Thursday, 22 September 2016

Polo - the game of kings

Polo is a team sport played on horseback. The objective is to score a goal against opposing team. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet. A polo match last about one and one-half hours and is divided into timed periods called chukkers. Each chukker is 7 minutes long.

Polo is arguably the oldest recorded team sport in known history, with the first matches being played in Persia over 2500 years ago. Initially thought to have been created by competing tribes of Central Asia, it was quickly taken up as a training method for the King’s elite cavalry. These matches could resemble a battle with up to 100 men to a side. As mounted armies swept back and forth across this part of the world, conquering and re-conquering, polo was adopted as the most noble of past times by the Kings and Emperors, Shahs and Sultans, Khans and Caliphs of the ancient Persians, Arabs, Mughals, Mongols and Chinese. It was for this reason it became known across the lands as “the game of kings”.

British officers themselves re-invented the game in 1862 after seeing a horsemanship exhibition in Manipur, India. The sport was introduced into England in 1869, and seven years later, sportsman James Gordon Bennett imported it to the United States. After 1886, English and American teams occasionally met for the International Polo Challenge Club. Polo was on several Olympic games schedules, but was last an Olympic sport in 1936.

Polo continues, as it has done for so long, to represent the pinnacle of sport, and reaffirms the special bond between horse and rider. The feeling of many of its players is epitomized by a famous verse inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit, Pakistan: “Let others play at other things. The king of games is still the game of kings.”

As a rough, disorganized, warlike spectacle polo has evolved into a highly refined, sophisticated sport, combining all the excitement of horse racing, hockey and soccer. Polo is played now all over the planet and over 50 countries worldwide are involved in the game. The dominant nations are Argentina, the USA and Britain, each of which has a thriving polo scene and industry. Other polo hotspots include New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Dubai and Spain.

One of the most prestigious resorts in Europe is Santa Maria Polo Club located in Sotogrande (San Roque – Cadiz – Spain). Polo first appeared in the region in 1965, with the construction of the area’s first polo field. Today, Santa Maria Polo Club has grown into one of the most important and prestigious polo clubs in the world. Currently, the club has nine polo fields, and a number of exercise tracks, boxes, etc... And due to its location and climate, it is without a doubt and incomparable spot to play polo. The Summer Polo Tournament is undoubtedly the most elite sport event in Spain, and one of the most exclusive in the world.

Contrary to popular belief, most polo games are cheap to watch. Entry to Cowdray Park for its biggest day, the Gold Cup final, costs under £20 per person in advance. Many smaller clubs around the world don’t charge entry at all. Most polo clubs are open for public viewing on weekends. You can enjoy a polo match played by some of the greatest athletes in the world right  rom the sidelines. Just bring a blanket or beach chair. Polo clubs allow spectators to bring food and drinks. So pack a picnic lunch of items that will travel well for an afternoon sporting event. Polo is an outdoor sport, so dress according to the weather. You really can’t be over or under dressed. Spectators at a polo match wear everything from jeans to high fashion.

It is customary at polo match to invite the public onto the field at half time to tread in the divots kicked up by the horses. Divot stomping is a long standing tradition. Spectators wander all over the field stomping down the torn up turf. It’s fun and you can meet great people just wandering the field. Even at high goal tournaments the players often walk divots to keep limber at the half, and often they take breaks or change ponies close to the stands. Many times you can say hello to the best athletes in the world. Just remember not to be too distracting, these are athletes who need to get back to work.