Hoop troupe: Croquet an unlikely hit for Vietnam retirees

Quy Le BUI
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A handful of elderly players, one as old as 93, gather most afternoons for a friendly croquet match

Best known as a historic pastime among Europe's upper crust, croquet has found an unlikely fan base among Vietnamese retirees eager to fill their diaries and move their limbs.

Playing on the dusty grounds of a pagoda on the outskirts of Hanoi, a handful of elderly players -- one as old as 93 -- gather most afternoons for a friendly match.

"We don't have to move a lot when playing croquet... and it also exercises our brains," Nguyen Van Tuu told AFP from the dirt pitch in the capital's Soc Son district.

The game first emerged in the 19th century, quickly becoming popular among moneyed classes in England and later embraced more widely as a leisurely garden hobby.

While little-known in Vietnam today, croquet was transported to Soc Son in 1996 by a local official who wanted to give the retirees something to do.

It's become a permanent fixture for the seniors there, who play with handmade metal and wood mallets and balls imported from China, keeping score on a rudimentary leader board.

"We're addicted to this sport," said former soldier Le Thanh Do.

"If we can't play because of rain, we really miss it and hope for a dry day," the 66-year-old said.

Physical exercise is an everyday affair for seniors in Vietnam, who fill the city's many outdoor exercise parks and Western-style gyms.

With the country's retirement age set at 60 for men and 55 for women, there is no shortage of time for seniors seeking fulfilment in their twilight years.

"It relaxes our spirit," said Do.