By Natalie Serafini, Editor-in-Chief
Croquet is a gentleman’s game: a game of the elite, the wealthy, the bourgeoisie, and the drunk (in the case of “beerquet,” the drinking version). Many profess croquet to be a sport, and one requiring great skill and dexterity to shoot a ball through a wicket. It’s also a tremendously old game, believed to have been played in the 13th century by French peasants. From there it was popularized as one of the preferred pursuits of the British leisure class and beer-slugging youths. So, it’s got longevity, popularity, and a certain amount of aim and skill behind it—but does it qualify as a sport?
One Netherlands site created in “total and utter tribute to the lord of lawn sport: croquet” reports that the nine-wicket version of croquet is the most popular in backyards, as well as competitions. This version can be played with two to six players, either in teams or individually, with four or six balls. The court should follow a “double-diamond” configuration—think two diamonds, set up like argyle—using the wickets as guidelines. Players hit the ball, aiming to shoot it through the wicket; each ball shot through a wicket in order amounts to one point. Stakes at either end of the double-diamond configuration must be hit once the ball has passed through each of the wickets, also amounting to one point. Because there are several balls in one game, each ball must pass through the wickets and hit the stakes.
Several other rules further complicate the game, but the basics of the game are to shoot the ball through the hoops; think a mix of golf and billiards.
Beerquet, invented by former Other Press Editor-in-Chief Jacey Gibb, has a few rule additions. Players must always have a drink in hand. If you miss the wicket you have to drink, and if you get through the wicket, you give a drink to someone else. If you hit someone else’s ball, you both have to drink. Cheating in beerquet is encouraged; however, if you’re caught in the act you must finish your drink. Drinking must also be done with cans, so when you polish one off you throw the can at an opponent.
Immediately counting against croquet’s definition as a sport is the fact that it was popular amongst the British leisure class—seriously? The leisure class? This fact alone gives croquet an air of anti-athleticism. Sure, “leisure class” refers to an economically defined group, but they were clearly known for enjoying relaxed recreation. Can a calm, verging on idle game be considered a “sport” outside of the cringe-quotes sense?
This game also doesn’t lend itself terrifically well to viewable competition—including the Olympics. In fact, there has only been one croquet competition in Olympic history, back in 1900 Paris, and it’s reported that only a single spectator came to watch the event. The un-watchability of the game was likely behind its being discontinued in international competition; that, and the fact that only two nations entered the competition: France and Belgium. The game may be popular in backyards the world over, but watching and participating on a larger scale seems to put the “sport” on snooze.
Let’s be honest, the game also doesn’t inspire any sort of intense physical training, or use of illicit performance enhancers. Even that Netherlands website dedicated to detailing the value of croquet must acknowledge that “Because croquet can be played by everyone, it is a very social game. Divisions exist only among skill levels and most tournaments offer competition for beginners and seasoned players alike.” A social game, for all ages and skill levels—do I need to dig more of a grave for this “sport”?
Still, I can’t discount the difficulty of shooting a ball through a wicket, particularly if one introduces beer to the game in the incarnation known as beerquet. Much like when I argued for the athleticism of beer pong, the introduction of alcohol in any sport makes it considerably more difficult—and in this case makes a game a sport. If you include booze with your balls, the game is increasingly challenging, and instantly more watchable. Competitive fuels are also fanned through liberal libations, making the gentleman’s game more cutthroat. If you’re soberly knocking balls through wickets with a mallet, you’re playing a game. If you’re tipsily trying to maintain balance while aiming a ball on bumpy, unkempt terrain, you’re an athlete.