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A unknown virus has
radically changed the world
and the sport of croquet

by Bob Alman
layout by Reuben Edwards
posted on March 10, 2020

South Florida appears to be the epicenter of radical response to the unknown dangers of the new virus sweeping the world. And that is clearly evident from all the organizations centered at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, where all the major events--both for the USCA and for the public at large, have been either canceled or postponed.

It began in China and may arrive soon at your croquet club.

For the USCA, that means that all the multi-day "schools" scheduled for this week are not happening. And "Croquet Week," scheduled to be begin on Friday and continue for nine days, has also been canceled.

Even in Palm Beach, the Society of the Four Arts has canceled all its scheduled lectures and performances. I haven't checked the Convention Center, but I wouldn't be surprised to find cancellations of incoming events and disruption of the major play and traveling shows that fill the city's main concert hall near downtown West Palm Beach.

"Nobody wants to be in a room with 200 people."

That's the way Scott Hanson, house manager for the National Croquet Center, explained the "postponements" of three events in the current week and another for next week. Hanson, as well as a senior employee of Sandy James, the house caterer, amplified by commenting, "But most people don't mind being with a smaller group."

In fact, there was a small private group at the Center on Monday afternoon, some sampling munchies at the bar and others playing Golf Croquet under the supervision of court pro Dick Sherf. (He had not yet heard of the cancellation of major events at the Center.)

But virtually all the croquet organizations in the world have made statements and taken sometimes drastic actions in response to widespread alarm about a new virus for which there is no effective vaccine. The effect is especially noticeable wherever March is part of the "playing season," like South Florida.

All the major national organizations have adopted fairly predictable policies with regard to the virus, and the clubs and associations operating in the "croquet season" are canceling major events in what may be termed a "prudent course of action."

Bad timing for the USCA's Croquet Week

In Florida, the USCA has canceled all the playing and organizational activities around CROQUET WEEK--including the annual Seniors and Masters championship, a golf croquet tournament, a silent auction, and annual USCA planning meeting, and the official annual meeting of the USCA. In addition, the USCA's annual Club Teams Championships scheduled to start this week have all been canceled or postponed.

Although the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach continues to allow private play on its twelve lawns, many of the big events (like the one being prepared in the background) have been canceled or postponed for the duration.

The policy of the National Croquet Club reflects this caution. Members may reserve courts and play, but meal service has been suspended, as well as the larger private events scheduled for the month of March. The Center Manager sent out a policy notice on Saturday titled, GERM PREVENTION POLICY:

We want to make you aware of our efforts at The National Croquet Center to maintain the facility as a safe haven for all players and visitors, especially given current concerns about the Coronavirus.

  • We actively encourage sick employees (including USCA staff & SandyJames Catering staff) to stay home.
  • We are carrying out additional cleaning and sanitizing in public areas including tables, counters and other surfaces, plus door handles, push-plates and work surfaces.
  • We have added hand sanitizer at multiple locations including the restrooms and the kitchen.
  • We are adding cans of disinfectant to each gazebo cabinet. You may use that to spray the croquet balls before initial use, as they are handled frequently during play.
  • To maintain a healthy environment at the Center, we ask that all National Croquet Club Members, guests and visitors reduce the chance of transmission of infection by adhering to the tips in the box below.....

The global count is little more than 100,000, but....

With more than a hundred thousand people globally having tested positive for COVID-19, it's likely that countless millions of others have been infected but not tested. So the presumption is that everyone, everywhere, is at some level of risk for contracting a flu-like inflection about which little is known and for which vaccines will likely not be available until 2021.

In the absence of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or medication to treat it, health officials and government leaders are preparing for an outbreak with non-pharmacological interventions. "Social distancing" is one of the top strategies recommended by officials, and along with that, avoidance of crowds. Many individuals have declared themselves recluses.

Hospitals--deadly places to be even in normal circumstances--are figuring out ways to triage patients differently, and medics are increasing tele-heath services as well as delaying elective surgeries. Schools are closing wherever there's a spike in reported infections.

Major events scheduled in South Florida around "spring break" have also been cancelled. In some places, gatherings of more than 1,000 people have been banned.

US Stock market plummets as crude oil collapses

The world�s faltering effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak led to a rout in stocks and crude oil on Monday, as new cases surfacing across the globe amplified fears of a downturn. Despite the repeated reassurances of President Trump, the stock market in the US has declined more than 20 percent in the last two weeks.

