As the disclaimer says on the inside front cover of "Croquet Australia": Opinions expressed in this magazine are entirely those of the contributors. Hence what follows is my view, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Croquet Association or any other individual.
It has been a quiet year for players after the excitement of the World Championships in Bunbury in late 1997 at both national and state level. There have been a number of changes of administration personnel which are already impacting on the operation of the ACA and two state associations.
National Competition and Teams
The Australian Championships in Melbourne in March were mundane. The usual players and team won, except for Shona. Shona Porter (known by her own family name in England), during her six months stay in Victoria, practiced and played a lot, and won the Women's Open Championship, beating Shirley Carr in the final. She also played in the Victorian State Team, which raised the ire of a few one-eyed players. They felt it could lead to states importing overseas players to help win the Interstate Cup!. I'd welcome more overseas quality players at the nationals - it might give the locals some quality games and raise their standard of play. Unless something dramatic happens soon, I predict that Australia will be fourth in the next MacRobertson Shield to be played in New Zealand in 2000.
After the nationals two training squads were selected, one for the Trans Tasman shield to be contested in NZ in February 1999, and one for the MacRob Shield. Up until now there have been two Trans Tasman team challenges - one Open, the other for women. With the NZ due to host the Open Trans Tasman, the Women's, and the MacRob Shield, it was decided to combine the two Trans Tasman competitions instead of deferring the Women's competition for a year. The resulting format involves teams of five men and five women being selected.
There has been some controversy in the selection of the team and in the actual team which is going to NZ in February. One top-five woman was not selected because she was considered to be a non-team player, unsupportive of some of her team mates. One top-five man lost his position because he was uncooperative and extremely rude to those involved in getting the team to NZ, i.e. also a non-team player. No longer is being a top player enough to be in a national team - you need to be a good ambassador for Australian croquet and a team player.
The other national events were canceled through lack of entries, possibly as a result of a change of venue. The National Handicap and the National Golf Croquet Championships since their inception have been held at the Rich River Country Club, near Echuca which is on the Murray River. Players can stay at a motel on site, and use all the facilities of the complex; this makes for a croquet-rich experience as you become totally involved in the play and associated activities. The courts are being upgraded, so the ACA approached several city clubs to host the championships - two clubs in Adelaide were chosen, but the regulars were not prepared to travel the extra 600 plus km and to have the hassles of finding suitable accommodation and a means of traveling to the venues.
The ACA has a new Secretary, Pretoria McGee, who took over from Peter Tavender mid year. Peter served for five years as Secretary, after several years as the National Coaching Coordinator. His background was in the industrial relations department within the Commonwealth Public Service (the civil service) and needed all his skills to try and bring the six (very) independent state associations to a national view on certain issues. The increasing number of Australians being selected for national duties overseas was one catalyst, and this had a trickle down effect on selections at the state level for state teams and the ACA State Gold Medal. Pretoria has a background in executive positions within non-government organizations, and is already taking croquet into new areas, using her experience in negotiating with government officials and those who have influence.
Pretoria has experienced problems with her title of Secretary. In Australia's male dominated work force, when a high official (usually male) is told that she is the ACA Secretary they ask to speak to her boss. Peter did not have the same problem with the title. The ACA Executive have decided to change Pretoria's title to Executive Officer!!
The other national initiative is the development of a modified game for junior school students, which then can become part of the Government sponsored Aussie Sports program. Most major sports have developed such games using modified rules and equipment. The ACA looked at Kiwi Croquet (used in schools in NZ), Quick Croquet (used as a fast introduction to croquet by George Latham in Victoria), and several other games, and has selected Quick Croquet for a trial - and will call it Aussie Croquet. It is planned to develop a video and printed materials, and to trial it in each state in 1999.
The ACA has moved quickly to ensure that it is the national body for all mallet, ball and hoop games. It has encouraged the playing of Golf Croquet, established a National Golf Croquet Championship, participated (through Tony Hall) in the development of the International Rules for Golf Croquet, and this year it joined the World Gateball Union.
Gateball Championships in Hawaii
Gateball is played by over 10 million people, mostly in Japan (where it originated after World War II) and China, but also in other parts of Asia and North and South America. Two teams went to the recent 7th World Gateball Championships in Hawaii. There were over 200 teams from 11 countries - ours stood out as, as one member wrote, they were the only Caucasians there. Over 400 30-minute games were played over two days on a large grassed park. Our teams' skills were up to standard, their tactics weren't.
The International Olympic Committee were to visit the games to see if there was a future for it as an Olympic sport - it definitely has many more participants than many other sports currently in the Olympics. It is hoped in time to have a Gateball Interstate Cup in Australia, and to promote Gateball as the team sport for active people, especially school children.
Two states should start to tick again with the election of new, dynamic Presidents: Peter Tavender in NSW and George Latham in Victoria. Three other states (WA, SA and Tasmania) are moving along smoothly, but Queensland needs a Peter or George, and soon.
