We shall probably never know who first said what to whom and how the movement that led to the formation of a world governing body for croquet then began. But it might have seemed a good bet at any time from the foundation of the United States Croquet Association (USCA) in 1977, when the game got into high gear and came to attract commercial sponsorship. The logic was then plain to see. The governing bodies of the established croquet-playing nations had long aspired to promoting the game among a wider public and were at pains to obtain coverage in the mass media. The key was seen to lie in bigger and more prestigious events that could command the volume of publicity that would attract sponsors whose financial support would be needed to fund the travel of the leading players from around the world. The interests of players, sponsors, and media were interdependent. Ideally, what was wanted was a credible organisation with authority to stage a world championship.
In the event, the lead was taken by the (English) Croquet Association (the CA) in 1985. With the promise of a substantial increase in funding from the (British) Sports Council, the CA had recently appointed Christopher Hudson as its first salaried development officer and was beginning to extend its horizons. On 17 April 1985, Andrew Hope, then the Vice Chairman of the CA, wrote to ‘all the likely representatives of a World Federation’ with outline proposals for the formation of a World Federation of Croquet Associations and invited their views. Membership of the Federation would be open to all recognised national croquet associations. Its aims would be to promote croquet on an international basis, to produce an international newsletter, to organise international events, and to obtain sponsorship. A draft constitution would be circulated within a few months.
While all respondents supported the concept in principle, various reservations were expressed. Could arrangements for the development of the laws of croquet for international events discriminate against the USCA Rules? Could the existence of such a body threaten the exclusive authority of the CA, the Australian Croquet Council (ACC), later renamed the Australian Croquet Association, and the New Zealand Croquet Council (NZCC), later renamed Croquet New Zealand, in overseeing the MacRobertson Shield series? What about the eligibility of the South African Croquet Association (SACA), ostracised from international sports competition on account of racial discrimination? And how would the proposed organisation be governed and managed? Many such issues would need to be addressed. Over the following months it was agreed that representatives of the national associations that had already been approached would meet to discuss all relevant matters. This exploratory meeting took place on 17 July 1986 in London at the end of the MacRobertson Shield Test Series. Other nations were also represented, both by recognised national associations and bodies that might be instrumental in promoting the formation of such associations.
The International Committee of the CA prepared for the meeting by compiling an agenda and draft constitution. The essential items on the agenda were to elect a chairman of the meeting, consider the draft constitution, decide on voting rights and to appoint a committee to produce a final draft that would be acceptable to all parties. At the suggestion of its chairman, Prof. Bernard Neal, who was then also a member of the management committee of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELT&CC), the first draft constitution was modelled on the established rules and standing orders of that club. The task of adapting them for the purpose of a world federation of national croquet associations fell mainly to Andrew Hope and Stephen Mulliner. Mulliner was especially well equipped for this role, being a qualified lawyer and having extensive contacts throughout the croquet world.
The meeting, chaired by Andrew Hope, was attended by representatives of the Australian Croquet Council (ACC), the Croquet Association (CA), the Croquet Association of Ireland (CAI), the Croquet Association of Japan (CAJ), the New Zealand Croquet Council (NZCC), the Scottish Croquet Association (SCA), the South African Croquet Association (SACA), the United States Croquet Association (USCA) and the CERN Croquet Club of Switzerland (CERN).
It was agreed that all the associations represented should have a single vote for the meeting, save for SACA and CERN, which were welcomed as non-voting observers and that the Canadian Croquet Association and the Croquet Association of Bermuda should also be invited to apply for observer membership. After detailed consideration of the first draft constitution it was agreed that the associations of seven countries satisfied the criteria for membership of the World Croquet Federation and that the CA International Committee would act as the WCF’s Steering Committee with responsibility to redraft the constitution and prepare the way for the foundation of the WCF.
Over the next two years the Steering Committee worked patiently in consultation with representatives of the prospective founder members. Their task was both difficult and delicate. Somehow they had to produce a constitution that would be acceptable to all parties, so that ultimately they would be encouraged to come together and give it their assent, in confidence that they would not be inhibited from doing so by any dissenting voice. The committee was motivated by a desire to avoid any impression that the CA wished to maintain its leadership of the croquet world and to ensure that the federation they sought to create would exist as an independent and fully democratic entity. Some of the more sensitive issues for which they had to establish consensus was the status of SACA and the eligibility of SACA members to participate in world events, the place of professionalism in international croquet, the versions of the game that the Federation should embrace, where authority for the laws of each version of the game should be vested, the continued independence of the MacRobertson Shield organisation and the numbers of votes in general meetings to be granted to larger and smaller associations.
