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1998: A Year To Remember?

by Peter Payne
Posted January 13, 1999

As one of croquet's most widely traveled competitors, Peter Payne has gained a broad world view of the sport, which he has shared in numerous Internet dispatches from points as diverse as Bunbury, Cairo, and Leamington Spa. He lives in Switzerland and is secretary of the European Croquet Federation.

Without wishing to belittle all the tournament winners and other croquet players' efforts, I would venture that the 1998 season will probably not go down in the history books for any particular sporting performances on the field, but rather for a host of events that took place far removed from mallet and hoops. There was no WCF (Association Croquet) World Championship, nor any MacRob to provide a focal point to the season, and certain enthusiasts appeared to spend more time in front of their computer screen than on the lawns! But the apparent lack of sporting intensity was more than made up for, if perhaps in a rather more subtle manner, by the goings on in committee rooms and on the Internet.

If there is a single happening that stands out, however, it must be the emergence of golf croquet as a serious competitive and globally accepted sport. No longer do the better association croquet players have to hide the fact that they may enjoy the odd game of golf croquet. No longer do club members have to blushingly admit that they "only" play golf croquet. Not only has golf croquet come of age, it also has a few lessons that it can teach the die-hard association croquet aficionados.

Golf Croquet grabs The limelight

Following the use of Egyptian rules in the 1997 World Championship in Cairo, the WCF Golf Croquet Working Party came up with a completely new code of rules for the 1998 Leamington Spa World Championship. In six months, and working solely through the medium of E-mail, the seven members from six countries, spanning four continents, took the best from the Egyptian, English, American and Australian rules to create a set of rules that they thought would be acceptable to players, referees and spectators alike.

The rules of no sport are perfect, and the new golf croquet rules
were no exception. With the experience of the Leamington event behind them, the Working Party took a further couple of months to improve their work, quite radically in parts, and also took the opportunity to cover doubles and handicap play. Already adopted by many associations, these rules are fast becoming the truly international rules of golf croquet and the WCF will have to make sure that a suitable process is put into place to continue the improvement of the rules and their dissemination in the future. Perhaps it is too much to ask that the rules of association croquet be given the same treatment someday?

Resplendent with its new rules, golf croquet enjoyed a spectacular World Championship in Leamington Spa and, although the (English) Croquet Association declined to participate in the organization, a certain number of CA members put in many hours, days and weeks of hard work to organize the event, under the banner of the WCF. New National Championships are sprouting up all over the globe, and the Yorkshire International Open attracted several players from Egypt, offering 350 ($580) in prize money. In 1999, that is being increased to 525 ($870), making it the richest golf croquet tournament in the calendar.

Prize money beckons

Prize money has been another of the successes of the 1998 season, with an ever increasing number of events offering larger and larger purses. In North America and Australia especially, it is becoming the norm for tournaments to offer attractive winnings, and other countries are not far behind, with prize money on offer in Jersey and Ireland, a meter of triple brewed beer in Belgium (!) and so on. Although some people may find this mildly distasteful, with so many more events to choose from, organizers are obliged to offer incentives if they wish for their own particular tournament to be well frequented. An important side-effect is that the media are more likely to take croquet seriously, if they know that serious prizes are up for grabs.

What of the media?

The media interest in croquet has, as usual, had its ups and downs over the year. The Internet match between Australia's Peter Olsen and Canada's Steve Dimond was a brave attempt to put croquet on the cybermap. Whether anyone will wish to give it another try however, is not clear. Technical problems prevented England's Stephen Mulliner from participating in what should have been a triangular challenge, and the sheer inanity of the exercise for any purpose other than the potential of media interest, probably means that most players will still prefer to travel to their tournaments in cars, trains and airplanes, rather than challenge virtual opponents via the information highway!

