Though we have reached a threshold in socio-economic development, the game of polo still remains a “hobby of the affluent” and is kept out of the reach of the common man. There is still a long road ahead for the aspiring polo players and many in the capital obviously find it hard to nurse the faintest idea of Indians competing at the international stage, for the game is quite expensive.
The players at the Jaipur Polo Ground here, however, sound quite positive and are gradually taking the game forward to turn it into an established sporting event in the country. “Earlier, the game was only restricted to the top-ranking Army officers, the royals and the rich. Now, a number of clubs are there where people from sober background can join and play the sport. Lots of people are getting into riding these days,” said a team member of 61 Cavalry.
As you make your way from the neatly numbered brick-paved footpaths of the Race Course Road leading to the polo ground, over half a kilometre of barren stretch of land follows, almost crying for maintenance. But the lush green sprawling ground with horses manned on its perimeter and a footfall of around 600 spectators, wearing hats, ascot ties and sunglasses is what awakens your sense of wonder. There is no dress code in particular but it is as if expected from the crowd to wear a specific set of attire.
The game is a showcase of pure skills and strength, and how well you can speak to the horse. There can be initial flush of excitement for the first-time watchers as they witness players striking a cricket-sized white ball with a long-handled mallet into the opposing team’s goal post.
Besides a bevy of army and former military personnel, attendees also included school children and according to the Superintendent of Army Polo and Riding Club, Prakash, they regularly attend the games as they are not “ticketed.”
“Participants nowadays are spread across age spectrum. Children are participating and doing well in the sport. Schools these days also have riding facilities,” the team member said.
However, when The Sunday Guardian spoke to Delhi Public School principal Manohar Lal, he denied having any horse-riding facility in the school premises. Anit Bahutay, a member of Managing Committee from Sanskriti School, echoed similar sentiments, denying having any such facility.
Rishi Garg, a former student from IIT-Delhi, said, “We availed facilities like cricket, basketball, football, but horse-riding was never a part of our extracurricular activities.”
Although the sport has somewhat remained relatively unknown to the commoners, a gradual progression is being made to popularise the game. “The idea for us is not to make money but to play and publicise the game. Here, there is no entry fee and no charges, anyone can walk-in,” he added.
“To take it to the masses, we are starting the Arena League which will be televised and will reach out to the people and they will realise what the game is. They will get to know the players, and subsequently the game will grow. That’s what the endeavour is… to spread the game to the masses. People will start playing eventually when they see it,” he said.
So much so that the Indian Polo Association and Pro Sportify Ventures have announced the Indian Arena Polo League, starting September 2019 in the presence of the chief of Army staff, President of IPA, Gen. Bipin Rawat. Meaning budding polo players and equestrians will now be able to watch the match sitting on their couch at home.
Speaking at the launch, Mr. Kartikeya Sharma, Founder and Promoter, Pro Sportify Ventures, said “Polo in India has been synonymous with royalty, Patrons of Polo across the globe will now have a chance to own Polo teams in the IndiaPolo League and be a part of a new emerging sports and lifestyle business.”
Asked how injury-prone the sport is, owing to the third party (horse) involvement in the game, the 61 Cavalry team member said, “The game is very fast-paced one. There are collisions between the horses at times. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to control them. So, at times, it is dangerous because of the speed and the animal involved and you can’t control them all the time.”
Commodore Aspi Cawasji, NM, VSM, said, “Polo is being promoted nationally by the India Polo Association and its president happens to be the Chief of Army Staff. It is an ancient game and remains the preserve of the Army, but there are a lot of civilian polo clubs that have joined in now and taking the game forward.”
To infuse love for any game, a sense of what happens on the field has to be inculcated from a very early age. Cawasji agrees, saying it’s important to tap the potential of youth.
Asked what advice he would like to give to youngsters, he said, “First, you have to be a good equestrian. To get an opportunity to do horse-riding, I wouldn’t say that it’s an elite opportunity but certainly where horses are being maintained by the organisations… either the top corporate houses or the armed forces… one could get opportunity there.”
“About 50 children from a government school were invited to witness this just to give them an exposure because it is seldom seen on TV. It was a great move where a common child can witness the game. It was a great opportunity to not so privileged children. Some of them might even get inspired,” he said.