The case of a gateball player against the Australian Croquet Association has revealed the intense and unexpected friction between a sport trying to make waves in Australia and the sport it was inspired by.
Cambridge Croquet Club member Geoff Morris claims the national body stopped him from competing in this year’s Gateball Australia Championship so he took his fight all the way to the National Sports Tribunal — and won.
According to the Australian Gateball Union, gateball is a modern spin on mini golf using a stick and numbered balls and combines strategies and mild physical exercise.
It is played by more than 12 million people all over the world, with at least 10 people playing in one game at a time.
The tribunal heard the case of Mr Morris against the Australian Croquet Association in late June, after Ms Morris’ membership with the association was revoked.
Gateball Australia is a registered business name under the ACA and Mr Morris, who is also the president of the Australian Gateball Union, told PerthNow his affiliation with gateball led to the removal of his membership, which the ACA board considered to be in breach of the ACA constitution.
Mr Morris is a member of both the Moreton Bay Gateball Club and the Redcliffe Gateball Club in Queensland. He is also a member of the Cambridge Croquet Club here in WA after teaching gateball at the club.
Because there was no evidence of Mr Morris being a member of the Australian Croquet Association until February 2022, due to a lack of a member database, the tribunal determined that Mr Morris was not in breach of his membership obligations under the ACA constitution.
He remains a member of the Cambridge Croquet Club, although he said the situation between the Australian Croquet Association and gateball remained an “ongoing problem”.
“I took the case to the tribunal because the association was refusing to let me play in the Gateball Australia Championships earlier this year in Southport, Queensland,” Mr Morris said.
“The Australian Gateball coordinator picked my name out of the entries, because I was playing for a team based in Queensland, and said I could not participate because I was using my ACA number from WA as an entry.
“But when I said there should be no problems because I had an ACA number, they still said I couldn’t play, so I took it to the tribunal.”
Mr Morris said there was a history of a strained relationship in Australia between croquet and gateball, which he believed because croquet groups feared gateball would take over as a more popular sport.
He said the ACA needed to spend more money promoting gateball to help mend the relationship.
“The association has $700,000 sitting in the bank and last year they spent less than $3000 on gateball,” Mr Morris said.
“They just don’t help promote the sport. There’s no advertising, no nothing.
“So I would like to see them spend more money as well as provide equipment to clubs for start ups — that would be the best thing for the sport.
“The association just doesn’t promote it and that’s where the problem is. It’s played by 12 million people worldwide yet hardly anyone knows what gateball is.”
Mr Morris was invited by Cambridge Croquet Club secretary Brian Hadley in 2019 to help start up the sport of gateball in WA.
The club, which supported Mr Morris’ case against the ACA, had planned an International gateball tournament but it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although it’s not big in WA, gateball is immensely popular in China, Japan, Indonesia and Paraguay,” Mr Morris said.
“The Cambridge club invited both myself and my wife Jennifer to come over and teach them how to play gateball because of the large Chinese population in Perth who wanted to have corporate events. Having gateball would’ve helped them sell it as a sport for the Chinese as well as teach it to their members.
“So Jennifer and I took over all of our equipment, which included 10 mallets, 10 timers, 10 bibs, hoops and scorers, and we taught them how to play gateball.”
Mr Hadley told PerthNow that the tribunal attempt to expel Mr Morris from croquet, and in turn the Cambridge club, was “unrealistic and harsh”.
“We were supportive of Geoff because the case was a lack of natural justice with breaches in the process,” Mr Hadley said.
“Gateball is a croquet mallet sport that has massive potential for a lot of people, but the association has just failed to market it.
“So our biggest hope is that the Australian Croquet Association and the Gateball Union cooperate with each other.
“Our message to the ACA is don’t mess with the Cambridge Croquet Club or its members, which includes Geoff.”
ACA secretary Jim Clement told PerthNow the association agreed to the ruling that had been made at the tribunal in the case against Mr Morris.
Croquet was originated by the British in the 1300s, while gateball was invented by the Japanese in 1947 as a game played by children during World War II.