The constitution states that the first aim of the Croquet Association is to "encourage, promote, develop and control Croquet". Inevitably, individual members have passion for particular aspects of this aim (whether AC rather than GC or playing weekly with friends at a local club rather than striving to become a World Champion). I am extremely pleased to report, however, that the members of Council seek to achieve balance in respect of all aspects of our sport. This year has been no exception.
The past year has been one in which the CA has taken important steps to achieve constitutional change. These steps began with the AGM twelve months ago, when you, the members, approved a first set of changes. These changes established membership as being the appropriate relationship between the CA and the Federations. Subsequently, every Federation has approved taking up this opportunity to become a member.
This first set of changes enabled Council to prepare further motions for change and to call a Special General Meeting in March where, once again, you were willing to support the Council's view of the necessary way forward.
The debates were an opportunity to hear the voices of individual members and to witness consensus on a future, sustainable CA. It was also important to give an airing to the issues that we must address to avoid negative consequences from the planned changes.
The approved constitutional changes were then the trigger for us to form a Membership Changes Implementation Group. It was reassuring to see my predecessor Jeff Dawson agree to chair this group. He has led the change discussions with vision and insight to date and I trust him fully to facilitate proper consideration of the practical delivery of a reformed CA. The group has already identified and explored two key issues: administrating the enlarged membership list; and communicating effectively with the wider set of members that we will have.
The coming off-season will be an important period as Council seeks progress on determining solutions that will bring benefit to all members of the CA.
Council has also made sure that croquet does not suffer from any lack of attention to shorter term matters. In this respect, the committees of Council have continued with a wide range of activities to sustain and improve our sport. In particular, we have sought to refine GC further with the publication of a GC Coaching Manual and two trials, the first appointing Sequence Umpires to intervene in wrong ball play and the second using a new handicap system in the East Anglian Federation.
In terms of competitive croquet, the main highlight was the Women's Association Croquet World Championship. I have already been publically effusive in my praise for the highly successful efforts of the Nottingham Croquet Club inspired by Beatrice McGlen to create an event that was enjoyable for players and for spectators. In particular, we can learn many lessons from the extensive publicity achieved.
The CA can also celebrate a final between two England players, with Miranda Chapman playing with such tenacity and poise to win. The event clearly inspired the female players of England to put in the hard work to give their best. Ian Burridge, in his role as International Performance Director, played no small part in supporting their effort. Over the years, I have seen some truly courageous play from individual female players and we should continue to seek ways to nurture them to aspire to winning one of the open World Championships.
In New Zealand earlier in the year, we had representatives at the U21 Golf Croquet World Championship and at the Golf Croquet World Championship. Several players showed good form, with Harry Dodge and Stephen Mulliner reaching the semi-finals of the former and latter, respectively.
The World Championship schedule does not let up. In April 2016, we will send representatives to Florida for the Association Croquet World Championship. And then, in May, England will host (and compete in) the Golf Croquet World Team Championship. Unfortunately, our best player, Robert Fulford, will be unavailable to travel to Florida, so we will need to rely on our other players to reach the heights that he has sustained for so many years.
One of the motivations for the constitutional changes to the CA was concern about the evolving landscape of competitive croquet, including evidence of growth in Federation events at the possible expense of national events. This evolution is not easy to monitor as the CA Office has no direct responsibility for Federation events. I have, however, taken a look at the total number of games in England within the two ranking systems. Although this only covers level-play games, the systems include national and Federation events. The figures suggest steady growth for GC over the past five years but also that, despite the number of AC events in the Fixtures Book being cancelled, the overall amount of AC is not in terminal decline.
Whenever I witness debates about the health of AC, I am always impressed by the creativity and energy shown by those who have identified suitable ways in which to introduce new players to this variant of our sport. I will lead Council in continuing a close watch on means by which to share best practice and nurture the recruitment of people that we know will find AC fascinating and satisfying.
In June, I was thrilled to be able to accept an invitation from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to attend the Wimbledon (tennis) Championship. From a CA perspective, the most important outcome was a conversation that I had with Philip Brook, Chairman of the Club Board. He revealed that the Club is making big plans to celebrate, in 2018, the 150th anniversary of its founding. The All England Club was initially only concerned with croquet, so I expressed my enthusiasm that this will be an opportunity for the CA to support the Club in recognising this shared heritage. Subsequently, I have exchanged correspondence with Philip to start this process.
The CA continues to be served faithfully by dedicated officers and staff. Leading the way in terms of experience, Ian Vincent (Hon. Secretary) and Liz Larsson (Manager) not only perform their jobs diligently but also offer a valuable perspective on the wider context of the CA and, thus, provide insightful advice to Council. It is a great privilege to have been able to put together the citation for Ian to receive a Council Medal in the course of the AGM. During 2014, Steve Mowbray (Office Assistant), Fiona Knee (Sales Agent) and Peter Death (Hon. Treasurer) each entered their respective roles. They have all rapidly become an integral and effective part of the team and I am confident in the foundation that this gives us to adopt and benefit from the constitutional changes.
The past year has brought the deaths of individuals who have made significant contributions to croquet, including John Solomon, Donald Cornelius, Paul Macdonald, Christine Irwin and Chris Hudson. Many clubs will have also had deaths of people who have played a pivotal role in nurturing the grass roots of our sport. For the coming year, I urge us to remember the inspiration that such dedication offers up and I look forward to us all contributing to sustaining the croquet for which we have so much passion.