USCA president Sara Low sent to all USCA members yesterday a shocking--to some--email announcement which sent the boards of the national organizations scrambling to adjust. In announcing the Management Committee's decision to cancel the rest of the 2020 USCA titled events, she makes clear that "the USCA title tournaments are run by the Association and are mostly Regional and National Championships" to distinguish them from USCA sanctioned club events, scheduled and held entirely at the local club's discretion.
But all croquet is "local," and everything everywhere, it seems, has become political. The scheduling conundrum is responded to by local clubs according to the politics of their management. Macey White, builder/owner/manager of the Chesapeake Bay Croquet Club, instantly replaced the scheduled USCA Regional in Virginia with the annual event he put aside to host it, commenting in his email promotion that his replacement will be "better and cheaper" than the regional.
Responding to my query, White's attitude reflects a huge portion of the US and croquet-playing population: "Croquet is a COVID safe activity, if conducted following CDC [Center for Disease Control] standards for social distancing. In croquet, social distancing is not difficult. Travel concerns need to be addressed by the player, and players need to make reasonable decisions on travel and participation in any activity in life."
Some highly ranked players surmise that because politics seems to be driving the critical decisions of the club and associations, they will not be attending championship level events for the present--because they see that not all the tournament players are following the basic guidelines of mask wearing and social distancing.
Another players tells me that the on-court environment is not the true roadblock to getting back to normal: "Out here we're all kept away from the game as we want it to be by local rules and/or private business following prudent protocols."
The truth is that six months of sequestering has made most of us antsy. And most organizations with boards make conservative decisions which seldom match the impulses or standards of individuals.
Fundraising is a major issue in the United States. The Croquet Foundation of America was created explicitly "to support the USCA." That translates to finances, which translates to fundraising, which in Palm Beach, at least, means a glitzy social event: the immediate event in question is the USCA Seniors & Masters Championship, scheduled for November, which traditionally has anchored a very important annual event, for both the USCA and the CFA: The Hall of Fame Ball.
I asked Hal Denton, executive director of the Croquet Foundation of America, whether a new course has been decided upon by the Foundation. It hasn't, he said, but they are meeting as soon as possible. He told me many members of the board--himself included--are doing events of one kind or another over the weekend, and will meet soon to discuss and vote on several options:
* Canceling the Hall of Fame entirely.
None of those options is ideal; one of them must be chosen soon.
The National Croquet Center, itself, is caught between the cracks of a terrible dilemma, having cancelled their long-standing invitation to the public to come and try croquet, and with many of the especially timid members who say they won't go anywhere until the danger is over failing to renew their memberships in a timely way, and with mounting bills to pay.
Scott Reiser, who both books outside events and acts as House Manager to make sure they work perfectly, commented, "It's unfortunate that the USCA had to cancel their events just as we were looking forward to getting back to some type of normalcy. We do, however, look forward to hosting the canceled tournaments in 2021 when it will be safer for guests to travel throughout the United States." In the meanwhile, he does his job by adding, "We still have a beautiful veranda to host events and 12 regulation lawns, so do come and join us for a great day of croquet, or just for lunch."
Meanwhile, in England....
James Hawkins reports that "There's no practical issue with travelling in England, as most participants drive to tournaments. But there's a major problem with accommodation and catering. The hospitality industry has restarted, so the second half of the season has had less uncertainty for visitors seeking a bed for the night. There's still the worry about where you're going to get lunch or an evening meal. Clubhouses are out-of-bounds at all Association clubs, and volunteer caterers are harder to find.
"We're now at the end of the playing season, and parts of the country are heading back into lockdown. That's bad news for the UK generally, but the timing is a relief for croquet. Regional restrictions in other parts of the croquet playing world may cause unwanted ripple effects for months to come."
Privately, a highly ranked player surmised that the politics is driving the critical decisions of the club and associations in the US. Some qualified players will not attend championship events because they see that tournament players are not following the basic guidelines of mask wearing and social distancing.
In their "Guidance for Clubs" the English Croquet Association quotes "Sport England," whose website has confirmed that "While social gatherings of more than six people will be banned in England from 14 September, the government's confirmed that organised sports and activities that have been through return to play protocols can continue, as can organised outdoor sports and physical activity events such as park run, which is due to return next month..."
Dr. Ian Plummer, owner/editor of the sports's technical site, www.OxfordCroquet.com, amplifies as follows: "The count of daily new Covid cases is rising rapidly. Last Monday the number of people from multiple households who could meet together was reduced from thirty to six. Individual towns, cities and regions with a high number of cases are under more stringent lockdown. There is an expectation that more restrictions, either local or national, will be introduced soon."
On September 12, the English Croquet Association issued this update:
"The Croquet Association's's Coronavirus Task Force is now satisfied, from information published on Sport England's website, that previously authorised sports activities can continue, despite the introduction of the "rule of 6" for social groups. The guidelines for clubs and players have been updated to emphasise the need for restricting social interaction and are published in both PDF and MS-Word formats....The previous prohibition on use of corner pegs/offside markers and flags has been relaxed."
So England, like much of the rest of the world, is still in flux.
....and in the rest of the croquet world
New Zealand heroically managed to stop the virus in its tracks, and is maintaining a prudent course which is however now affecting their economy in a drastic way. Not long ago, Australia was thought to be in the same situation, but after back-sliding in that respect, borders have been closed to interstate travel within the Australian continent, while the scheduled croquet events continue to happen in most states.
Tony Hall of New South Wales reports that near the beginning of the playing season in the southern hemisphere are the Australian Open Singles and Doubles at the end of November. They have not yet been cancelled. Hall, former President and Secretary General of the World Croquet Federation, describes himself today as "an 88-year-old with compromised lungs" who applauds "the restrictions placed on all of us." (He nevertheless plays social gateball every Friday and Sunday and has not given up Golf Croquet or AC.)
In a future that seems to change with astonishing rapidity, the USCA's caution in defense of its members appears absolutely justified.
Updated 9/22/2020. The Croquet Foundation of America has voted to postpone the induction ceremony for Sherif Abdelwahab and Rory Kelly until the fall of 2021, by which time it is hoped the normal USCA schedule of events can be restored.
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