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WOMEN IN COMPETITIVE CROQUET..
THE INTERNATIONAL EDITORS' FORUM

Introduction by: Bob Alman
Cartoons by: Jack Shotton

Letters from:


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"In every major croquet-playing country, the proportion of top women croquet players is about the same as the proportion of female theoretical physicists and symphony conductors."
Ladies and gentlemen, I propose to declare that there is nothing wrong with the balance of the sexes in the sport of croquet or in the way the sport is conducted by associations and clubs throughout the world with regard to fair treatment of the sexes.

When THE HILDITCH REPORT went online with the speculations of Richard Hilditch on "Why aren't there are more top women croquet players?" the response seemed to warrent a fuller investigation. We decided to ask prominent editors and other luminaries in the croquet world to report their observations, particularly with respect to their own personal experiences and the policies and programs of their clubs and associations.

These six writers have all given thoughtful and insightful commentary on the issue. They provide convincing sociological and biological explanations as to why there are so few women at the top in croquet today; they produce detailed statistical analyses showing the decline, over time, in the playing level of women when compared to men; and they make entirely reasonable suggestions for "solutions" to this problem.

When one has read all of it, however, our Editors' Forum shows that all the "solutions" have been tried or are already in place in one or more countries, and nothing has seemed to seriously affect the relative positions of men and women at the top levels of croquet. In every major croquet country, the proportion of top women croquet players is about the same as the proportion of female theretical physicists and symphony conductors: there just aren't very many of them.

In the United States, the only country that celebrates the absolute equality of women by having NO separate tournaments anywhere, ever, for men and women (and no significant "mixed doubles" events, either), women at the top are just as rare as they are on other continents.

In each of the countries of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Great Britain, there is an established tradition of separate tournaments for the sexes, at many levels. This cannot be shown to have any effect, one way or the other, on the ability of women to progress to the top in the sport.

For those who recommend that less complex forms of croquet should be emphasized to help equalize the sexes, you need only look to the example of Egypt, where ONLY Golf Croquet has been played for seventy-five years. And only once in all that time has a woman advanced to the finals of the National Championships Open. (See "Croquet by the Nile is Hard, Fast, and Thoroughly Egyptian.")

"Women...were surprisingly strong, in retrospect, until the 60's and 70's - which happens to be the period in which the 'triple peel' became the expert's trademark of excellence."
Some tentative conclusions, however, can be drawn from examining the pattern of decline in the relative excellence of female play in Australia and New Zealand. Women "down under" were surprising strong, in retrospect, until the 60's and 70's - which happens to be the period in which the "triple peel" became the expert's trademark of excellence in croquet. The advancing complexity of the game seemed to turn women off while at the same time attracting an influx of male players; the same thing happened in England, at the same time and, one presumes, for the same reasons.

Croquet distinguished itself in the British Isles in the 19th Century as a delightful pastime that could be played equally by the sexes. Now, as one American has observed, croquet in England is "a guy thing." Debbie Cornelius is one of the guys. Croquet is something the GUYS do together - to such an extent that now only 25 percent of croquet players are women in Britain. Surely there is some significance in this one statistic, so radically out of balance with the rest of the world. One must ask, "How have the British so successfully excluded women from their ranks, and why?"

Maybe it has something to do with typically British gender-based attitudes, so well lampooned in the cartoons of Jack Shotton in the GAZETTE (some of which are reproduced here). Gail Curry's pointed question to the guys who run the Croquet Association reverberates with undertones of skepticism: Are they really interested in changing the culture of croquet in Britain? She thinks not.

Has the advancing complexity of the game in Great Britain - currently the masters of the sport - anything to do with the declining numbers of women competing there? Perhaps women find boring the increasing complexity of croquet at the top, as Hilditch suggests. In a time when world champion Robert Fulford and others are seriously questioning the value of the refined tactics and strategy which players must adopt to have any hope of winning, it may be reasonable to suggest that if croquet were more fun, more women would be motivated to learn to play it well. Just how much fun is it, really, to set up and execute the obligatory triple peel - every time?

"Clubs are established, lots of people join, it's fun, everybody learns together - and then, gradually, the men are separated from the boys, and the women are separated from the men."
Most croquet players in the U.S. remember when croquet was touted as "the fastest growing sport in America." The USCA was not organized until the late 70's. No one played very well. Our club had almost a hundred members in the mid-80's, and most of them have disappeared. Croquet was a lot of fun in those days. But then, by the late 80's, we got to be good players. We learned sophisticated tactics. We had to WORK to win. The social players disappeared.

