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Egypt puts croquet
on the Middle East map

by Reg Bamford
photos by Len Canavan
Posted November 12, 2005

Related Links
Tournament Details & Results of first Women's Golf Croquet World Championship, Nov. 12-18, 2005
Egyptian Croquet Federation Website
Gezira Sporting Club Milestones
Croquet World Online inverview with Reg Bamford


Reg Bamford very nearly became the first non-Egyptian to win the Golf Croquet World Championship in 2002, when the event was the inaugural world event held at the National Croquet Center in Florida. He had to settle for fifth, and in an interview with Croquet World Online at the time he vowed to better that performance. Since then, this croquet giant has once again wrested the World Championship from his perenial rival, Robert Fulford of England, and he went to the first Egyptian Golf Croquet Open in October with high hopes, only to be thrown out of contention late in the knock-out matches by Fulford himself. Bamford lives and works in England but always plays for his native South Africa. Below is his highly personal perspective on the October event in Cairo, superbly hosted as usual by the Egyptian Croquet Federation and played at the historic Gezira Club in the middle of the Nile, site also of the first Women's Golf Croquet World Championship in mid-November, 2005.

The inaugural Egyptian Golf Croquet Open was held in Cairo in early October, 2005. The city has the most inhabitants (19 million) and the fewest road laws (none) in the world, and the Gezira Club venue, a private sports club on an island in the Nile, made the setting of a croquet tournament quite perfect. Given the incredible efforts of Amir Ramsis Naguib, the President of the Egyptian Croquet Federation, over the past five years to forge closer ties between Egypt and the rest of the Golf Croquet world, a concerted effort was made to secure a strong International team to challenge the supremacy of the Egyptians.

Major media for the women?
Surely one of croquet's most under-reported stories is the emergence of Egypt as a great croquet power - but despite the expectation of publicists over the last ten years, the mainstream press hasn't gotten the message. The angle has everything a producer or reporter looking for a good story hook - or two or three! - could hope for, not the least of which is the crowning virtue of sport which transcends all national or ethnic boundaries when players from different traditions meet to compete in brotherhood. And, of course, sisterhood. The sports network ESPN is rumored to be planning coverage of the first-ever Women's Golf Croquet World Championship in Cairo at the Gezira Club, November 12-18. Is this the long-awaited breakthrough to serious top-level coverage or our sport, or merely another "cute" two-minute feature on a "fringe sport." We shall see.
The field was made up of the top 8 ranked Egyptians (including the usual suspects like Khalid, Salah, Yassir, Hazeem, Ahmed - the World Champ - and his brother Mohammed), plus 8 Internationals (Reg Bamford, Rob Fulford, Mark McInerney, Sherif Abdelwahab, Len Canavan, Tom Weston, Evan Newell and Dick Strover).

The "Draw" (a term I use somewhat loosely - Amir simply selected which block each player went into, as well as the positions within the knockout) had 4 blocks, each containing 2 Egyptians and 2 Internationals, with the top two places in each block going through to the Quarter Finals. The bottom two finishers in each block went into the Plate.

Each match in the block, the KnockOut, and the Plate was a best-of-three, played to best-of-13 hoops. Despite a loss apiece, Reg and Rob progressed into the KnockOut, with Mark McInerny unlucky to miss out (on a count back). As a consolation, and to thunderous applause from the watching Internationals, Mark went on to triumph in the Plate final with a convincing win over Yassir.

In the KnockOut quarterfinals, Rob defeated Salah in three, and Reg got his World Champs revenge on Ahmed Nasr (who beat him 7-6, 7-6 in last year's Worlds) by thumping him 7-4, 7-2. Rob in turn got his own revenge on Reg in the Semis with a close fought 2-1 win (5-7, 7-6, 7-4, including winning the last 6 hoops of the match). In the other half of the knockout, Mohammed Nasr beat Khalid in three. The Best-of-Five final was competitive, but Rob couldn't quite match his semi final form and went down in 4 (the last game going to the 13th).

Some favorite memories

Reg defeated Salib in his first block game by winning the first 10 hoops. Tradition in Egypt has it that your opponent should never be humiliated and if you're winning 6 nil, you should not compete for hoop 7. In return, the opponent will not compete for hoop 8 and will gift you the game. But Reg's South African tradition won through and the Old Lion, as he is known, had to endure some hearty barracking from the locals.

Len Canavan of Florida did not have a good week, but in his last match he put up a great fight against Tom in the playoff for 15th and 16th places. Game all, and playing the 13th, there was a long exchange of rather nervy shots before Len ran the hoop from a foot - but not before going down on his knees and thanking the croquet gods for his good fortune.

Len Canavan, Florida croquet pro and 15th place finisher, took these snapshots of Reg and friends in Cairo. First, there's heroic Reg the croquet giant (on the right) posing before The Great Noseless One; then (below) there's happy Reg in the hotel pool, just a five-minutes walk from the courts; and finally, there's anxious Reg behind the barricades looking onto the court as a pal gets trounced by an Egyptian.
Hospitality and cameraderie trumped rules disputes

The Internationals enjoyed some wonderful camaraderie, and we were determined to a) have fun, b) play fairly, c) be gracious guests, and d) play well. We managed all four. In particular, the spirit in which the entire tournament was played was excellent, with players often calling their own faults and warning opponents before they play the wrong ball.

That said, there are still some differences in interpretation of the new World Croquet Federation laws. One player got faulted for stopping a ball (that was rocketing off the boundary) a couple of inches short of the boundary with his foot. Another player was told he couldn't play the ball of his choice after opponent had played the wrong ball. And in one memorable incident, my ball was in a critical position in hoop 4 (but still easily runnable) only for the opponent to ask for the hoop to be reset. I then found that the hoop was no longer runnable.

Nevertheless, this was a very enjoyable event indeed, and it will become a very popular tournament in the future. Amir's generosity, the wonderful hospitality of the Egyptian hosts, and the enjoyment of playing the top Golf Croquet players in the world, hosted in such a famous tourist city, made this a great competition.


 
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