An overseas business trip prevented me from reading in person my report to the 2015 AGM. This year, however, I am able to fulfil this duty as one of my last before handing over to Brian Shorney as the new Chairman of Council (all things going to plan).
Although much of the AGM agenda and the closing remarks by our President, Quiller Barrett, will also address the topic, I would like to start by commenting on croquet in the past year. My only motivation for participating in the administrative side of our sport is to contribute to ensuring that all members are able to enjoy fair, challenging competition at a level appropriate to their talents and experience.
Some aspects of the year have felt as if we are moving on to new times. In particular, Robert Fulford has made limited appearances after so many years as a dominant figure in our sport. I am delighted though that we have been able to award Robert a Council Medal this year to show our gratitude as we see him move to dedicating himself to important domestic responsibilities. I am sure he realises that we are here whenever he has time to spare!
The new GC handicap system has been another step forward. I am sure we have scratched our heads at times when trying to remember all the details but Martin French expertly led the development and communication programme to ensure that we had plenty of information available to help us out. I have heard no complaints as to the fairness of the system and everything looks more sensible now that we have our top players at handicaps of -4 and -3, while the rest of us wallow below that level.
Some aspects, though, have been very much "de ja vu, all over again". "Mulliner wins croquet tournament" is hardly a startling headline. But, in April, his success in the AC World Championship in Florida was a new level of achievement. I am still in awe of his stamina in succeeding after playing the full five games in each of the final four rounds.
From my own perspective, the sporting highlight of the year was the CA hosting the Golf Croquet World Team Championship. We were able to host all three tiers (including bringing everyone together at the end of the week). While Surbiton performed to exactly the high standards one would have predicted in hosting Tier 1, we were also able to make use of Camerton & Peasedown, Bath and Guildford & Godalming as three new World Championship venues.
I regret not having been able to visit Tiers 2 and 3 during the week but I know that those three clubs displayed dedication and expertise in so being such successful hosts. I was especially pleased that, despite Camerton & Peasedown being such a young club and Bath having been through some testing times, those two clubs collaborated smoothly to produce a welcoming atmosphere. I thank all the clubs for their efforts, ensuring we were able to help out the WCF and Egypt when unexpected difficulties prevented the latter from fulfilling a commitment to hosting the 2016 championship.
The England team performed creditably in the top tier but were short of being able to mount a strong challenge to the two finalists. University exams robbed us of Harry Dodge and John Paul Moberly, both of whom demonstrated their likely value when they were available to play tournaments later in the season.
World team championships is also the theme of my last observation on play in our sport: our thoughts now turn to the team we are sending to the next MacRobertson Shield. James Hopgood has had an excellent season and will make his debut in that team alongside five more experienced members. Their campaign will take place in California in April and May next year. Council thanks the MacRobertson Shield selection committee for their efforts and wishes the team well.
The Council year begins at their meeting on the same day as the AGM. One year ago, we formally accepted the applications of all nine Federations to join the CA as members under the constitutional changes from 2014. This step was a welcome confirmation that we had been able to bring our constituency with us. Our vote was not as simple as the "stay" or "leave" of Brexit. Instead, the questions we asked do seem to have given us a sound foundation for actually implementing our intended changes.
These changes have progressed during the year, with us tackling the more substantial challenge of dealing with the plan of how to transition all members of our member clubs to become individual members of the CA. This challenge has been addressed by Jeff Dawson, who has co-ordinated working parties looking at the details of a plan to achieve a stable transformation. We have been unable to deliver a new membership database in time for January 2017 but, next season, members of clubs will already be allowed to play in all tournaments that appear in the CA Fixtures Calendar without having to join as Tournament Members.
Returning briefly to the MacRobertson Shield, the selection process did throw up debate during the autumn of last year, when we were challenged as to the procedure for making the selection decision on individuals who are also members of the selection committee. Council was able to find a consensus position on this matter, while also noting that the selection for the GC World Team Championship had followed a different procedure. With both the immediate championships being selected under the existing policies, the two selection committees have been working to develop a robust and transparent single approach to use for future events.
