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Elderly take to the streets for game of skill

Update: October, 18/2015 - 08:38
Steep competition: Nguyen Thi Trai is excited about her team's victory. — Photos

Croquet is getting the elderly out and moving in northern Vietnam. The game is simple, but it requires strategy and can get quite competitive. Do Thuy reports.

Football, badminton, volleyball and table tennis are normally the most popular sports. However, in the playground of Xuan Bach Village in Soc Son District's Quang Tien Commune, on the outskirts of Ha Noi, croquet is often played by the elderly in the afternoons.

The sport is popular in Xuan Bach, whose croquet team always ranks the top position in sport event, and the game is spread from that village to other ones in the region.

Croquet is a sport that involves hitting plastic or wooden balls with a mallet through hoops embedded in a grass playing court.

Professional croquet is played at international level including world individual and team championships. Mostly it is played as a casual, social game by millions of peoples around the world in their own gardens.This may be the reason why the game has become popular in the countryside, not cities where it is difficult to find a lawn that is large enough to play on.

Taking aim: The ball is hit with a mallet through three hoops before reaching a flag pillar at the end.

There are many variations of the game. The elderly in this village even have their own. They play croquet with three hoops around the court and a small flag pillar in the middle of the yard. The game is played by two sides of five. Players move balls around the lawn by hitting them with a mallet, scoring a point for each hoop made in the correct order, with five points for the flag pillar. The match lasts 30 minutes, and the team with most points wins.

The rules are simple, so it does not take players much time to get used to it.

However, to play it well, they must be strategic, creative and quick-witted to score with their balls and make it difficult for the other side to score.

"Players need to have good technique to control balls. However, this only accounts for 50 per cent of winning the game. The other 50 per cent is ball directing strategies," said Nguyen Van Sang, 52, the youngest player in the team.

It's a sport which is suitable for all ages and both sexes, and one of the few sports that men and women can play on equal terms.

However, it is easy to see that most players in a croquet match in Xuan Bach Village are elderly, aged from 60 to 85.

"Most of us are between 60 and 70. The two oldest are 85 years old," said Nguyen Thi Xuan, 60, who has played croquet for 11 years.

The origins of croquet are disputed. Some believe that it developed from the French game of Pall Mall, but some argue that the game travelled from Ireland to England around 1851.

The exact time when this sport was introduced to Viet Nam is not clear, but the elderly in Xuan Bach started to play in 1997, and since then it has become their "spiritual food".

"I began playing croquet in 1997 when the commune's elderly association introduced it to me. Since then, I play it every afternoon and am addicted to this sport," said Hoang Van Nhien, 70.

"Croquet is very interesting. I play it every day, often in the afternoons, but sometimes in the mornings. It becomes a part of my life," said Tran Thi Mon, 85, who has played this game for 15 years.

Among many sports, the elderly here have their own reasons to choose croquet.

The sport does not require players to jump like in volleyball, run like in badminton. Playing cards does not involve much movement; players just sit at a place so it is not good for their health.

Having a ball: Tran Thi Mon, 85, has been addicted to croquet for 15 years now.

The sport is also cheap to play, all you need are balls and mallets. Some even make mallets of their own. Therefore, they only need to spend some money buying the balls.

"We can make our own mallets from wood or steel. We only collect each member of the team about VND30,000 (more than US$1) to buy balls, so it is quite cheap," said Nhien.

The sport has brought new life to the elderly in Xuan Bach. For them, playing croquet is not only fun but also good for their health.

"The mallet is quite light, about 1kg, so it's not hard to carry," said Xuan. "It is fun to play croquet. Playing requires eyes to adjust the ball, so it also helps to improve my eyesight."

"The sport makes me more active and creative because I need to think of strategies to defeat the opponent," Nhien said.

It is also a team sport, so helps increase the players' collective spirit and solidarity.

"We need to agree with each other about strategies to play this game. It stresses co-operation among players, thus bringing us closer to each other," Nhien said. — VNS

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