Equisport is India’s first and only organisation that offers consultancy and specialised management related to polo and other equestrian sports. Largely responsible for reviving the heritage and authenticity of polo in India since 1996, Adhiraj Singh, CEO, Equisport, recently spoke to Guardian 20 about India’s emerging polo scene.
On the current scope of polo, Singh, who is himself a well-known polo player, said, “Polo is a niche sport that involves many issues, like access to polo horses, training in horsemanship, access to equestrian and polo establishments, specialised coaching and of course access to other players to play with. This, along with the risk factor of injury, may be and is daunting to many who may consider approaching the sport. However, with its age-old tradition in this country through the Maharaja kingdoms and the Indian Army who patronised the sport through its history in this country, polo is accessed and played by a considerable number of people. It can never be compared to mass sports here, such as cricket, hockey, football or kabaddi, but it does have a decent base here.”
Sing is certain that the sport has a yet brighter future in India. “Besides the Army, many patrons like Sunjay Kapurm [business magnate and philanthropist] and Navin Jindal [industrialist and former Member of Parliament], are putting up polo infrastructure such as polo fields, horses etc. They are also encouraging and supporting young players as they start their polo careers. Polo professionals make a living from the sport and this number is growing every day. With private money coming in and popular enthusiasm, the future is bright for the sport. It will always be a niche sport, albeit a prominent one,” he said.
Largely known as the game of the elite, polo often appears out of bounds to many. But Singh points out that the elite tag is not the only challenge to the sport’s revival; it is that other, “danger” tag associated with the sport that poses more of a concern. “Most of the top players in the country today come from middle-class backgrounds. Those from ‘rich’ families are a bit skeptical to take it up because mostly their parents don’t want to see their children get hurt playing the sport. There have been prominent cases of injury on the polo field, with Shivraj Singh of Jodhpur [erstwhile prince of Jodhpur who suffered serious head injuries during a polo match in 2005] being a case in point. Once this attitude changes, which is happening, the sport will be on a great trajectory,” he said.
Elaborating that the main push for the sport has to come from the private sector, Singh said, “The main challenge is that parents and many kids also see this as a sport too complicated and dangerous to get into. I admit it’s not an easy sport to master and it takes a certain resolute mindset to learn and play it. The other thing is availability of adequate infrastructure spread across the country. So far the government institutions such as the Army and even some states have provided these, but the main push in this area has to come from the private sector, which slowly but surely is happening now.”
From fielding professional teams across the country, sponsored by corporates, to promoting the two biggest tournaments in India—the Indian Open, and the Indian Masters—Equisport has been at the forefront of the sport since 1995. The marketing and management setup that focuses mainly on equestrian sport and especially on Polo also provides a range of services that includes promotion, PR and marketing of all facets of the sport, including teams, players, promotional events, social functions and tournaments. It also specialises in facilitating access to riding and polo establishments, trained horses, specialised coaching, equestrian and polo holidays, and horse and stable management among other things.
One of India’s finest horsemen and Arjuna Award recipient (1991), Singh said that all the skills of horse-riding are essential to mastering polo: “The better the horseman, the better the player. A perfect sense of balance on horseback is the greatest advantage.”
Singh, while raising concerns about the sport not getting the much needed push in schools, also said that the attitude towards polo in schools is slowly changing.
He said, “Mayo College has introduced a comprehensive polo programme and also has its own polo team. Many other day and boarding schools are introducing horse riding as part of the curriculum and this is already throwing out youngsters who have taken up the game either as a hobby or even professionally.”
Singh is currently prepping for two top polo events—YES Bank Indian Masters Polo, to be held from 14-19 November ; and the BMW Indian Open Polo Championship, from the 22-26 November at Jaipur Polo Ground, Delhi.
“There are about 25 odd professional players in India and they are making a decent living from the game. There is however huge scope for youngsters to become professionals and that completely depends on their proficiency as players. Polo is growing, and teams and patrons are spending more and more money on horses and players, so the future is bright.”