If the world was unsurprisingly not inundated with televised croquet with the advent of digital transmissions, the written press was slightly more forthcoming. There was the usual mixture of serious and futile articles, with the highlight possibly being the excellent piece written in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal by Peter Goldstein. Elsewhere, the Belgians appear to have a knack of getting well written and informative articles into all the right publications, and clubs and associations across the world continue to plug their local press for the right to see croquet in print. The saga of Tom [Cruise] & Nicole [Kidman] and their apparent efforts to "crash" Hurlingham amused many of us, throwing up some interesting questions concerning the benefits (or not, as the case may be) of "celebrity" interest in croquet.

One medium which does seem to have more than its fair share of croquet related matter is the Internet, where croquet belies its avowed status as a minor sport with a multitude of attractive, well documented and useful websites. The lively banter on the Nottingham (and sometimes Wyoming) Board proves that croquet is alive and kicking. So much so, in fact, that a little less of the kicking would probably be welcomed by more than one! But we should be proud of the democracy we have on the Boards, where beginners and world champions, players and administrators, and anyone with an interest in the sport can have their say. There are few other sports in the world that can boast that possibility. Long may it last.

Coloured Whites

The Great White Debate continued. To calls from several quarters to "modernize" the game by doing away with the all white regulation, came counter-calls to maintain the status quo, thus preserving the apparently endearing visual effect of white on green. Although croquet will probably never go so far as volleyball, with its regulation side-split, very short shorts for women, nor even as far as cricket, with its "pajama" games, there is undoubtedly some latitude for a limited relaxation of the present regulations.

New Zealand, not often a world leader, surprised more than one when the national governing body, Croquet New Zealand, scrapped the regulation altogether, replacing it with a bland "Clothing worn on the lawns should be of a reasonable standard", leaving local associations and clubs to decide for themselves how stringent they wished to be. Was this the end of the world, as we know it? Well, not really! In fact, it appears that most players were quite content to continue wearing all white , leaving it to a small minority to take advantage of the new liberalism. The rest of us could learn a lot from the Kiwis' pragmatism.

Popularity grows In Europe

In my own particular corner of the globe, Europe, the sport continues to grow. Two new national associations (Germany and the Isle of Man) joined the European Croquet Federation (known by its French initials; FEC), bringing the total to 14, with a fifteenth applicant pending (Luxembourg). More croquet than ever was played on the continent, with a new triangular tournament played between the national teams of Belgium, Italy and Switzerland, as well as a whole list of other international confrontations. More and more individual events are also seeing the light of day, and even more are expected in 1999.

The European Championship was initially abandoned, for the first time since its inception in 1993, when plans to hold the event in Italy fell through. However the Jersey Croquet Club came in with an eleventh hour offer and, in the space of five weeks, managed to organize an excellent event. It's amazing what can be done with the right spirit. Even a little country like Switzerland managed to arrange a full croquet calendar, with 5 different national championships, 3 club events and 3 international matches, enough to keep the small pool of players fully occupied!

Play continues....

Despite what I said earlier on, no review would be complete without at least a passing reference to events on the lawns. For me, there are three happenings that stick out.

Even though a most worthy Egyptian (Khaled Younis) won the third WCF World Golf Croquet Championship, the non-dominance of the Egyptians as a whole was as surprising as it was welcome. Egyptians dominated the first two World Championships and still have a lot to teach the rest of the world about the tactics of golf croquet, but the emergence of some more unlikely names from Europe and the US was like a breath of fresh air and this, as much as anything else, should help to sustain the new interest in this sport.

My second choice is the historic performance of David Maugham in winning the Westerns, Easterns, Northerns, and Southerns, all in the same season. In the past, David has possibly not enjoyed the success that his undoubted talent would suggest and so this accomplishment was all the more welcome. My third and final choice is one which, in its own little way, gives me a lot of hope for the future of croquet.

After a very creditable performance in the British Open, where he became the first ever American to reach the final, losing only to World Champion Robert Fulford, teenager Jacques Fournier's sextuple in the US Open in Palm Springs in December was an encouraging signal that top croquet players do not necessarily have to come from England or New Zealand. The more international that croquet can become, the greater chance there will be to further develop the sport in the years ahead.

All in all, 1998 was a good year for croquet. May 1999 be just as productive.

Peter Payne Genolier, 10th January 1999

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