The Croquet World E-Mail Interview:
Croquet World Online Magazine: What is the WCF's relationship with national associations in promoting the growth of croquet?
Chris Hudson: The WCF has worked with its associations to stage six individual World Championships. The first three were held in London, England, at the Hurlingham Club; the fourth in the USA at the Casino, Newport, Rhode Island; the fifth in England at Carden Park, Chester; and the sixth in France at Fontenay-le Comte. The seventh World Championship will be held in Bunbury, Western Australia in November 1997. Media coverage of these championships has publicized the game and thus helped to promote croquet.
CW: How does the WCF assist new associations?
Hudson: The WCF sanctioned "La Coupe des Alpes", an annual match between France, Italy, Switzerland, and has assisted in setting up the European Croquet Federation. All WCF European Associations are eligible to join the ECF with no additional fees. The WCF has also supported the Italian CA in promoting international golf croquet matches, and in the preparations for an additional World Team Championship.
Arrangements for experienced coaches to help new associations have been made through the WCF, and contact is being maintained with national associations in the process of formation and not yet eligible for WCF membership, for example, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Mexico, Norway and Sweden.
CW: What viewpoint do the officers of the WCF have toward their home associations? Are they representatives, or do they take another role?
Hudson: Members of the WCF management committee are elected on the basis that they will promote the interests of the WCF and its associations in developing world croquet, and not as representatives of their own associations. The proper place for the discussion of matters of individual national interest is the WCF general meeting.
CW: What do you see as the prime accomplishments of the WCF?
Hudson: Publicity arising from the staging of the World Championships can greatly add to publicity and media coverage for the sport in the country where the event is held. The French Croquet Federation, for example, used the prospect of staging a World Championship in 1995 to help them obtain grants from the French Government in the early 1990's to build six first-class courts suitable for such an event, and to obtain much greater national media coverage than would otherwise have been the case.
The existence of the WCF has also helped enormously to facilitate contact and discussion between its associations. Several WCF working parties are helping to coordinate matters such as the interpretation of the Laws, the appointment of international officials, such as referees and championship managers, the creation of an agreed world ranking system, and the scheduling of international fixtures.
CW: What is the future of the top international competitions?
Hudson: International "high-profile" events help to attract media attention. This in turn is helpful in producing new recruits to keep the game alive, and in stimulating sponsorship to help our finances. If we want to see croquet grow and compete successfully for public support, then I believe we must continue to encourage the growth of international events.
CW: Is the WCF empowered to coordinate these events?
Hudson: Some concern has been expressed recently by players and associations about clashes between international events, and the increasing number of them. The WCF clearly has a role to play in coordinating the international fixture list, and I hope that, as we continue to develop the World Federation, we shall be able to publish a world fixture list, containing dates, venues, and other relevant details for international matches, national championships and other major events. The recent WCF newsletter has seen a start in this direction.
CW: How do you see international events fitting together?
Hudson: Clashes between events can easily be resolved by sensible discussion and compromise between the countries concerned, with the WCF Council acting as final arbiter if necessary. As for the number of events, you can take two views. One is that events should only take place if the very best players take part; therefore, because the time these players have available is limited, the number of events should be limited. The other view, taken for example by New Zealand, is to pick of a pool of players, and to allocate them to different events, giving more players a chance to compete at international level, and in practice, making very little difference to the strength of the team.
As to how the top international events should fit together, there seems to be general agreement that a world individual and a world team championship should be held in alternate years. The world individual championship is now well established, although we are still dependent on raising funds to finance it. Development of a world team championship immediately raises questions about the future of the MacRobertson Shield competition, and the four countries concerned are currently discussing how they wish to proceed.
CW: Certainly other countries should have a voice in this matter?
Hudson: Other WCF Associations will no doubt wish to have a say, particularly countries such as South Africa, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales that can already raise strong teams. In a few years' time it is likely that several other countries will be strong enough to take part in a world team event. From the point of view of attracting media and sponsorship interest to world croquet, the more countries we have involved, the better. The WCF provides a forum for discussion and coordination of these matters, and obviously any decisions taken will bear in mind the interests and wishes of all WCF associations.
CW: Is there a framework for promoting international team events for emerging croquet nations outside the "big five"?
Hudson: I am not sure who you include among the "big five" -- presumably the MacRobertson Shield countries plus South Africa. The European Croquet Federation has promoted a European Championship for the past three years, and the "Coupe des Alpes" is played annually between France, Italy and Switzerland. Australia and New Zealand have recently begun a series of Trans-Tasmanian tests, with teams of men and teams of women playing in alternate years. The more established European croquet countries have acted as hosts or visited "emerging" countries with teams of suitable strength to play competitive international matches. Such fixtures again have great publicity value in countries not totally familiar with the game. As the number of WCF member countries increases in Europe a move to a more formal competitive framework becomes more likely.
