Polo in Dubai: playing the sport of kings in the Gulf

The brand-new Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club plays host to the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series over the coming months. Gruffudd Owen takes a look at how the sport is growing in the Emirate

With an ideal climate allowing year-round participation, not to mention an established expatriate fanbase, polo is becoming ever more popular as a sporting pursuit in Dubai.

Given the city’s proud equestrian heritage, it is perhaps of little surprise that a demand exists for this ancient pastime.

However, this is not to say that polo is considered a mere afterthought in the Emirate, an activity to enjoy during the fallow period when the gates of the Meydan Racecourse are closed.

A growing number of dedicated clubs and resorts have popped up across the city in recent times, offering state-of-the-art polo facilities including laser-levelled fields and modern stables.

One such location is the newly-opened Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club, named after the Al Habtoor Group, whose CEO Mohammed Khalaf Al Habtoor has been instrumental in promoting the sport in Dubai.

The club hosts a number of Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series events (a tournament founded by Al Habtoor himself in 2009) and boasts a world-class polo academy as well as 520 stables.

And while not strictly a bespoke polo resort, the Desert Palm Hotel is nevertheless the venue of the lavish Cartier International Dubai Polo Challenge, whose 12th edition took place in November last year.

Meanwhile just fifteen minutes down the Emirates Road from the Al Habtoor Club is the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, another impressive site whose amenities rival those of its neighbour.

It is here that British Polo Day Dubai was held last year, an annual event celebrating the sport’s traditions that has expanded to 15 countries worldwide since the first edition was held in 2009.

Tom Hudson is the co-founder and director of British Polo Day. Since emigrating, he has made it his personal mission to promote polo in Dubai, and is convinced that the sport can thrive in the city.

“Polo combines the best elements of my other favourite sports: the technique and swing of golf, the teamwork and passing of football, and the speed of racing,” he explains. 

“It is also one of the world’s oldest sports; you can see why it was used for cavalries to train their horses and men throughout the centuries.”

“The best thing about polo in Dubai is that it allows you to play first thing in the morning and still be at your desk ready for work by 9am. 

“There are also some great tournaments and exhibition matches for all ages and levels.”

As a British man living and working in Dubai, Hudson is well aware of the potential to grow the game through the Emirate’s significant expatriate community.

And while full admission to British Polo Day Dubai is limited to the lucky few who can get hold of a ticket, the opportunity to catch the day’s polo action is open to all, with members of the public welcome to pay AED 150 to park a car pitchside where they can roll out a rug and watch.

In fact, Hudson believes the future of polo in Dubai lies in encouraging greater participation on a local level as well as attracting the sport’s leading players from around the world to compete in the city.

“At grassroots level, I would love to see more young Emiratis playing to keep the game alive for future generations. 

“However, at the top of the sport, I see many more professionals coming in the winter months, which will only increase the quality of the sport in Dubai. 

“There is a big future for the Game of Kings in the Emirates.”