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Letters & Opinion
Will a world championship for women improve their
standard of play?


by Beatrice McGlen and Ailsa Lines
layout by Reuben Edwards
posted February 27, 2013

Related Links
Croquet Australia article on the 2012 championship (pdf)
Editors' forum on the AC World Championship for Women
Top 50 Women in the World Rankings
Williams & Clarke: The "First Couple" of Croquet
Women in Competitive Croquet: Editors' Forum
A courtside chat with Liz Fleming, Croquet World
The Sextuple Experience, by Gail Curry
The original article, in the English Croquet Gazette (pdf, including statistics)


Many women players in the northern hemisphere countries are stridently egalitarian, rejecting any suggestion of having tournaments at top level separated by gender. On the face of it, dividing the sexes makes no sense in a sport that boasts of offering a level playing field for all competitors, where one sex or the other has no "natural" advantage. So it's puzzling and even ironic that women, overall, fare better in competitions in the southern hemisphere countries that tolerate and even encourage "women only" events. Three women in England noticed these disparities and decided to investigate further by actually playing in the first Women's World Championship in Association Croquet, held last October in Victoria, Australia. They came back with their own attitudes considerably adjusted. Two of them wrote this article, adapted from an earlier publication in the English Croquet Gazette.

One of the unique characteristics of our sport is that men and women can compete on an equal footing and there is a strong body of opinion in the northern hemisphere that women-only events will inevitably lead to men-only events, and so the slide down the slippery slope to a separated sport begins. Attitudes on the other side of the equator are very different, and it was in response to enthusiastic pressure from the southern hemisphere, particularly in Australia, that the World Croquet Federation decided to hold the inaugural Women’s AC World Championship in Melbourne on 21-28th October.

My reaction to the invitation to apply for selection to the 1st Women’s AC World Championship was: "Why would I want to spend all that money travelling to the other side of the world to play in a tournament that could be to the serious detriment of the game?" So, why did I end up playing in Melbourne in October? First, I was rather shocked to find out in May that, despite strong interest from New Zealand and Australia, only one person from the northern hemisphere had entered this inaugural competition. Secondly, Ailsa Lines, a fellow member at Nottingham Croquet Club, was equally embarrassed by the lack of support, so we decided to make enquiries about taking leave from our respective employers and then put our names forward.

Despite the late entry we were both accepted, and on October 20th we arrived at the Victoria Croquet Club in Melbourne to find the most splendid facility--with 12 flat, fast lawns; a huge pavilion complete with showers and a commercial kitchen; floodlighting around the four central lawns; 48 players in the championship; and numerous supporting husbands, partners and family

The 12-court Victoria Croquet Centre, in the suburbs of Melbourne, is one of the largest in the world.

Team uniforms spark team spirit

The English contingent--Ailsa Lines, Frances Ransom, and Beatrice McGlen--were also the only players in the 48 from the northern hemisphere. They wanted to find out why.
At the opening ceremony the Australians were wearing their national blazers and tournament shirts and the New Zealanders were in their all-black uniforms. The three English girls improvised with Team GB Olympic shirts (since there was no representative from Scotland, Wales or Ireland we felt Team GB was appropriate). We bought these just as a bit of fun, but at the opening ceremony where everyone else was dressed in their national uniforms, we were glad we had something to identify us as part of a team.

The first day of play dawned bright and warm. We were divided into eight blocks of 6 so we each played 5 single games in the first two days. The lawns were quick and the hoops required accurate play, so the three-hour time limit for double-banked games meant many games went to time. The bottom two women in each block went into a plate event and the remainder went forward to the knockout. However, several blocks required tie-breakers to determine the qualifiers, which meant play continued under floodlights on the second day until after 10pm (a long day considering play began at 8.30 every morning).

The ability to turn on the lights and extend play in the night is a distinct advantage for some events, including this one.
The knockout stage was best-of-three matches. By this time the weather in Melbourne was living up to its reputation as it had become extremely windy. The combination of fast lawns, tight hoops and a ball that never stopped moving was making life difficult, and the number of games that pegged out dropped dramatically.

The winner was never seriously in doubt, but...

One thing was certain before the event began: Jenny Clarke was going to be the headline. She came to the event ranked more than 100 places higher than any other woman in the 48-place roster. If she had lost, that would have been big news, indeed. In fact, she gave up not a single game throughout. If there's another AC Women's World, it's likely to be held on her home turf, in Christchurch, which would make her a nearly unstoppable favorite.
The climax of the competition was contested in sunshine, with mercifully no wind, by Jenny Clarke of New Zealand and Alison Sharpe of Australia, with Jenny winning the Charles Jones Memorial Trophy and becoming the first Women’s AC World Champion. It was particularly fitting that Jenny won this trophy since Charles Jones had been a personal friend who officiated at her wedding; she accepted the trophy from Charles’s sister with tears in her eyes.

So has my view of women’s croquet changed? Unequivocally yes.

