BOB ALMAN: You are retired from the Australian Army since 1987, you have since become an important figure in croquet in Australia, you have a family in New South Wales, you're on the road virtually fulltime, and you have undertaken this difficult job at your own expense at the healthy age of 68, when others would be taking life slow and easy. Could you say why you're doing this and what you think you need to accomplish for it to have all been worth your while?
BOB ALMAN: A long answer, but a good answer. You didn't say so, but the implied statement here is that you are uniquely qualified to bring about this transformation in the effectiveness of the WCF to make it achieve its purpose. You don't have to agree with that, that's really something I'm saying…
TONY: I don't think I'm uniquely qualified, there are a lot of people who could do it, and a lot of people are helping, but at present, I don't know why, but… Well, at present I am effectively sponsoring….I enjoy meeting people….I'm prepared to put….
BOB ALMAN: You're paying your own way, Tony…
TONY: When I became the president, I said I would visit all the countries, I spent 40 years in the Australian army, I've got a reasonable pension, and I'm capable of traveling to them all. In fact, I will have visited the whole 22 countries by October this year - which is just over a year since I took office. I'm also, of course, visiting a few other countries, to wit, Denmark, and possibly Libya.
BOB ALMAN: Not Libya…?
TONY: Libya has just asked to send a player to the World Golf Croquet Championships, and they are being offered a chance to join the World Croquet Federation if they qualify.
BOB ALMAN: And you are paying for all this travel yourself? What do you get paid for this by the WCF?
TONY: Nothing. I'm not even accepting expenses. The WCF can't really afford to.
BOB ALMAN: Assuming you are able to organize the WCF to achieve it's founding purpose and assert it's coordination and management of croquet events and laws, etcetera, for the benefit of the sport, you're liable to run into the resistance of the national bodies which are traditionally the leaders and stewards of the sport, and there's going to be a natural human tendency to resist outside 'control," isn't there? Won't they continue to resent the power, if you will, of the world body? Is that a real concern or an imaginary one?
TONY: It's not imaginary; there is always resistance to change. And wisdom comes from recognizing what can be changed, and changing it, and not trying to change something that is immutable. Perhaps I've learned a bit of wisdom in the last 68 years.
BOB ALMAN: I'm not talking about change, I'm talking about dominance - taking over some of the strong countries' roles in being the de facto leaders and arbiters of the sport…
TONY: I'm delighted to say that the presidents of all the countries that I've spoken to seem to be fully behind what I'm trying to do. I have been invited to address the Croquet Association [of England] on the 29th of May, and it's nice that I appear to be getting support from that direction. I am getting support from the New Zealand Council, and I will shortly be visiting Florida and talking with the president of the USCA, Dan Mahoney, endeavoring to obtain his support. As for Australia, at the time I took this job, I was in line to become the president of the Australian croquet association, but when I realized how much I had to do, it was clear I couldn't do both jobs, and fortunately Peter Tavender was available to be the Australian president. So I stood aside. I believe I have good support from Australia.
BOB ALMAN: Would you say then, at this time, that most of the countries actually realize and acknowledge the benefit and necessity for an overall central body to decide essential questions of rules and events and all these thing rather than trying to hash it all out amongst themselves? Do they recognize that now? Because I have noticed…
TONY: It's interesting, the leadership seems to recognize that, but the body of opinion, a lot of people think, is very conservative, and doesn't want to hand over any power. However, the leadership recognizes the need, and I think the leadership will eventually succeed in convincing everybody that the path I'm proposing is the ONLY path for any sport…
BOB ALMAN: You know, I can't help asking this, and it's rather personal and positional, but…Do you think there are more people in croquet than in other sports who have opinions and no intention to do or say anything useful…you know, who are obstructionists, who just seem determined to gum up the works of any useful or creative endeavor...? Or is this true in all volunteer organization?
