The contest for the MacRobertson International Trophy is a unique event in the sport of Croquet, largely because it is remarkably self-reliant and self-governed. For a tournament referee, this is a blessing. Granted, the stakes are high, the pressure is often unbearable, but for the 24 gifted players who are privileged to compete for the Shield, the event offers an experience unmatched in all croquet - and a challenge for the Tournament Referee.
I am personally indebted to a fine crew of volunteer referees, who graciously gave their time and expense to insure that the 2003 Mac would be a smooth success. For 15 straight days, they acted as Referees on Call and Appeal. They are:
I also thank Charles Jones of New Zealand, who assisted in an unofficial capacity, spelling referees during the lunch hour.
The lawns played remarkably well throughout the 15 day marathon. They remained largely true and flat, drained well after The Deluge, and were consistent from court to court. Because of a "day on, day off" mowing schedule, court speed varied from fast to sluggish. Most players adjusted easily. The courts were groomed and maintained by America's Patron Saint of Croquet, Archie Peck, and his tireless assistants, Carl and Dave. Jeff Soo laid out the courts and set hoops daily.
The Oakley hoops were difficult to set but performed well in the soft Florida ground. Using three sets of holes rotated every other day, the "X" flanged hoops surprised everyone by remaining firm and quite unforgiving. Some players with past experience in Florida, accustomed to slamming through hoops, learned that the Oakleys were not amenable to bullying. Many Egyptian hoop shots were rejected outright. The hoops seemed to favour soft, smooth strokes.
The Sunshiny balls presented no problems, though players noted which balls were consistently larger or smaller. Chipping was evident by Day 15. Two red balls had to be removed from play after it was determined they were knocked out of round. Overall, performance was good, though not great.
The Mac is fortunate to have players who are not just excellent competitors, but who are also well-schooled in the Laws and Regulations of Croquet. Because of this, there were relatively few instances where the attention of the Tournament Referee was required. I shall review those instances:
1. In the Singles match between AU-1 and GB-2 during the Second Test, GB-2 summoned the Tournament Referee at the conclusion of the first game - won by GB-2. GB-2 requested a Referee be placed in charge of the game. The TR asked GB-2 "why?" GB-2 said that he believed AU-1 was not playing expeditiously. GB-2 elaborated that at the conclusion of the first game, he had asked AU-1 to begin the second game with dispatch; but AU-1 declined and took a break. Coincidentally, the monitoring referee decided that a hoop on the court was improperly set (less than 1/32nd clearance) and needed re-setting between games. This process took about ten minutes and coincided with AU-1's absence from the court. Because the court was not available for play when GB-2 made his request, and because the TR felt that a RiC was not, at that time, required, GB-2's request was denied. This decision was based on the information provided by GB-2, the fact that the lawn was not ready for play when GB-2 wished to continue, and an underlying concern by the TR that, should every player request and receive a RiC, there would not be enough Referees to go around.
The TR stayed courtside for the remainder of this match, monitoring play between GB-2 and AU-1. Clearly, both players were getting inside each others' heads - one hoping to speed play; the other purposely slowing it down. If the opening of the 2nd game was any indication, both succeeded. The first eight shots were hastily played without a roquet. AU-1 finally took the innings, the first and second breaks, only to fail in his triple attempt. GB-2 cleaned up the game and won the match.
At the conclusion of the match, I gathered both players together by the peg to explain my decision to deny a RiC. In brief, I said: "I have known both of you for some time and know you both to be fine croquet players and fine gentlemen. Based on that knowledge, I trusted that both of you would acquit yourselves decently and expeditiously without a RiC." Thankfully, they proved me right.
Naturally, a general discussion of the Laws and the requirements of the Tournament Referee ensued. Some claimed that if a player requests a RiC, the TR is required to meet the request. Others felt that the decision should be at the discretion of the TR. The Law itself, R.1.c, is somewhat ambiguous, but logic dictates that discretion is the operative factor. Should every player on every court demand a RiC, chaos would ensue. Further, by merely requesting a RiC, a player might conceivably intimidate another player; hence, gamesmanship. That argued, the final word is in Law 55.
A final note should be added to this brief controversy: GB-2 was given a specific opportunity to explain his reasons for requesting a RiC but, unfortunately, did not provide the TR with all the details pertinent to the situation. Specifically, GB-2 failed to inform the TR of the exact events that occurred during the first game - subtle delaying tactics by AU-1. Had he done so, the TR may have given a different decision. GB-2 was informed of this after the match, and though he stoutly disagreed with the TR's decision - "Dreadful," he called it - he concurred that he did not provide enough information. A footnote to all this: the Tournament Manager and Tournament Referee unofficially invoked a "ten minute" standard for breaks, not including lunch. This came to be known, unofficially, as the "Bassett" rule. Significantly, AU-1 was told by the TR that his ten minutes would actually run out at 9:50. There were no further incidents.
2. In a Singles match between AU-2 and GB-2, GB-2 was the victim of an incorrect ruling on the Laws. Mid match, GB-2 began his turn with his balls, Blue and Black, in contact. Initially, he chose to play one colour, but before playing a stroke, he decided he wanted to play the other ball. Being unsure if he was allowed to do so, GB-2 asked the referee on call for a ruling. The referee told GB-2 that he was required to play the first ball. According to Law 19.e, that is incorrect. GB-2 should have been allowed a change of decision. GB-2 could have appealed the ruling but instead he chose to accept it and play on. Fortunately, the incorrect ruling did not affect the outcome of the game or match, but that is no consolation. As Tournament Referee, I take responsibility for this error. My apologies are extended to both players involved.
3. In a Doubles match between AU-3 and USA-3, a player from USA-3 had a difficult, close-angled hoop shot at 1-back. Because his opponents had decided that USA-3's ball could not come through the hoop with a hard shot, they laid up at hoop 1. USA-3 then decided to play the hard shot. Before playing the shot, and before calling for a referee, USA-3 solicited the Tournament Referee and requested that a specific referee be called to judge the shot. In that the TR had already assigned another referee to monitor the court, the TR summarily denied USA-3's request. In explanation, the TR told USA-3 that "no personal referees" would be assigned at any time and that no player had the right to ask for a personal referee. Both sides were duly informed of the decision.
USA-3 played the shot, hard, with two referees watching. The shot was judged a fault. At that, USA-3, in a most uncharacteristic display of temper - not befitting a team captain - stormed off the court and went directly to the lunch area, where he decided to remain. Unfortunately, he did not ask or inform his opponents of this decision. When AU-3 suddenly broke down at hoop 2, USA-3 was not prepared to play. The Tournament Manager went to the lunch area and informed USA-3 that he was on an "unauthorised lunch break." He was asked to return to the court. USA-3 won the game but lost the match.
This was not the only display of temper during the 15 straight days of competition, but it was the most blatant, witnessed by many spectators and players. The following day, the player involved was reprimanded by the TM and TR for his comportment. He was also asked to apologise to his opponents and to the referee on call at the time. Thus the matter was resolved.
As in every major tournament, there were a couple of questionable calls on potential double-taps and crushes - one in particular made by the TR. In so far as making suitable judgements on such subjective calls, the benefit of doubt was consistently given to the striker. While we can't be 100% sure that all calls were correct, I am satisfied that this crew of referees performed at the highest level to ensure fairness for all. For their help, these gentlemen have my sincere thanks.
2003 MacRobertson Shield
Submitted 26 November 2003