CW: Croquet seems to be growing into new countries, but growth within stablished countries seems flat. Is this true? In the USA growth is now in facilities, but we won't see a lot of new players.
Hudson: It is certainly true in England that, after a period of expansion in which numbers more than doubled over 10 years, 1993 and 1994 saw a slight diminution in the number of registered croquet players. Last year, this trend was reversed, and we saw a modest growth. The reason is difficult to fathom, but there is no doubt that there is intense competition here for the public's leisure time, both between individual sports, and between sport and other leisure activities. Major sports, awash with massive sponsorship, are able to swamp schools and colleges with video packs to attract youngsters to their sport. Minor sports, in comparison, are finding it increasingly difficult to attract sponsors, and are losing out on publicity as a result. This, and the current economic difficulties everyone is facing, might account for a slowing up of the recruitment rate.
In England, there has also been more emphasis in recent years on improving and maintaining our existing club facilities, particularly since the advent of the National Lottery which provides public funding for capital projects. In developing the sport, there has always been the dilemma about which to provide first; the potential players, or the facilities, and perhaps your observation simply reflects the fact that we are going round the circle once again.
The growth of croquet into new counties is an interesting recent phenomenon. The existence of the WCF has provided enthusiasts in these countries with a focal point for obtaining information. On several occasions through the WCF I have been able to put in touch with one another people in the same country who thought they were operating on their own.
CW: What is the role of the WCF beyond its coordination of top competitions?
Hudson: Apart from staging world championships, I think the main contribution the WCF has made so far has been in improving communications between its associations, and in helping new countries take up the game.
CW: You are one of the few people in croquet with international perspective. How would you characterize the unique contributions of the countries (USA, France, Japan, Italy, etc.) that have taken up croquet?
Hudson: Each country has a different approach to the game, and each one brings its own unique contribution, so it is perhaps a little invidious just to focus on the four you mention. However, they provide an example of what I mean. The USA has brought us USrules and a positive approach to marketing and funding the sport, being one of the few associations that receives no direct financial support from its government. France brought a complete fresh approach to promoting the game, by concentrating all is activity on developing the game in schools and among young players. They also showed us what can be done in terms of development and sponsorship by having the vision and courage to stage a world championship as part of their development plan. Japan has impressed us all by the friendliness of its competitors, and its determination to support the game by being a "Full" member of the WCF since its inception. As an indication of their enthusiasm, they are planning to promote croquet as a demonstration game at the 2001 World Games in Tokyo. Italy serves to remind us that croquet can still be played for fun, despite the recent growth of serious international competition. Their donation of the "Fun Cup" at each world championship has helped to focus on this aspect of the game, and identified the player who has given most pleasure at each event. They are providing a lot of impetus for golf croquet at international level, and the launch of their association some years ago showed what can be done by organized press and media coverage.
CW: Do you see any future (i.e. international tournaments) for US rules outside America?
Hudson: There are many versions of croquet played around the world. The laws of "international" croquet list several versions of that game. As well as US rules, there is also a totally different version of the game played in Sweden. Various versions of golf croquet are played, with different rules prevailing, for example, in England, New Zealand, and Egypt.
Non-Americans who have played USA rules enjoy the game as an alternative to their own, but it has not yet found its way into the tournament calendar of any other country, as far as I know, apart from Canada. While I think that it may be played internationally to complement an "international rules" match, as for example in the Solomon Trophy matches between England and the USA, I do not think it will spread much outside America. Basically, people are not prepared to devote time to learning and playing another version of the game when they are happy with the one they already play.
CW: Do you think croquet is doing all it can to attract young people?
Hudson: The average age of this year's MacRobertson Shield teams must be the lowest ever, and I am aware that many associations are making a positive effort toattract young people into croquet. However, the number of young people under 21 playing croquet in English clubs seems to have decreased over the past few years. The answer to your question must therefore be "no". There is a lot more we could be doing to attract young people, but once again, it requires dedicated volunteers to recruit them, or funding to provide paid help.
CW: What's the newest, most exciting development in international croquet that most people don't know about?
Hudson: Without a doubt, the decision by the Egyptian Croquet Association to re-introduce the "International Rules" game. They have not played this game since the early 1960's, having been converted entirely to golf croquet at that date. Today, the Egyptian croquet Association has some 500 members, spread in 16 clubs, 12 of which are in Cairo, and 3 in Alexandria. Their membership comprises a lot of young players who have revolutionized golf croquet to the extent that properly set hoops are deliberately run from ranges of 10 yards are more.