TONY: Well, volunteer organizations are characterized that way, I would agree, but I believe in croquet we have more people with better intellects who are more flexible…After all, to play decent croquet, you've got to be able to think, you've got to be flexible. So we're MUCH better off than some other sports in this regard.
BOB ALMAN: You know a lot about sports, because you have played a lot of them, so I can very sensibly asked you to compare….Is there anything like the Nottingham Board, for example, the contentiousness of that Board - maybe 400 subscribers - are there parallels to that in hockey, in soccer, in tiddlywinks…???
TONY: I can't speak to soccer and tiddlywinks, but for instance, in swimming I was a leading official in swimming for ten years. And in swimming, because parents are usually looking after their children, and a parent will be much nastier in defending his child than any individual will be in defending himself, I can say that the situation is much, much worse in swimming. However, swimming has adopted a series of protocols and ideas and practices that have managed to minimize that. And in some areas I can see that perhaps croquet should adopt the same kind of thing. And a good example is selection procedures. In the United States, for the Olympic games, the swimmers that come first and second in the US championships each year are the two selected to swim for the U.S. There is no room for maneuver. If selection procedures in croquet become very sensitive and overheated, perhaps the answer is to have selection on a more automatic basis than it is at present. One of the positive moves in this direction is the WCF ranking list, which is being accepted around the world and should assist selectors enormously.
BOB ALMAN: You've also been officially involved in hockey and squash…
TONY: Squash is basically an individual sport, very similar to croquet with respect to selection procedures. And I had a lot to do with one squash club - I was its treasurer for 19 years - and selection in squash is just as controversial as it is in croquet. Because you always have A that can beat B that can beat C that can beat A - and therefore it is the opinion of the selectors that count. But croquet has the advantage of people with flexibility of mind and good intellect…
BOB ALMAN: That's a very presidential thing to say. I'd like to get back to the potential of the WCF being the regulatory body of the sport worldwide. To what extent are the necessary committees and working parties and mechanisms already together, and to what extent do they still have to be created?
TONY: The WCF has a Management Committee consisting of six committee members, the president, and the immediate past president. The secretary-general and the treasurer are elected from among the Management Committee (perhaps we should change the rule to allow them to be outside appointments?) That committee is working very well at present, every member is on email, meetings are held whenever we can get people together. The Council consists of the eleven "full" members, and we meet whenever we can, and so far that is only at the World Championships. We can have meetings of the Council by mail, including votes by mail. All major questions must be decided by a vote of the Council.
BOB ALMAN: The voting strength is not the same for each Council member, though…
TONY: There are twenty votes in all, because the Big Four countries have 3 votes each - because they all have more than 1,000 affiliated members. With 12 votes between them, the Big Four countries can control what happens. It's just a great pity to my mind that these four countries are trying to agree on things amongst themselves rather than using the forum of the WCF to…
BOB ALMAN: But this is traditional in politics, it's called a caucus, you know, you get a critical number of people together who agree to agree and then vote as a block, and they have the power. I don't think there's anything you can do about that…
TONY: It's a pity they don't exercise the power through the World Federation, though. Currently they're exercising the power by becoming a group of four - which is unfortunate, because things do need to be properly coordinated.
BOB ALMAN: Is it too simple-minded to say, then, that it would be wonderful if all the central questions were fairly submitted and arbitrated by the WCF Council? That's an important part of what you want to accomplish…
TONY: Yes, I believe that if I can get that working properly, the sport will have taken a significant step forward.
BOB ALMAN: Okay, let me ask you a really broad question, about the croquet culture. Croquet organizations everywhere, large and small, are usually not able to attract as many players to the sport as they would like. They get mallets in the hands of a few people, and most of them don't come back after first exposure. We all have our different observations and theories about multiple causes for this. For example, in this public space [Stern Grove] my brief is that we shouldn't make people wear all-whites, in fact we should encourage them to wear something else to give the sport a more contemporary look, to be more inviting to a broader demographic. Croquet clubs tend to be - and to look - very institutional and closed, for older people only. Do you see the WCF having any role in this, any stand to make in opening up the sport to a broader demographic?