Worldwide cases of COVID-19 have topped 109,000, with Italy emerging as the worst-hit country outside of China and the biggest in Europe, while reports of new infections rise everywhere. The Italian government�s move to quarantine its entire northern region raised new fears about the pathogen becoming a global pandemic, sending markets into a free-fall.

And just as the airline industry cancels more than half of scheduled flights with planes half-empty, OPEC's failure to reach a deal sparked an "oil war" which caused the price of bent crude to fall more than 30 percent over the weekend.

There is little doubt that interruptions in the "supply chain" essential in the international trading in parts for manufacture will radically and increasingly depress the global economy.

The croquet world is not immune

No country is immune, in fact. Even New Zealand has reported a few cases. John Prince writes that "Kiwis from a cruise ship were quarantined at an Army camp north of Auckland for a couple of weeks, but none of them tested positive." But the New Zealand government is putting in place financial assistance for employers and employees affected by trade difficulties. Exports of timber to China came to a halt because there was no one to unload.

"We've had a bit of silliness in Auckland, with people buying bulk supplies of toilet rolls, but nowhere near the scale of stupidity as in Australia," Prince reported.

And yet, Tony Hall emailed from New South Wales a surprising reassuring message: "We have had no cases here in the ACT so are fairly relaxed about it all. I played Gateball this afternoon and people joked about whether we should or should not shake hands when we finished. Most shook."

And there is no effect, apparently, on major competitions in Australia because, Tony reports, "The series of events allied with the Interstate Cup started in Brisbane today."

The English association advises "vigilance"

The English Croquet Association's announcement by Roger Staples is fairly typical, in a posting labeled "Coronavirus - Latest Information and Advice ", which says in part, "The CA's Executive Board is monitoring the developing situation with regard to Coronavirus (COVID-19). Its current stance is that members adhere to the advice being given by the Public Health England (PHE) and Government agencies.

"The Government is providing regular updates Concerned members should refer to this for a detailed response.

"The Government COBRA Committee met this morning (9 March) and reported that the UK is still in the containment phase of this epidemic but expected that the number of reported cases will rise and that the population should remain vigilant and follow the health advice already given.

"PHE stated 'This is a rapidly evolving situation which we are monitoring carefully but based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK is moderate.'

"The UK Government is not recommending any further disease control actions at his time but are adopting a wait and see policy on how big a wave of infections arise before deciding on the next steps."

Dr. Ian Plummer, who has declared himself a recluse for the duration, sent this photo of "the wading pond" at Surbiton--a court which would likely have been empty even without the rain, before England's playing season begins.

"We encourage you to play locally...."

Sara Low, president of the USCA, sent this notice on Monday evening to all USCA members, canceling the most important week, arguably, in the USCA'S annual calendar, embracing the official USCA annual meeting as well as the Club Teams Championships. The memo said, in part:

"We have made the unprecedented decision to cancel the 2020 Croquet Week (March 14-22) due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and the safety of the players, staff and attendees at the events. The cancellation includes all USCA Croquet Week-associated activities at the National Croquet Center and in the local environs: Tournament Play School, Golf Croquet Tournament, Club Teams Tournament, USCA Planning Meeting, Annual General Meeting, and Annual Awards Dinner.

"Palm Beach County has not declared a public health emergency for the area and the NCC remains a safe haven, but we are canceling the Tournament School and Croquet Week because of those factors that are beyond our control. The USCA is responsible for our members and staff. We do not want to be further responsible for potential health and safety hazards by encouraging participation that gathers people together in a titled event of the USCA.

"It is our hope that the school and tournaments will be rescheduled at another time, but for now they are canceled. The USCA will refund the school tuition fee and tournament playing fees in full.

"We encourage you to play croquet locally, if you are able at this time of year. During this unsettling time, we cannot imagine a better place to be than outdoors in a beautiful and peaceful setting while playing the sport we love. We hope you feel the same."

I DO feel the same. And I haven't decided whether I'm going to go to the Center this coming Saturday to teach croquet--which is my one standing commitments to the American croquet establishment. It will probably depend on the number of people registered to play in the free event.

In the meantime, the weather here is PERFECT for playing croquet: coolish, with a stiff breeze, which makes a great excuse for missing a ten-yarder. This would be the very picture of Croquet Heaven, if not for that invisible pesky virus.....

Bob Alman has been the editor of this magazine for 24 years, and in his 81st year, he's working with an advisory board on redesign of the magazine and looking for a successor editor in any of the English-speaking countries. The magazine has been given to the Croquet Foundation of America and is supported by grants which will cover modest payment for a new executive editor.

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