The toughest experience of my whole Chairmanship came during the March meeting of Council. A large number of members had signed a petition in reaction to a decision of the AC Tournaments Committee. As I wrote in a subsequent Chairman's column in The Gazette, I was extremely grateful to discover that we could find the correct answer in our constitution when the tournaments committee had exercised what it considered to be legitimate powers but in fact had strayed beyond intended limits. The discussion in Council did, however, raise issues around the nature of the relationship between Council and its committees.
Meanwhile, as a result of considering the consequences of our membership changes, we had already identified the need for a working party on governance. This working party has also taken on considering the lessons from the tournaments committee controversy. I am very pleased that we have focused in on the word "governance", which conveys important differences from "administration" (having many similarities to the distinction between "leadership" and "management").
While "administration" addresses the efficiency of how our sport is run, we must start from foundations that ensure all our members and wider stakeholders can trust the CA to be a responsible and just organisation. Governance is the means by which we ensure the proper exercise of the powers that the collective membership vests in individuals at all levels of authority in the CA. This emphasis on governance is something that I also find to be a key theme in my professional life. After a period of stable operations, the CA is demonstrating maturity in testing whether we still have the best mechanisms in place to sustain the reputation and health of our sport.
With respect to more routine business, Peter Death completed his first full annual cycle of activity as Hon Treasurer during the course of the year. He has shown himself to be everything that the CA desires from any individual in this role. Peter was able to announce a surplus for 2015, while the 2016 budget was set for a loss, although of a lesser magnitude. We can also expect the membership changes to incur costs over the coming months. Overall, we manage our finances responsibly but, not unreasonably, we have voices that encourage Council to consider innovative ways in which we could spend our funds to sustain the future of croquet. We will continue to review this balance.
The CA Office remains the rock on which so much of our daily activity relies. Liz Larsson leads the Office team with wisdom and, in response to the varied demands we place on her, much patience.
The Office bore the brunt of the administrative burden when our membership responded with great enthusiasm to the opportunity to participate in the Patron's Lunch, which celebrated the 90th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen. One of my predecessors, Patricia Duke-Cox, was one of our members who were interviewed live on the BBC after having been involved in some croquet-related banter with Prince Harry.
The National Croquet Day on 5 June was another highlight for all involved but again the Office picked up a series of tasks in helping to ensure that the vision and energy of those of us in voluntary roles actually led to a practical reality for all involved.
Amidst all the other activity, Council has also overseen an update to the CA website. This update did not bring massive change to the user experience of our Internet presence but did ensure the underpinning technology is sustainable in the light of all the varied functionality that most members no doubt begin very much to take for granted.
The death of Bernard Neal was a very sad loss for croquet during the past year. Another former member of Council to pass on was Ian Parkinson. And we have also missed the quiet, considered contributions of Richard Hoskyns, who fell ill at the beginning of 2016 and has since begun a slow journey of recovery.
We are losing the services of Alan Pidcock, fortunately though while he is still in rude health; he is retiring from Council after 18 years of faithful service. We thank him for his dedication.
The Management Committee is also losing the valuable contribution of the collective wisdom of Jonathan Isaacs, Ian Lines and Strat Liddiard as they all move on from chairing principal committees. But they remain members of Council and their contributions will continue to be important to the smooth running of our business moving forward; Strat, in particular, because he is leading the Governance Working Party.
My last Chairman's column has already covered my valedictory thanks, although I could never repeat my gratitude to Ian Vincent often enough to honour fully the diligence with which he pursues his duties. I also missed out one very important name: our President, Quiller, is a wise participant in the leadership of the CA. He seems to follow one of my favourite aphorisms: "See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little". When he does intervene, he gives gentle guidance that gives one cause for careful reflection.
My choice is to end this report with a theme that is not a cause because I do not have the temperament for campaigning. But I am an encourager, so I will repeat some thoughts from a column earlier in the year. In the AGM, we have eight candidates for eight positions on Council. We only have one female in that number. I urge us to all to understand that this level of female participation is woefully inadequate and will change. Please look at the women around you and identify those who should be joining Council so that we will reflect, sooner rather than later, the changes that are happening in wider society.
Thank you all for your support in the past two years; it has been an honour and a privilege. I wish you all the best of health and many great adventures on the croquet court.
Dr. Timothy M. KING
Chairman of the Croquet Association Council