TONY: Each level of croquet must do what it has to do at the level at which it does it. And I believe that the actual recruiting of players must come down to clubs. The recruiting of clubs - forming more clubs - is something that has to be done at the regional level. The recruiting of new regions (or states) must be done at the national level. The recruiting of new countries must be done at the WCF level. That's the reason I'm going to Libya, I'm going to Denmark, and I may be going to Austria. But at the local level, it's the job of the clubs to get new players. And since I'm in America, I will say this: I don't think that the United States clubs have sufficiently structured themselves to succeed - and I may be wrong in saying this…
BOB ALMAN: No, you're right, and let me interrupt you right away to say how right you are! Because I'm very much in touch with this problem. Because the USCA, uniquely among all the croquet associations of the world, was organized with a strong marketing focus, centrally managed by Jack Osborn, the founder of the USCA, a brilliant marketer with a professional background in marketing communications. His purpose for the regions was to have the regional vice presidents carry out his will in the regions. It did not go back and forth. And to this day, the regional vice presidents do not set up and manage organized structures in the regions, or events - with the single exception, perhaps, of their annual regional championship. And there are no development and training programs for local clubs, and if you've noticed, we don't have training for coaches, we don't have…
TONY: When I became president of the Croquet Players' Association of New South Wales, the one thing I said I would have to do if I was going to be president was to go and visit all the clubs. There were 48 when I started, and I think we now have 67 clubs. In visiting the groups of people playing croquet who were NOT affiliated clubs, I managed to persuade a whole pile of groups to become clubs. That's the thing that has to be done at the regional level. But within the club, getting the players is the job. I believe one of the things the United States clubs could do more often, or better, is to have more structured club programs. For example, the club draws that are an important feature of croquet in Australia and other countries…when players come along without a prior appointment at a designated time, and there is a draw, and they play whoever is drawn out of a hat. Typically we have draws at my club on Saturdays at 8:00am, 10:30am, and again at 1:30pm.
BOB ALMAN: You can't have these things be completely random…
TONY: Well, yes, there is some management, to make certain that certain players don't play each other too often, and that perhaps the better players draw each other, and the higher handicap players play at their level. Now, that is done in Canberra on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursday, Saturdays. And Sundays are left available to play club competitions. But they are structured things, these club draws, and they encourage players to become part of the social group. And in becoming part of the social group, we find that many members ask their friends to come along, and they their friends become part of the social groups, and then their friends have to struggle to gain the ability to play croquet. It's a great way of getting a group together, keeping it together, and expanding it.
BOB ALMAN: Well Tony, not everybody wants to play everybody, so I would say that probably in the clubs I know about, the social hegemony at courtside doesn't necessarily extend to the people you choose to play croquet with.
TONY: Yes, there are dangers. For a club with a single court, you can't really accommodate more than about dozen players. They tend to monopolize the court, they cease recruiting - because they don't really want anybody else - and 15 or 20 years later, the club runs down and sometimes goes out of existence, because they have forgotten to recruit. So, we should be trying to find or get clubs that have three or four lawns each.
BOB ALMAN: I have no argument with that. Change of subject: Is it only a coincidence that we've hardly heard a word from Chris Hudson [Secretary-General of the WCF] since you became president, or is that by design?
TONY: Chris is a marvelous worker but very reserved. I suspect he has not been entirely comfortable in the role as spokesperson and, as no one knew what he was doing, became fairly unpopular. He is aware of that and appears to be pleased that I am able to get about and speak to lots of croquet people."
BOB ALMAN: He set the stage for your entrance.
TONY: He has consistently produced high quality work and hidden his light under a bushel. He just doesn't advertise it. So I suppose I've been going overboard in trying to redress the imbalance.
BOB ALMAN: Okay, but what does he do? What is he doing now?