The difficulty of the committee’s task was compounded by the proverbial problem of ordering chicken and egg. The foundation of the Federation called for a collective commitment in general meeting, but the prospects of getting representatives from all the nations who might wish to take part together at a central location for the sole purpose of such a meeting were scarcely auspicious. Several of the national associations might be unable to justify the expense of sending delegates, so the exercise could prove abortive. Sponsorship might ensure success if a world championship was on offer, but how could an unborn international body stage a world championship, or indeed anything else? Want of credibility had already proved a stumbling block. In 1985, in anticipation of the foundation of the WCF, the International Committee of the CA had applied to the International World Games Association (IWGA) to have croquet accepted in the 1989 World Games at Karlruhe, West Germany. It succeeded in having croquet accepted as a ‘demonstration sport’, but failed to secure full representation for the game because it was unable to present the credentials of an established world governing body.
By dint of the late discovery of a sympathetic sponsor and patient diplomacy, pursued mainly by correspondence and bilateral phone conversations, the Steering Committee achieved a remarkable breakthrough. In October 1987, it sent a revised draft constitution to seven prospective member associations for their approval, inviting them to join the CA as founder members of the federation, and initiated plans for an inaugural world championship. The pace quickened towards the end of the following year when the CA received an offer of sponsorship from Continental Airlines to the value of about ten thousand pounds sterling plus valuable publicity for a world championship to be held in England in 1989. Synchronisation of an inaugural general meeting with a world championship was now all but assured.
During the following months, Hudson, the CA’s Development Officer and Secretary of the Steering Committee, worked tirelessly for his two masters, pulling all the threads together. The inaugural meeting of the WCF would be held at the Hurlingham Club, London on Saturday 15 July 1989, and the first (Continental Airlines) World Croquet Championship would start the next day. An ad hoc committee of the CA prepared proposals for the championship, to be combined with its own Open Championship, for consultation; a fine silver trophy (the Wimbledon Cup) for the championship was received as a gift from the AELT&CC and the Steering Committee finalised it proposals for the formation of the federation. With the agreement of the would be founder members, the stage was set for action.
The first General Meeting, attended by 22 representatives, duly took place at the Hurlingham Club at 10.00 am on 15 July 1989. In his welcome address as chairman of the meeting, John Solomon commented that ‘to anyone looking back in future years, the formation of the World Croquet Federation would be seen as a milestone in the history of croquet. Hudson, as acting Secretary-General, reported that he had received apologies for non-attendance from representatives of six countries, and the meeting then turned to substantive matters. It was agreed first that, subject to receipt of the necessary documentation and fees, the following countries should be admitted to membership:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
The meeting then endorsed, subject to several amendments, the Statutes of the World Croquet Federation that had been circulated in advance by the Steering Committee, elected Ashley Heenan, President of the NZCC, as its first President, appointed a Management Committee of five members, resolved several points of detail, and took notice of various proposals from the floor for future consideration.
In conclusion, Solomon thanked the Associazione Italiana Croquet for its gift of a Fun Cup, to be awarded to the outstanding ‘personality’ of each WCF World Association Croquet Championship, and expressed the hope that the 1989 championship would produce some excellent and exciting croquet.
Up to present day
Since its formation the WCF has evolved and grown and extended into other variants of the game, today holding Championships in both Association Croquet and Golf Croquet.
The discovery in the 1980s that Golf Croquet was played to a very high standard in Egypt provided important support for renewed interest in this code in the UK. The recognition of Golf Croquet as a serious alternative code gathered pace in the early 1990s and this led to the holding of the first Golf Croquet World Championship in Italy in 1996. It was won, predictably, by an Egyptian, Khaled Younis.
The WCF's primary task has been to foster the playing of croquet at the highest possible level. The principal means of bringing players from different countries together has been the holding of regular World Championships in both codes. These include the two main singles World Championships designed to produce the true World Champions but also include World Championships for women, young players and senior players.
AC and GC World Singles Championships are now held approximately every two years, whilst the Team Championships are held approximately every four years.
The MacRobertson Shield was donated in 1925 as the trophy for Test Matches between England and Australia but the competition now includes New Zealand and the United States. It was converted into a WCF Event in 2010 and now runs as the World Team Championship, with three tiers.
The GC Team series also competes over 2 or 3 tiers, dependent on entries.