Our Sports Editor Ibn Warraq reports from Fez, where he gained access to the finals of the Croquet World Cup - fought between Spain, Italy, India, Australia, France, England and Morocco
Entry to the North African Croquet Association (NACA) is phenomenally hard to gain. Thankfully, I knew a man who had a cousin who knew another man who secured me a ticket for just a few hundred Dirhams.
|The English team warming up pre-match|
|The Italians were disqualified|
|The Australians were dismissed due to dress code violations|
By the time I entered the hallowed grounds of the NACA, the preliminary finals were over. The Australian team, "The Fruit Bats", had convincingly trounced Morocco two games to three. However, they were later disqualified for violations of the dress code. This resulted in the Moroccans automatically progressing to the finals.
The American team, (Custer's Volunteers), failed to appear. It was later discovered that their Royal Air Maroc flight had been delayed by a couple of days and then diverted to Qatar.
The Italian team, "Morbido Frutta" (The Soft Fruits), were disqualified for attempting to play with a pomegranate and an orange rather than the hard balls. Che disgrazia!
|The Italians were disqualified for attempting to play with fruits|
The first semi-final was a bitter battle between France's Battlers de Balzac and Spain's Ceuta Piratas, that went to a sudden-death fourth game. France emerged victorious (with a score of four to three) after the Spanish team collapsed in the final game, succumbing to an overdose of something called Blue Sapphire - apparently a re-hydrating sports drink. The Spanish appeal on the grounds that the croquet pitch was actually Spanish territory was rejected by the Rules Committee (5,000 Dirhams to 20).
|'Banger' Cameron-Smythe's Chukka Punt|
The second semi final between India's Sultans of Swing and England's The Pommy Toffs was a one-sided affair ,with the English displaying their unorthodox skills and calculating every detail.
To the delight of the capacity crowd, English Captain, 'Banger' Cameron-Smythe, performed the double-handed "Chukka Punt", a shot derived from polo, involving rotating the mallet several times at high speed above head height before leaping in the air while striking the ball with a cry of "Tally-ho, old bean, wot wot". The Indians had no reply to these intimidating tactics, and despite burning copious amounts of incense and adopting aggressive yoga poses, went down three to one to the Poms.
|The British paid attention to every detail|
In a surprising move, the French team withdrew from the Final when being informed that only Darija (Moroccan Arabic) could be used on the pitch as French contained too many irregular verbs.
Morocco, as hosts, claimed a place in the finals and immediately courted controversy by slaughtering a sheep and sprinkling rose-flower water over the pitch. A protest by the British was overturned by 2,000 dirhams to 100 by the impartial rules committee chaired by the Moroccan Team leader, Salahdeen Idrissy. The games were then halted for a three hour tea and cake break.
|NACA provided a sublime cake and tea service|
The final was thrown into disarray when the Moroccans protested that British players had been studying local Arabic, speaking it without a permit and, worse, could understand the Moroccan coach's instructions. The rules committee informed the visitors that they needed a signed and witnessed proclamation giving them the right to speak Darija. Despite causing a 48 hour delay while the proper form was found in a small room at the rear of a Rabat police station, the Brits stubbornly stuck to their guns and arrived back on the pitch triumphantly waving the form (in triplicate and with the appropriate stamps) above their heads.
|Ball tampering? The British were fined 10,000 Dirhams|
The Moroccans, who had been relying on bureaucracy to save them, went into a huddle in the pavilion. They emerged several hours later with a demand that they be permitted time out to go and visit their sick grandmothers. The British acquiesced but then, to their dismay, when the Moroccan team returned, they had switched to speaking the Amazigh language Tashelhit.
|The triumphant Moroccan team|
The contest went down to the wire at three games to three, before a ball tampering incident that the British denied, but later confessed to, and paid a 10,000 Dirham fine.
In the sudden-death playoff between the two captains, Salahdeen Idrissy won a convincing victory three to zero over 'Banger' Cameron-Smythe, having unnerved the Brit by whispering to him that Morocco would be part of the European Union after the British left the EU; Croquet was actually an Amazigh invention and that they had never lost a game since they defeated the Roman Empire at at the Battle of Volubilis (four games to two) in 163 AD. He concluded that the Romans were so demoralised that they upped stakes and returned to Rome.
|Congratulations to Morocco !|
Ibn Warraq would like to thank NACA and the friend of a friend's cousin for providing him with the ticket to the competition.