The Australian and New Zealand women are competitive but remarkably supportive of each other. Some of the contestants had fairly high handicaps, but they had been encouraged to participate and given the coaching and support of their fellow team members; consequently they nearly all performed above expectation. Talking to many of the ladies, it was apparent that they could not understand the reluctance of female players in the UK to enter the only women’s event remaining in our tournament calendar and were surprised at how few female tournament players we have. Perhaps it is time to have a rethink about this.

What club statistics will tell you about female participation

I did a little research. At Nottingham we have 113 members, of whom 40% are female. When those who are members of the English Croquet Association are analysed, the percentage of women drops to 26%. Looking at all the entrants to the Nottingham AC tournaments, 17% of the contestants in handicap events are women and only 9% in level/advanced. In order to see if this is representative of the total croquet playing community I requested figures from Bowdon, Budleigh Salterton, Cheltenham, Hurlingham and Sussex County, as well as Nottingham-- 6 of the larger clubs in England Those numbers confirmed that the Nottingham figures actually are representative of clubs in the country as a whole, and it is my understanding that the same kind of disparities exist in America as well.

Ailsa Lines in play. Of the three English women, she advanced farthest in the knock-out, all the way to the quarter-finals stage.
It is clear that at every stage in the development of a player, we are losing proportionally more women than men. By the time you get to the highest level, the top 100 rankings in the United Kingdom contain just 5 ladies (and one of these is Australian!). Interestingly, the four women in the top 100 who learned their croquet in the UK have all played in the mixed doubles and women’s singles in the Men’s and Women’s Championship and in the now defunct Barlow Bowl or Longman Trophy competitions, so they have all used women-only events as at least a stepping stone at some time in their croquet career.

Many of our advanced non-handicapped tournaments now only have one or two female competitors at best. If we leave things as they are, there is a serious risk that many tournaments will become men-only by default, so perhaps the time has come to make a particular effort to encourage the development of women players before we lose the very feature of croquet we are trying to protect.

Looking for a practical solution

How can we start this process? Clubs are attracting men and women in roughly equal numbers, so the problem is probably not one of recruitment. However, more than twice as many of the men become members of the Croquet Association than women. The Association could investigate why there is this discrepancy, but I suspect that most people join the Association initially because they are interested in playing in tournaments, and the women are not being attracted to tournament play.

Most women seemed to enjoy the socializing in the commodious clubhouse adjacent to the lawns at least as much as the competition on the lawns.

So perhaps clubs should be looking out for their members (both male and female) who are clearly getting the hang of the game and encouraging them to enter club competitions and then handicap tournaments at their home club. Some coaching sessions on the tactics of playing when conceding bisques rather than receiving them would be particularly helpful to the improving player because many people find that transition difficult to overcome. In our club, women in particular seem much more likely to stay in the 16-20 handicap range because they win their games when they have plenty of bisques but lose all their confidence, and their games, without that security blanket and so their handicap just fluctuates.

The second stage is encouraging players to enter tournaments at other clubs, because the experience gained by playing a variety of people in a variety of settings is essential in the learning curve. I have heard many women saying that they do not like going away on their own so they do not enter tournaments at other clubs. It is difficult to know how to overcome this. Maybe it requires two or three women within a club to decide they are going to enter a particular tournament and to arrange travel and accommodation together, or maybe female club members offering accommodation to lone female visitors would help. Once you have been to a club, got familiar with the area and know a few people, the apprehension of going on your own diminishes.

The third step along the development road is playing non-handicapped and advanced tournaments. Women clearly lack the confidence to take this step, particularly if they think they will be the only female playing in a competition. Building confidence is the key, so coaching is important, as is encouraging all club members to enter internal non-handicap competitions whether they are A,B,C or D class. They need experience in playing without bisques; of making leaves; of different openings. Learning from better players helps build that confidence.

More mixed doubles would help

Mixed doubles is a great way to step into the world where the men dominate, and there is always a shortage of women prepared to play. If every club had an internal advanced/level mixed doubles competition, perhaps the men could encourage the women to play and this would then feed through into the tournament scene.

The courtside shelters are good protection from sun and from wind--and perfect for watching the opponents in double-banked games go around the court.

The final stage is national and international events. In Australia and New Zealand the women have a national, organised structure that supports them. Crucially, the interstate competitions in Australia and the trans-Tasman competitions require teams to contain both men and women, so the development of female players is important at the higher tournament level. Introducing a requirement to have at least one woman in each of the teams in the Inter-Counties in England could have a similar effect.

In the Women’s World Championship both the Australian and New Zealand teams had team uniforms – this instantly gives a feeling of belonging and pride of representation. The two contingents had met up as squads prior to the tournament and received some coaching covering topics such as openings, leaves and one-ball endings. When they arrived at the tournament they already felt part of a team and they provided huge encouragement and support to each other. The English representatives were left entirely to their own devices, and that was quite scary.

This inaugural Women’s World Championship was a really enjoyable event, but for it to be a continuing success it will need much more support from women in the northern hemisphere. For that to happen, fundamental changes in the attitude of women in croquet are required. This is not about turning shrinking violets into strident feminists, but fostering the belief and self-confidence that is apparent in the antipodes so they can blossom north of the equator just as abundantly. Let's hope the debate about the best way to keep men and women playing Association Croquet on an equal footing starts here....

