shifts in attititude revealed by national associations and the croquet press

Local color in New Zealand and Palm Beach

Who would have expected staid, conservative New Zealand to lead the way to a brighter, more contemporary image for the sport? But with the recent revolutionary leap into the future we recently reported - including retiring the all-white clothing standard - the Kiwi's have fully earned the credit. How else could we explain a startling change of heart of Palm Beach croquet society: movers and shakers in USCA headquarters territory have confirmed their willingness to surrender the all-white standard - and a couple of other standards as well - in an effort to persuade the city fathers of West Palm Beach to give their blessing to the building of five croquet courts on two acres of their 30-acre city park. It's all reported in the PALM BEACH POST. Phil Currington, president of the Florida section of the USCA, has gotten together private commitments of $250,000 to build the courts, and he's only asking the city to maintain them for the public, once built.

The paper reports that the association "wants to build the sport's popularity by bringing it to communities of different races, incomes, and ages." Everybody would be welcome to play, and they wouldn't have to wear white from head to toe, except in tournaments. And the USCA would supply all the equipment and a teacher a couple of times a week. If the city commissioners buy this pitch, the five-lawn facility would set a new American standard for public courts, as the largest municipal croquet facilities currently have only two lawns - in Houston and San Francisco.

Gateball: Asia's croquet for the masses spreads south and east

While "proper" croquet tries to put on a new public face in the U.S., the plainly plebian "Gateball" claims six million players in Japan, and several other millions in China - subject of a prominent article in the August 14th NEW YORK TIMES, entitled, "In China, There's Nothing Courtly About Croquet." This scaled-down, four-wicket teamsport has begun to make inroads in other Pacific countries, and Australia, for one, has chosen to embrace the invasion rather than to ignore or resist it.

Editor Wendy Davidson wrote in the current issue of CROQUET AUSTRALIA, "I believe Gateball has an exciting future in schools, and for social groups such as church and service clubs looking for a different activity, and in time as an Australia-wide sport under the umbrella of the ACA." The ACA has joined the World Gateball Union and hopes to send a team to the first world championships in Hawaii later this year. That's all very well, but please, Wendy: Don't let them call it "croquet," okay?

The post-Aparteid croquet image in South Africa

The cover of the September issue of the South Africa CROQUET CHRONICLE presents a startling image unthinkable a few short years ago: two smiling, youthful black Africans (dressed in white). Inside, they are identified as "Lydia Mhlanga and George Mabaso, respectively security chief and head groundsman at CCJ." The note explains, "After only six months in croquet [the pair] showed great form in the 2nd Gauteng Championships." (Gauteng is the new name for the central part of the old Transvall covering Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Soweto. Guatang will host the South African International Croquet Festival in February of 1999, organized by Chris Bennett, who has promised CROQUET WORLD a picture article on croquet in South Africa in the post-Apartied era.)

The same issue reported that croquet was featured on the "Breakfast Club" - one of the most popular programs on SATV2 - with Wynand Louw and Mark Suter among those describing to the TV audience how newcomers to the sport are made welcome.

Breakfast with the Beast

Meanwhile, a flurry of public media reportage in Britain linked croquet with prominent celebrities, exciting public interest to the extent that David Maugham, aka "The Beast of Bowdon" was invited onto Channel 4's "Big Breakfast" program for an interview. Richard Hilditch felt constrained to go an the Nottingham Board to declare that quotes attributed to him in the London EXPRESS were not accurate. Furthermore, he declared of Maugham's appearance, "The TV interview was fine within the context of a program that appears to be aimed at an IQ of 80 with an age range of 16-18." However, Hilditch will allow that "any publicity is generally useful even if it is inaccurate or patronising."

This is a near-universal law of publicity. By providing contrasts to the existing public image of croquet, "the Beast of Bowdon" - a perfectly fine chap no doubt, but obviously not "public school" - provides the same publicity benefit in Britain as does Mik Mehas, America's "bad boy" of croquet, who was featured in a brief and quite silly item in the July issue of PLAYBOY about "people who break the rules." All of this foolishness is good publicity - and once in while, an accurate, balanced, intelligent article on the sport actually makes it into a major magazine, like the lavish spread on the "real game" in the July issue of ESQUIRE.

Coming up on TV this fall: "Postcards" and Discovery Channel

Having been burned in the past, John Riches is optimistic about a segment for "Postcards" filmed in South Australia at his Adelaide club in mid-August. ("Postcards" is a hip thirty-minute travelogue, internationally syndicated.) "We are confident," says he, "that they will treat the game seriously this time, rather than making fun of it. Yeah, sure, we hope you're right, John. That's what the folks at Discovery Channel told me when they spent half a day taping for a 6-minute segment to be aired on the network 12 times beginning in October. We shall see.

That's the news: Now here's the editoral

The real danger of all this positive publicity is, of course, that more people will be driven by healthy curiousity to come out and watch croquet at a local club - a sport which is certainly very interesting to see, but as the saying goes, not quite as interesting as watching grass grow.

These prospective croquet players - in all their innocent enthusiasm - will come to your club looking for some straightforward action, some hands-on play, with the same level of interaction they have easily understood in other sports - in football, basketball, tennis, hockey, volleyball: sports with the obvious and immediate object of getting the ball over the goalpost, through the basket, over the net, into the cage or...through the hoop!

Please don't disappoint them! Throw away the half-hour lecture. Give them a mallet, let them hit a croquet ball through a hoop. Then show them some rules for a game they can quickly understand and appreciate - a game that is already much more tactically involved than any of those other sports, but which is still within the realm of comprehension at first exposure, because it is sensibly concentrated on GETTING THE BALL THROUGH THE HOOP.

No, I'm not talking about Gateball. I'm proposing Golf Croquet. (They'll see "real" croquet on your other court, so you won't have lost the one-in-fifty who will not be satisfied until he can do a full-court pass roll. You couldn't chase away that kind of fanatic with a big stick, so don't worry about it.)

And please: don't make them wear white from head to foot, okay? At least not until you get their membership dues.

The press is being good to us lately - all around the globe. They're sending us potential croquet players. They want to play, they want to have a good time. Why not let them?

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