Gateball takes over where croquet left off

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2006, 12:00am

Lawn bowls and cricket are just two of the British sports that have taken root in the city. A more unusual pursuit associated with the colonial era has also found a home here via a transformation in Japan: gateball.

The game is similar to croquet, but gateball, which was invented in post-war Japan in 1947, only emerged in the late 1980s. The Evergreen Gateball Association was set up in Hong Kong in 1987 to target seniors, but youngsters have also taken up the game.

The sport is played by an estimated eight million people around the world, and the association, now formally registered as the Hong Kong Gateball Association, organises tournaments that include teams from Japan, South Korea, Singapore and the mainland. Next year, it will host the Pan Pacific Invitation Championship.

There are more than 20 school teams, says association sport executive Wan Ka-wai, and the city boasts more than 30 grounds, usually about 20-25 metres long and 15-20 metres wide. 'We have spared no effort in promoting the league,' she says, along with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

Although gateball may be the mallet sport for locals, croquet is still alive here. Members of the Oxford and Cambridge Society meet twice a year to play.

'The game, although fun, can get quite tense,' says organiser Rachel Cartland. 'The ancient rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge ensures that team competitions between former members of the two universities have much at stake in the way of pride and prestige.'