By Jeff Dawson, Chairman of the Croquet Association
I believe the time has come when we need to reconsider how we fund croquet in England. In my article in the October Gazette, I showed how the CA raises its money, and also how it spends it. Just to recap; about 57% of income comes from tournament players in one form or another Ė thatís including tournament levies, and individual CA membership (which most people only take out when they need it to play in tournaments). I think the perception is often that the CA is for elite players, or at least tournament players, but the reality is that most of the money raised goes towards the development of the game in one form or another. In fact taking all the CA spend on tournaments, including organising them, administration, producing the fixtures book, office time, etc., and adding in what we spend on international events both home and away, the total expenditure comes to just 18% of the overall budget. Development loans and grants, and work done in sorting out handicaps, coaching, refereeing, etc., is a much more significant element of our expenditure.
Does this imbalance matter?
Well, there is of course the question of what is fair to consider, but putting that aside for a moment then one might argue that it doesnít if that is the end of the story. Tournament players are, of course, the most enthusiastic among us, and for the most part they do not begrudge the relatively small amount they pay for their CA membership. They tend to spend a lot more travelling and staying overnight in order to compete anyway. However, it does become more clearly an issue if we believe tournament play is likely to decline. If this were to happen, then the CAís income is reduced, and consequently the money we put into development comes under threat.
Is a decline in tournament play likely?
In its current form, I believe it is and thatís for two reasons.
1. The survey of croquet players carried out in 2012 showed a worrying trend that many clubs are seeing an increase in the number of Ďsocialí players, who are not really interested in competitive play. That tends to mean that the number of competitive players is falling.
2. When we analysed what has been happening in the federations, we saw a significant shift in how many people play their croquet. The success of the federations in organising leagues, especially in the SW and SE federations, has led to as many competitive man-days being played through federation-led or advertised events, as there are in the whole of the CA fixtures book. This is a significant shift from say ten years ago, and we think the trend is likely to continue. Thatís great, of course, but it does mean that for many, they get all the competitive play they want without having to join the CA or play in fixture-book events. I have increasingly found when asking players if they would join the CA that I am getting that reaction, and itís a message Iím getting from other people trying to recruit CA members too.
At the moment, the CAís finances are sound, and we have been able to continue our grants programme unabated. We have not yet seen any significant fall-off of tournament members, however, we have seen a decline in tournament levies (about a 10% decline over the last 5 years, after correcting for inflation and the reduced percentage the CA introduced a few years ago). I believe that if we continue the way we are, then a fall in CA membership is almost inevitable. We are fortunate that we have a large number of loyal members, who tend to stay members once theyíve been hooked, even if they no longer play in tournaments. However, if we canít get new members to replace them, then eventually numbers will decline.
The advantage of taking action now, rather than waiting for a crisis, is that we can introduce change gradually. I believe we need to shift towards charging clubs more for their membership (thus effectively charging ALL croquet players, rather than just tournament players). Done slowly over a period of time, this should not be too painful for club members Ė after all if we scrapped tournament membership completely and put the whole burden on club players, then it would mean charging them only an extra £10 per head or so. Iím not actually suggesting we need necessarily go that far, but even if we did then croquet remains a cheap game to play, and for most clubs this increase would be small compared to overall membership costs.
Changes to the fee structure is just one aspect of the report put forward by the Federation Working Party, albeit probably the most controversial. The report also proposes changes in the relationship between Federations and the CA, changes to the boundaries between federations, widening the CAís membership base to include all club players, and other factors affecting the overall administration of croquet. If you would like to learn more then please read their report on the CA website www.croquet.org.uk. The CA is keen to hear your views Ė why not write a letter to the Gazette or email me directly and let me know what you think.
Chairman of the Croquet Association