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Shanghai World Championship:
the gateball picture story

by Alex Park and Sue Leitinger, with Bob Alman
Photos by Sue Leitinger and Alex Park
Captions by Alex Park
Posted October 30, 2010

Related Links
Narrated 7-minute video of Opening Day, by Liz Fleming
Opening Ceremony Video, David Underhill
David Underhill's photo still shots of Championship
Australia's World Gateball Championship blog
World's Biggest Malletsports Competition, Croquet World article
World Gateball Union - rules, resources
United Kingdom Gateball - British clubs and International links
Gateball: Brewing to Storm the World, Nippon Foundation article
Gateball: Croquet's Missing Link? by James Hawkins, Croquet World
An entertaining 4-minute Japanese fantasy, with English subtitles

What started in war-torn Japan in 1947 as an inexpensive entertainment for children is now played by more than two million people in that country alone and by an estimated 10 million people in China, the emerging superpower of gateball. Gateball is a relative newcomer to Australia, thanks to the god-fathering of the national Croquet Association, which resulted in Australia sending a number of teams to this 2010 World Championship in Shanghai in September. Australian Alex Park is a dedicated Gateball player, while others Aussies who competed in Shanghai, including Liz Fleming and Sue Leitinger, use their croquet backgrounds to promote the growth of this incredibly space- and time-efficient mallet game, played on small courts by opposing five-person teams. Be sure to view the Video links to get a sense of the scope of the game and the Olympian scale of the Shanghai event.


The roads leading up to the venue of the world championship were lined with posters and flags advertising the competition. Players entering the park on the opening day were greeted with a flag-lined road and a drumming display.


The championship was played in a purpose built "gateball theme park," its entrance marked by this spectacular gateball statue. Beyond the entrance, a winding road leads through a beautiful landscaped park to the new gateball museum and courts. Inside, there are twelve outdoor courts on grass and four underground courts on artificial turf.


Friday's opening ceremony was heavy on official speeches but ended with a spectacular dragon race. (See the Underhill Video.)


The Chinese Gateball Museum, in the middle of the gateball park, was officially opened during the Championship. It has sections on the history of gateball, illustrations of gateball techniques, information about gateball around the world and displays of various types of gateball equipment. The Australian team was proud to see that a badge of their mascot "Sparky the Kangaroo" was on display.


A number of equipment manufacturers peddled their wares at the competition. In addition to the usual range of gateballs and mallets, there were surprises, such as this gateball table game which, incidentally, gives you a good overview of the three-wicket court layout. There were gateball shoes (complete with grooves in the sole to help position the balls when sparking - known variously in croquet circles as "sending the ball" or "tight croquet") and mallets with angled heads (to assist with backspin and jump shots). All the manufacturers were Chinese, and prices were rock bottom, with mallets costing approximately $40 US.


Chinese teams dominated the championship. They had the most teams, theirs were the majority of the teams making the finals, and they won first, second and third places. The Chinese display highly developed defensive tactics and near perfect execution. The home teams varied in age and gender, and the crowd favourites were a Chinese primary school team that made it to the semi-finals.


While the Chinese teams dominated, several Japanese teams made it to the knock out rounds. This team of younger Japanese players won some tight matches, including one game in which their captain scored eight points in the final turn of the game - the equivalent of the "break" in croquet. This player is using the 'golf-style' technique popular among many of the Japanese teams.


What is a sports competition without a novelty mascot? Despite the sweltering heat, two tiger mascots prominent in the opening ceremony were happy to pose for seemingly endless photos with players. Soft toy versions of the mascots were provided to all the teams. No doubt there will be more than one nephew, niece or grandchild receiving a surprising present this Christmas.


Throughout the tournament, players from all countries were interviewed by ever-present gateball journalists. Japanese gateball magazine 'Nice Pal Monthly' photographers were everywhere. There were also several reporters from the Chinese gateball magazine 'Gateball Court', who displayed an impressive knowledge of the news and information on the Australian and United Kingdom gateball websites.


In addition to the print journalists, several TV crews cruised the championship looking for likely subjects. Here's the host of the weekly Japanese TV show 'Super Gateball' interviewing a Chinese team who had just won a match in the finals. The number of cameras around each court suggested that there was at least one Chinese TV show also filming.


Many hundreds of people watched the grand final. While several VIPs (including CERN Croquet Club's David Underhill) had front row seats, others sat on stands or stood several rows deep to watch the two Chinese teams battle for the title. The crowd was rewarded by a tight match, in which a 'length of the court' maverick shot turned the game in the dying minutes. The winners were a mixed Fujian team with both male and female players of a variety of ages.


The closing ceremony was a cultural extravaganza held on the grounds of a large local school to accommodate a crowd of 3,000, including competitors, officials, volunteers and throngs of locals - with mercifully few speeches. The show included sand-painting, drum displays, kung-fu, flower dancing and even a gateball "mini-musical"!

For more information about gateball in English visit or email if you would like any information or assistance to help you get gateball started in your part of the world or connect to an existing club.

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