TONY: He manages the whole operation. He's the paid salary man, at 2,000 pounds sterling a year. The affiliations with the 22 countries provide just about enough to pay him an honorarium of 2,000 pounds sterling a year.
BOB ALMAN: You don't mean to say that's all he's paid…?
TONY: That's all he's paid, he's working effectively full-time for a tiny amount of money. And I'm effectively working full-time for nothing. But the truth is that croquet associations all over the work subsidize our work. For example, I was in Japan last week, and the association there put me up at a hotel and looked after me magnificently. They were effectively subsidizing the WCF in doing do. Whilst I've been here, I've been staying with John and Rosemarie Taylor, and their home has become the WCF office. They've been popping out getting copies, providing maps and directions, they've been part of the WCF staff for the last two weeks. I stayed at a lady's home in New Zealand who looked after me magnificently…
BOB ALMAN: Usually people buy your lunch, but that didn't work for you today, did it? So you're talking about a volunteer, amateur sport, going on the cheap, people pitching in, no big expenses. Is that the destiny of croquet?
TONY: Well, we have a program set up - the Friends of the World Croquet Federation - to attempt to change that and make us into a better funded organization. Before I have the gall to go and talk to major sponsors asking for sponsorship and for money, I felt - and my predecessor felt - that it was necessary for the WCF to do something itself. We are halfway to our goal of recruiting 250 Friends of the World Croquet Fedeation for 100 pounds sterling or its equivalent, each. When we reach our goal, we'll have 25,000 pounds sterling, and with that in that bank, I will be game to go and talk to sponsors and say, "We have done this, all these people have put in a share, we have a substantial amount of money from people who support our goals, and we would now like you to make that substantial amount of money into something much more" If we can get decent sponsorship, what I'd like to have is a trust fund the interest on which would be able to pay a decent salary to somebody - or perhaps more than one person - so that perhaps my successors would be able to travel around the world without financing this job out of their own pocket.
BOB ALMAN: Yes, but that's only the WCF, and I was really asking a larger question. Is there any hope of getting a critical mass of memberships and publicity and growth in order to support a professional croquet culture - which is the dearest dream of several hundred good players, of course - rather than an amateur culture. I suppose in the United States there are more full-time croquet pros than in any other, and we have only a half dozen.
TONY: Ultimately, we've got to get there.
BOB ALMAN: Do we, really? Some people say we DON'T have to get there, and we shouldn't want to. They value croquet as an amateur sport.
TONY: If we want to have proper management of the sport that enables it to grow and flourish, we've got to get there. Other sports have done it. Most sports in Australia, in each state, have an Executive Director who is paid, typically, $40,000, half by the sport and half by the government. They often also have a Coaching Director paid, typically, $25,000, again half each. An office assistant will be similarly funded. So with the government contributing about half the wages and the sport contributing the other half, you have those three people in each in each of the seven Australian states who run each sport. Croquet doesn't have that support yet. Until you get to that stage, the sports are not running properly. Now, if you look at the USA…
BOB ALMAN: The most underdeveloped croquet country in the world, look at the numbers. Australia has more than ten times the number of players we have, as a percentage of total population…
TONY: Yes, but there are four paid employees of the USCA. In England, there is an Executive Director and a couple of part-timers. In Australia, we have a Secretary who is paid a reasonable honorarium and a treasurer who is paid a smaller, almost nominal amount. In New South Wales we have a lady who works one day a week to do the routine and tedious things. She coordinates the work of the large number of volunteer workers, but makes no significant decisions.
BOB ALMAN: I spoke of the USA as the most underdeveloped because we have this huge population and we've hardly got started. In the entire Western United States, we have no more than several hundred members of the national association. We are now building USCA National, which is potentially a Training and Development center that presidents of clubs and local and regional organizers could be brought to and trained to emulate the best of examples of other countries, with respect to organizing locally in and the regions. You're read about USCA National, and I wonder if you have any thought about the potential of this kind of national center for promoting and marketing the sport.
