Taking polo beyond the elite

Sporting spirit

Many think about polo as a rich man’s sport. More than calling it a rich person’s sport, I would call it a sport which requires a lot of dedication, patience and experience,” says Soniya Singh from Empress Polo Inc.

A team sport played on a horseback with the players scoring by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet, polo is counted as one of the niche (read expensive) sport to pursue. Game enthusiasts tell Metrolife that while exclusivity attached to the game is a reality, efforts are being undertaken to sustain the hard-hitting equestrian sport.

Rajesh Sahgal, who has been playing the sport for the last 40 years believes that polo comes with a heavy baggage of heritage, royalty, lineage and privilege. “I have had very dear friends in the army who were senior players, and offered me their ponies to play while also coaching me. That is why, I can say that after Independence, the Indian Army has been a great support to the game. Probably, that is where the exclusivity comes from,” says the 57-year-old, who is the patron and promoter of Sahgal Studs team. 

He adds, “We, at the club level, organise chukkers (playing period in a game) and get young people to participate. I must say that Jaipur is also becoming a hub for young players. There are four or five grounds available from the army, including the Rambagh Polo Club and two-three private grounds.”

Considered as the king of sports, polo players generally have eight to 10 horses (in their troupe) and trainers for both, themselves and the horses, along with other infrastructural facilities. Avshreya Rudy, who is currently working with HVR sports portal which looks to generate mass appeal for “elite sports” mentions, “While there is a need for more polo clubs, we are trying to get horses, clinics and trainers so that the sport is much more accessible to the public.”

Agrees Singh, who is also the organiser of SS Empress SMS Gold Vase (8 Goal) polo tournament, and says how efforts need to be undertaken to take the sport beyond its existing close-knit community of supporters.

“Polo matches are organised every weekend. But we don’t gather a lot of audience. That is why I organised a synchronised event of fashion show and an art exhibition (along with the game) for a cause. I wanted people with different tastes and lifestyles to attend the event, along with regular polo players. But as an organiser, it was very difficult to find sponsors; I had to literally paint a picture for them,” she says referring to the tournament which included a fund raising art exhibition by artist Rohit J Kapoor for #Pathankotattack, and a fashion show preview by Pranay Baidya.

A regular at polo matches, Singh adds that how she always ends up meeting the same community of people at the matches.

“That’s what I want to change. I want to make polo popular, famous and a Sunday outing that everybody enjoys as much as I do,” the Delhi-based entrepreneur tells Metrolife.

Even as these individuals are privately trying to set a new course for polo, the Indian Polo Association (IPA) is also trying hard to improve infrastructure. “As it’s a winter sport, there is virtually only six months of polo in India. We have polo hubs in Jodhpur and Mumbai too. The army is trying to promote it in the South, and we are regularly trying to set up polo ground across the country,” says Sahgal who is also the vice-president of IPA.

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