Top 50 women in the world
from the 2013 Croquet Ranking List

Minimum Games Played: 10 Minimum Grade: 1688

Note: Games total is number of games played in last 12 months and is hence a rolling figure.

pdt measures approximately how many points above or below grade the player has played over the last 37 games.

NumWorldNameCountryDGradepdtGamesWins %winsLast
1 14 Jenny Clarke New Zealand 2443 -49 154 128 83
2 73 Miranda Chapman Australia 2204 -61 56 28 50
3 86 Gabrielle Higgins England 2169 136 87 45 52
4 110 Rosemary Graham Australia 2110 108 71 50 70
5 128 Ailsa Lines England 2055 137 58 36 62
6 134 Sue Lea New Zealand 2044 35 48 33 69
7 140 Alison Sharpe Australia 2021 -147 103 59 57
8 141 Claire Bassett Australia 2016 -9 40 27 68
9 150 Alix Verge Australia 2002 38 54 35 65
10 152 Debbie Cornelius England 2001 -51 40 17 43
11 155 Chloe Aberley Australia 1992 83 13 10 77
12 161 Tricia Devlin Australia 1980 -65 153 89 58
13 167 Gail Curry England 1963 -28 16 10 63
14 170 Nina Mayard-Husson New Zealand 1958 64 35 24 69
15 171 Charlotte Morgan Australia 1956 -68 56 29 52
16 176 Margaret Melville Australia 1944 48 77 41 53
17 181 Jocelyn Sutton Australia 1936 -327 10 6 60
18 187 Merryl Garrod Australia 1927 8 26 15 58
19 215 Liz Fleming Australia 1878 103 46 23 50
20 217 Alison Robinson New Zealand 1876 -11 85 43 51
21 218 Louise Bradforth England 1875 50 49 16 33
22 221 Judy Wembridge Australia 1871 -78 26 16 62
23 223 Sue Beattie Australia 1870 -78 83 57 69
24 229 Pam Fisher New Zealand 1865 -128 20 10 50
25 235 Jannine Hawker Australia 1858 33 81 45 56
26 240 Jane Morrison Ireland 1855 28 48 28 58
27 248 Anna Miller Australia 1844 70 61 34 56
28 264 Wendy Dickson Australia 1826 284 60 32 53
29 265 Kathleen Colclough Australia 1825 65 92 50 54
30 292 Judith Hanekom South Africa 1795 78 10 4 40
31 296 Deidre Hardy Australia 1786 58 38 18 47
32 297 Dallas Cooke New Zealand 1783 5 11 7 64
33 304 Jane McIntyre New Zealand 1780 16 32 14 44
34 311 Lizzie Bassett Australia 1775 -39 84 44 52
35 316 Rachel Rowe England 1767 139 20 12 60
36 329 Annabel McDiarmid England 1759 -104 10 4 40
37 338 Megan Reynolds Australia 1751 100 57 31 54
38 339 Shirley Carr Australia 1744 -21 15 8 53
39 341 Kathie Grant New Zealand 1741 -16 85 45 53
40 344 Mary Knapp England 1738 -96 41 13 32
41 353 Marion McInnes New Zealand 1732 -60 80 34 43
42 357 Laura Whittaker New Zealand 1726 162 29 12 41
43 360 Madeline Hadwin New Zealand 1722 -226 10 2 20
44 363 Beatrice McGlen England 1720 -98 40 15 38
45 371 Barbara Hooper Australia 1712 -164 12 7 58
46 374 Carol Smith England 1709 -71 36 13 36
47 377 Alwen Bowker Wales 1709 90 42 23 55
48 384 Liz McLay New Zealand 1700 81 57 30 53
49 392 Elaine Coverdale Australia 1695 151 81 50 62
50 397 Gloria Howell Australia 1689 11 23 14 61

Beatrice McGlen is a geophysicist working in oil and gas exploration. She started playing croquet at work in 1989 where a small group of enthusiasts had made a half-size lawn on a slope with a drain cover by hoop three. She joined the Nottingham Croquet Club the following season and in 1993 was awarded the Steel Bowl for the most improved female player. In 1999 she became the British Women's Champion. Her playing career was suspended in 2007 when treatment for serious illness meant she only played occasionally over the next four years. However, in 2012 she played in the British Championship again, reaching the final of mixed doubles.

Ailsa Lines is Head of Mathematics at a girls school in Lincolnshire. She has been playing croquet since 1993 and won the Ladies Week (Barlow Bowl) in 1999. In 2012 she won the British Women's Championship and the British Mixed Doubles title. She represented England in the Home Internationals in 2007 and 2008 and has twice reached the group stage of the World AC Championship in 2005 and 2008. Ailsa is a member of Nottingham and Bowdon Croquet Clubs.

Contributors of opinions and photographs include Ailsa Lines, Rosie News, Rosemary Newsham, Keith Aiton, Chris Clarke, Marion McInnes, Chris McGlen, Wendy Betteridge and others. Thanks also to James Death, Klim Seabright, Clive Hayton, John Saxby and Brad Grimmer for providing statistics.


 
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