TONY: I'm really looking forward to visiting Florida next week and actually seeing the USCA National site, where the lawns are being built. I'm delighted to see the initiative, the plans look wonderful, and it looks to me to be one of the biggest things to have happened in world croquet in my time in croquet. I wish it well. It's going to take a lot of hard work to make it commercially viable, and I'm sure that work will be done, because there are so many people in the United States with the right motivation. If it works as well as I think it will work, I hope it's a model for many other countries to emulate.
BOB ALMAN: Many people have observed that after a burst of activity with many events a couple of years ago, there has followed a relatively quite period with few events scheduled, and now you've published a four-year calendar, and I think you're working on a longer one. So what's been going on? Has there been a period of re-grouping, or what?
TONY: We've been thinking about this problem for some time in the Management Committee, and we will very soon come up with what I believe is a solution. At present, there's the problem of the chicken and the egg. You can't get sponsors for a world championship unless you have already been allocated the world championship, and you can't be allocated the world championship unless you have sponsors to pay the way. So what I hope to do is publish a forward schedule ten years in advance of the proposed world championships to be run - that is, the Association Rules ones, the Golf Croquet Rules ones, the Teams ones, and the American Rules world championship.
BOB ALMAN: Sort of arbitrarily spreading them around.
TONY: Spreading them out in a fair fashion. What would happen after the schedule is in place is…for example, a country would be allocated the WCF World Championships in 2007; and, providing the requirements are met, that country would be relatively certain that they would host that tournament; because in 2002 they could already start looking for sponsors; on the other hand, if they don't succeed in finding sponsors or if there is some other reason it's not going to work, then two years before the date - that is, in 2005 - we ask them to surrender that right to run something in 2007, and then we've got two years to find another country willing to do it - rather than having the scheduled championship cancelled. There will inevitably be dropouts. Now we'll be prepared to handle that.
BOB ALMAN: We've seen the dropouts and the cancellations. Will the events scheduled on the current four-year schedule actually happen? What are the prospects for those events? Can you say with some degree of certainty that those events will be held?
TONY: A fairly high degree of certainty. Even if they're not held in the countries programmed, we would hope that the events would be held somewhere. Immediately upcoming, the 14-point World Team Championship in Milan in June 2000 will definitely be held - I'll be there. The fourth World Golf Croquet Championships will be held in Cairo in October 2000, and I'll be there.
BOB ALMAN: And that's the extent of the absolutely certainty…?
TONY: No, there's another absolute certainty, and that is the July/August 2001 WCF World Championship in the Association game, to be held in conjunction with the British Open at Hurlingham. The one scheduled after that is the World Championship in Cairo in 2002, once again in Association croquet. If something goes wrong with having that event in Cairo, we have New Zealand ready and willing to run the championship in January of 2003. Of course, we would not be running a championship later in the year, because of the MacRobertson Shield in Florida at USCA National in October or November 2003, and I would hope after the 16th of November, because that will be the low shoulder period for airfares…
BOB ALMAN: It's an excellent time, the weather is cool enough, and before the first of the year you have "low season" rates on everything. Maybe right after Thanksgiving - which is an important American holiday. On the subject of the MacRobertson Shield, is the license fee demanded by the WCF as a condition the MacRobertson being an official WCF event still a sticking point among the Big Four countries? Obviously in an ideal world, the world body should be responsible for the major team event in the sport. Is progress being made in these negotiations?
TONY: That is a sticking point, but I think a lot of progress is being made on the issue. The license fee is only demanded for a fully named and supported event. It has been agreed that the hosts of future "World Croquet Series for the MacRobertson Shield" will apply for the event to be sanctioned by the WCF at the sanctioning fee of 100 pounds sterling. For most events, the license fee of 1000 pounds is an important source of income for the WCF, which of course does have significant expenses every time a world championship is run. A point can be made that this license fee can be a real bargain if the fact of WCF title status is used to elicit government and private financial sponsorship. The best example of that was the Bunbury world championship. At the end of the whole thing, the Bunbury committee had a significant profit, which they decided to divide four ways - $4,000 of which was voluntarily given to the WCF on top of the license fee.