Peter lives in Canberra, 300 km from Sydney, so can look forward to much travel. NSW is on the move, with four new clubs (all country based) joining the CPA [Croquet Players Association] this year (including one isolated club with 49 raw beginners) and 1912 registered players. Hopefully Peter can modernize the NSW administration.
George, recently retired from primary school teaching, has taken on the almost full time promotion of croquet. Victoria has an active Promotions Committee (the only state to have one) with promotion officers in over 40 clubs. They meet annually to review the year, discuss innovations, and set the agenda for the next year. The relaxation of rigid dress rules, the use of Golf Croquet and other games, and the use of catering (BBQs, sausage sizzles) and emphasis on fun have already saved several clubs from extinction. The idea I like is to surreptitiously insert copies of the magazine 'Croquet Australia' amongst the literature in doctors'/dentists' waiting rooms!!!
The channels of communication have been improving. Five states now have some sort of newsletter distributed monthly or after Council meetings. The most professional one is prepared in Victoria and sent out to those who subscribe. Some states just send out one copy per club, and in some clubs the members are not aware that this is done - they know little of how croquet is run, and usually do not care.
The ACA magazine 'Croquet Australia' is sent to those who subscribe. The Magazine Committee would prefer that registration fees include a magazine subscription, but as many players do not like paying the $5.50 ACA affiliation fee (included in their state association fee which ranges from $11 to $25) to raise the ACA fee to $20 would cause a riot! The magazine goes to just over 1000 subscribers; there are over 7000 affiliates of the ACA; there has been an 8% increase in subscriptions this year.
As with lawn bowls and other sports which once attracted sporting people once they retired from their first sport, croquet is having problems attracting people to the sport. Over the past 20 years Australia has seen the growth of 'master' sports. Athletes who could no longer compete in open competition used to go into administration or coaching, and take up a less active sport. Now they can continue in their chosen sport, be it swimming, squash, athletics, or football, competing with and against their peers in age groups. There is a major Masters Games held in a different state every two years (with over 40 sports available), each state has a yearly state supported Masters Games, and a number of towns such as Alice Springs have annual Masters Games. So we have to try harder to get new players into our sport, and not just sit back and wait for them to come to us. With all the unemployment, retrenchments, early retirement, etc. there are plenty of people with time on their hands, but as yet no club or association is chasing them.
Until this year, in some states a referees qualification could be state or ACA based, and some people held both qualifications - two different exams, and done in slightly different formats. This year all those with state badges were given ACA badges, so there is now only one referees badge. As well the ACA introduced the qualification of Umpire. It appears to involve doing the practical part of the referees badge, and then 'umpiring' games - I think that means adjudicating on a matter of fact but not giving a decision on a matter of law. Those involved in setting up the scheme have yet to issue clear guidelines.
Ongoing perennial issues
Handicapping: how to integrate six different state-administered systems into one, at least in the 0 to 10 range.
Administration: most states need to streamline their administration - most have an Executive which meets monthly and a Council (with a delegate or two from each club) which meets three to six times a year, and can override any decision taken by the Executive. A suggestion from one group was to broaden the Executive to include the Chairman of each committee, let the Executive make decisions for the year, and have only a yearly meeting of the Council, i.e. the AGM, where any member can attend and vote for the next Executive--too radical a thought for most players!!!
Recruitment: done well by a few clubs, and more clubs are trying than last year.
Promotion: a long way to go, and except for Victoria there is little help from the state and national bodies.
Coaching: most people don't get or seek coaching after their initial few lessons, yet there are accredited coaches in most clubs - we are a long way from other sports where the top players have their own coaches or mentors.
Opportunities for international level play: those aspiring to represent their state or Australia get so few opportunities for quality play. In some states such a player may only get 25 quality games in a year, and no player gets the number of games available in the six month season in the UK. Our distances are so great, and airfares are expensive.
Money: some associations have sponsors, some clubs seek money or goods as prizes for tournaments, all need to seek sponsorship or funds if we are to promote the sport. There are quite a few schemes if clubs want to put in submissions for special activities or equipment. There is money at state level matched dollar for dollar with certain restrictions, e.g. some will pay for a development officer but not for basic office staff. The more progressive people tap into these resources.
So on to 1999
Oz croquet appears to be on the up. The ACA has cornered the 'ownership' of all worldwide sports involving mallet, hoops and balls; it is a numbers game when seeking funds and sponsorship. It is pointing the way by providing a framework for the introduction of a modified game for the Aussie Sports program. There is a gradually increasing number of people trying to promote croquet and to increase membership. An Australian handicapping system is a (remote) possibility.
The real need, an influx of young players under 30 years of age, is a pipe dream - and difficult when you hear players say that young people should be out playing team/other sports and not looking to play croquet until they retire!!!
- Wendy Davidson Australia
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