This pattern has been duplicated many times in the U.S. in the last two decades. Clubs are established, lots of people join, it's fun, everybody learns together - and then, gradually, the men are separated from the boys, and the women are separated from the men.

Why is croquet no longer "the fastest growing sport in America?" I say it's because, for most people, it's not as much fun as it could be, whether they play American Rules or International Rules.

We proudly compare croquet with other, "simpler" sports, but we would be wise not to be arrogant about it, because wo do not compare favorably in one essential respect: the game is not interactive in the way that tennis is, or golf. In tennis, even if you're a poor player going against an ace, you can still be sure a ball is going to come your way and give you some action in almost every turn; you're going to get to serve the ball. You're going to have a chance to play, even if you lose badly.

In golf, it doesn't matter how bad you are, you're still going to get to put that ball down the hole, eventually. In fact, the worse you are, the more you get to play!

I don't have to tell you what happens in croquet. If you don't play well, you don't play. You sit down, you have lunch - unless, of course, it's Golf Croquet, which guarantees you just as many strokes as your opponent, no matter how proficient.

What we do to drive people away from our sport is not just a problem of men's attitudes versus women's attitudes, but I believe the issue of the sexes and their differences allows us to look at the larger issue - the really important issue - of how we limit the growth of the sport.

Croquet needs an interactive version of the sport. Croquet needs to promote and support at the club level a form of the game which is interactive and which can be as quickly understood as tennis or golf.

."...I believe the issues of the sexes and their differences allows us to look at the larger issue - the really important issue - of how we limit the growth of the sport."
There is nothing wrong with the balance of he sexes in croquet, anywhere in the world. What we need to do is acknowledge and celebrate the difference between men and women, instead of complain about it - the difference in attitude, in priorities, in habits of thought, in motivation. Women can learn something from men about focus and concentration on a single goal; men can learn from women the sheer pleasure of the process of the game and the social context in which it is played out.

Women should not be stigmatized as "lesser players" because their interest in the game is not focused on winning at all costs. Golf Croquet should not be stigmatized as a "lesser game" because it does not require the mind-bending tactical thinking of more "advanced" forms of the game.

Why is it that only in croquet do we insist that social players conform to the standards of the "pro's?" This is like forcing softball players to play the "real" game - baseball. It's like saying to someone who enjoys checkers, "You can't do that on this board; you have to play chess."

I don't think it works to promote croquet as "chess on grass." I think we need to promote "checkers on grass," allow people to choose, and not criticize their choice. Allow "Association Laws." Allow the 14-point game. Allow American Rules. Allow Golf Croquet in all its forms. Allow Men's and Women's, Mixed Doubles, and sex-balanced inter-regional teams. Choice sells - on supermarket shelves, and in croquet's schedule of events.

As more women exercise their choice to become leaders of their governments and CEO's in their corporations, perhaps more of them will choose to become top croquet players. And if they don't, so what? It's probably because, as Richard Hilditch says, they have more important things on their mind.

"When evolution decreed that Debbie Cornelius should put on a pretty frock and make tea sandwiches while the men played croquet, she wasn't listening."
There is little our clubs and associations can do to prevent traditional stereotypical images of male and female affecting the way we individually relate to each other on the croquet court. The differences in male and female attitudes and behavior are well known. But those are only statistical norms. They have nothing to do with the way you and I play croquet with our male and female partners and opponents, anywhere in the croquet world. (When they get croquet in Afghanistan, we'll have to have a different conversation about personal choice and sexually determined social roles.)

It is evil to superimpose generalized statistical norms upon our personal - and sporting - relationships. And we all do it, anyway. The contributors to this Editors Forum remind us of the many ways we do it and spell out all the reasons. But we don't have to be stuck with the reasons.

Clubs and associations can't change your personal attitudes about your own or someone else's potential. You have to do that yourself. When the conclusions of evolution decreed that Debbie Cornlius should put on a pretty frock and make tea sandwiches while the men played croquet, she wasn't listening; she was triple-peeling and staking out.

Croquet started out as a uniquely egalitarian sport in the British isles in the 19th Century. If at the end of the 20th Century we cannot fully realize this egalitarian ideal in the way we relate to each other as men and women on the court, I say it's a damned shame, it's your own fault, you have a choice, and you shouldn't put up with it any longer.

--Bob Alman, Editor
   CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE / CROQUET IN AMERICA

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