BOB ALMAN: That is certainly a ringing endorsement of the WCF - I mean, that they voluntarily gave you that much money out of the profit.
TONY: Yes, but we believe really it's a just reward for a considerable administrative effort on our part, to get it going properly. I mean, president Bill Berne was there, and the Secretary-General, and the organizational effort was considerable, of negotiating who would go, and the world cup, and all the terms and conditions to be settled…It's really not a lot of money.
BOB ALMAN: And the blessing of the WCF can be a factor in producing money in some cases.
TONY: Yes, but the big question, really, is whether in sharing the profits, each organization should share the risks. We have talked a lot about how to handle this, and after all the talk, we will probably stick with what we have: that is, the WCF requires a lay-down license fee of 1,000 pounds sterling or its equivalent. That seems to be the fairest and best way of doing it. In the case of the championship in France, which ran at a loss, the WCF bore part of the loss - we paid a fair proportion of the approximately 7,000 pounds loss, and of course, we wound up with no license fee at all or anything else.
BOB ALMAN: So as a matter of fact, the license fee is a token of commitment, and you stand to lose all of it in the worst-case scenario. That's an important fact, and I don't think it is widely understood.
TONY: We would prefer not to bear the risk but can't really avoid it.
BOB ALMAN: This was an unusual situation; an anomaly, not a precedent…
TONY: Yes, you could say that.
BOB ALMAN: Tell me about your global route, as you visit all these 22 countries and more. Obviously, you're going from West to East…
TONY: From here [California] I go to Florida, then to England, where the Croquet Association has asked me to address them during the Inter-Counties. Then I go to Ireland to play in the County Dublin Championships, then to the Isle of Man (which was admitted to Observer status in the WCF last year), then I go to England to play in the International Golf Croquet Tournament at Ramsgate, then to Spain for a couple of days, fly up to Paris, pick up a car see some new courts in France at Bayeux, then I drive to Belgium, then to the Dutch association, then to Denmark, where I understand there is a croquet association that has been going for many hundreds of years, and I'm curious about it…it's reportedly different from all the forms of croquet we know.
BOB ALMAN: The true beginning of croquet at least revealed, in Denmark??
TONY: Yes, perhaps. It would also be nice to go to Copenhagen to visit the Copenhagen club. Then from Denmark I come back to Luxembourg, which has a few players, and I don't really know yet whether they're qualified to join the Federation. From there I come back to Paris, flying to Italy for the Teams Championship in Milan; then I fly to Johannesburg via London. Then when I get home, I play in New South Wales in the Champion of Champions to try and beat the other club champions in New South Wales. Then Ill have a brief period of rest. I have a seat at the Olympic games in Sydney for every day of the games. From there, in October I take off to go to Cairo, and from Cairo I hope to take off three days to visit Libya.
BOB ALMAN: Libya again. Seems an unlikely country for croquet…
TONY: Well, Ahmed Hamroush, a member of the Management Committee of the WCF and president of the Egyptian Croquet Association, told us last August that he intended to recruit other countries in Africa into croquet. I believe this is his first initiative. I'm delighted. The first thing Chris Hudson did when he received the notification about Libya was to ring up the British foreign office to ask what the relations were, and the foreign office advises us that Libya has normal diplomatic relations with all countries except Israel. That could be a problem in the future if Israel wants to join the Federation, however, I can see no real problem in having two countries in our Federation which do not have diplomatic relations. Therefore, I can see no political problems in recruiting Libya into our fold. What I WOULD like to see before I recruit them, though, is if they have some players and courts and an organization.
BOB ALMAN: Let us know if you find some grass courts in Libya. And good luck in all your travels on behalf of the sport.
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