In collaboration with two Italian coaches (Andrea Pravettoni and Fabio Truglia) I recently ran four courses in Egypt to teach their players the rudiments of "International Rules". Eighty-six players attended the courses, and many joined a new section of the Egyptian Association, dedicated to promote this version of the game.
The Egyptian Croquet Association has plans to develop their existing facilities considerably to cope with the requirements of "International Rules" and is already seeking government help. My short stay in Egypt has left me in no doubt that Egyptian players will be featuring prominently in World Championships in a few years' time and given the quality of the administration of their association, I would not be surprised if the WCF received a bid from the Egyptian Associationfor a World Championship to be staged in Cairo in the not-too-distant future.
CW: What will croquet look like in 2025? What's possible, and what's the limit? Should it be in the Olympics, World Games?
Hudson: Croquet was a demonstration sport at the World Games in Karlsruhe in 1986. However, for croquet to be included as a sport in future World Games, the WCF would have to have at least 20 member countries, spread across the five continents. There is also a difficulty that a sport can only be included in the World Games if the facilities required for that sport are present at the chosen venue. Having looked into the situation some years ago, the WCF came to the conclusion that we would do better to stage our own events at venues of our own choosing.
As for the Olympic Games, the aim of the organizers is to reduce the number of sports involved. A key factor in determining whether or not to include a new sport seems to be its suitability for TV and croquet has yet to demonstrate this. I have also looked at requirements for including croquet in the Commonwealth Games. Here the situation is much the same as with the World Games. Croquet would have to show that it was played throughout the five regions into which the Commonwealth is split. At present, we are nothing like sufficiently well represented, particularly in Africa, Asia, or the Caribbean.
As to what croquet will look like in 2025, it is anyone's guess. In croquet, as in sport generally, we don't seem to be very good at defining our long-term goals. Even if we did, I am quite sure half of us would want to go one way and half the other! Perhaps we ought to find someone like Bernie Ecclestone with Formula 1, or Barry Hearne with snooker; both entrepreneurs, with a clear idea of how their respective sports could be presented to the public and grow. Others would argue that we don't want croquet to be commercial, and that the game should be allowed to continue in its present state, very much an amateur sport.
CW: Do you think croquet has any future on television?
Hudson: Personally, I would like to see more television coverage, and a much higher profile for croquet. Given a sympathetic TV producer and a generous sponsor prepared to work with the game while we gradually developed coverage, I believe we could produce TV programs that would interest the public and create a much greater awareness of the game. The next 25 years will surely bring many people much more leisure time, and with croquet providing opportunities to practice both physical and mental skills, I could see it expanding dramatically. Constraining factors will be finance and facilities, although in England the present signs are that existingfacilities could cope with double the existing number of players.
CW: Is there a future for professional croquet? In the USA for a brief time it looked like there would be money in croquet that would help nourish the development of a professional croquet tour, but it disappeared.
Hudson: I think the future of a professional circuit is totally wrapped up with the question of TV coverage. If we are successful in obtaining sponsorship and increased TV coverage then, as with bowls and other sports, professional players will follow. In principle, I see nothing wrong with this, and in preparing for such eventualities, I believe it was a sensible decision that the WCF should govern both professional and amateur croquet. In practice, I hope it will be possible for both types of player to compete together should we find ourselves in that situation.
CW: What is the most difficult, or that you most dislike about your job? What do you most enjoy about the job?
Hudson: Fax machines have made communication much easier in the last few years, but I look forward to the time when visual connections make it possible to talk "eyeball to eyeball", as body language and facial expressions play an important part in communication. It would be nice to see all those people I have never actually met, even though I talk to them quite frequently!
What I particularly like about the job is meeting so many enthusiasts.Generally I am surrounded by people who enjoy their croquet, and who believe the WCF is performing a useful function. In this connection, I have been most encouraged by the number of people who are enrolling as "Friends" of the WCF. Despite the general reluctance of many sports people to pay the "commercial" rate for their sporting activities, the generous donations from those who have enrolled as far as WCF "Friends" have been most impressive.
The most rewarding part of my job is perhaps teaching others how to play the game, and seeing what pleasure it brings them, and, of course, the opportunity for travel and meeting new friends overseas. My sole "dislike" is those people (players, officials, spectators, whoever), mercifully very few in number, who take everything they can out of the game, and put absolutely nothing back into it.
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