After the revolution: Splashes of colour in a sea of white
It's a hot, sunny day. A gentle breeze cools the players as they take their final shots in the 1998 President's Invitation event at Wanganui. It is one of the premier events in the New Zealand calendar. Ten of the country's best are competing for the coveted title.
Nothing seems much different from any other National tournament: a smattering of spectators dotted round the lawn nearest the clubhouse; the chink of teacups rattling in their saucers; the unmistakable clunk of plastic on plastic; the muted conversation of the lawnside critics.
But wait! Shock, horror! Someone is wearing green shorts on lawn #3! The pair of green shorts, nicely colour coordinated with the green stripe of New Zealand's current international emblem, belongs to Tony Stephens, aged 50-mumble.
I suddenly remember that the clothing regulations got changed six months ago, and I look around expecting to see a rainbow of colours on every lawn. Alas, nothing of note. Even the youngsters are wearing white! Toby Garrison (21) is in whites; Richard Baker (24) is in whites, (albeit with quite an eye catching pattern). Pete Landrebe and Chris Shilling (although past the first flush of youth) are in whites too. In fact, just about everyone is in whites!
Players are reluctant to retire their whites wardrobe
The bottom line is that players have got used to wearing whites. They have a wardrobe full of them and it's expensive to buy anything new. The international players don't have to pay for their clothing anyway. Does this mean that there will be a sudden increase in coloureds in five years time when everyone's whites wear out? Or maybe there will be a gradual increase as new players are attracted to the game?
One thing is for certain: change in Croquet is a very slow process. Many of the old timers are particularly resistant to change. Associations and clubs in New Zealand have not viewed the clothing change very favourably. While the issue is not creating any serious divisions, it is giving rise to some farcical situations.
Playing out the costume farce
One Saturday a couple of weeks ago, I had a club match to play in the morning, followed by an Association fixture in the afternoon. My club (Wellington Municipal), being one of the more enlightened of New Zealand's 120+ clubs, has followed the lead of Croquet New Zealand with the clothing regulations, so I was able to wear my blue rugby shirt and blue shorts for the morning match. Come the afternoon, however, I was forced to change into my whites to play the Association match on the same lawn!
There has even been a protest which, with Golf Croquet rules, could easily have resulted in a white card. (Well, you can't have a coloured card, can you?). On the first day of the Invitation, Peter Couch took to the lawn wearing apparel which, at best, could be described as "old gardening clothes". They were certainly borderline with respect to the "...of a reasonable standard" part of the rules. "I am making a protest against the change in clothing regulations", Peter offered. "Okay, but you look terrible" retorted Geoff Young, the Manager. Peter wore whites for the rest of the week!
Despite everything, youth must be served
Despite the apathy surrounding the wearing of coloureds, most people seem to agree that anything that will bring in new players, particularly young players, must be tried. To accomplish this, there are other, currently more acceptable, moves afoot. Kiwi Croquet is well established into the Sports Foundation's Kiwi Sport programme. This programme aims to introduce a variety of grossly simplified sports into primary and secondary schools to let the students get a feel for each code. Small sized or modified equipment is used - in the case of croquet, small mallets, small balls, and 3 small hoops. The programme is proving extremely popular.
Croquet New Zealand's own website is about to be let loose on an unsuspecting public, a good proportion of which are young "surfers" or "Web babies." A clever animation will lead the surfer into the site which will include items such as tournament dates and results, links to other sites, publications and equipment for sale, international news, Councilors' details, etc. (Probable URL: "http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~croquet/"). The site will go "live" very soon - before the end of the year, hopefully - so watch out for it!
Meanwhile, the battle over colour continues to convince every one of the value of having a choice of clothes to wear. I fear this battle will be waged forever!
[Steve Jones, one of New Zealand's most successful competitors in the sport, is also the author of the book "Peel Appeal," which recounts his experiences and observations in major tournaments with top-level players.]
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