Sport of kings: beach polo

No other pastime evokes wealth and luxury quite like polo – just look to films like The Thomas Crown Affair and you’ll see that Hollywood, too, has adopted the sport as the ultimate symbol of power. Vision explores its long history

It’s no accident that polo has come to be regarded as a rich man’s sport. It has its origins in Persia as early as the 1st century AD, where it was used as a training exercise for the king’s elite guard. It eventually became the national sport, one played exclusively by nobility and royalty – lending it the moniker “sport of kings”.

For many, polo represents having “made it”. When American actor Tommy Lee Jones made his fortune in the movies, one of the first things he did was buy his own private polo field.

From Persia, the sport spread throughout Asia (the world’s oldest polo fields, in fact, is the Imphal Polo Ground in Manipur State, India). In the 19th century, two British soldiers, on discovering the game on the Subcontinent, brought it back to their homeland. It eventually spread to Western Europe, and, thanks to a handful of British settlers, to Argentina. Today, the sport is active in 77 countries.

Despite the fact that polo players are seated on horseback, the game is actually extremely physically demanding. It requires being able to stay put on a racing horse while swinging a mallet with enough position to knock a ball the size of an orange into a goal. This range of tasks requires coordination, balance, strength and good range of motion.

Polo isn’t always played on a grassy knoll, either. At Dubai’s recent Julius Baer Beach Polo Cup, for instance, some of the world’s top players, including Nacho Gonzales, Nico Petracci, Lucas Labat and JJ Storni, toughed it out on beach terrain. Beach polo is a Dubai invention; locals Rashid Al Habtoor and Sam Katiela invented the variant of the game in 2004.

“We invented beach polo here nine years ago – it was the first time ever it was played officially anywhere in the world,” Katiela said. It has since spread to 30 countries around the world.

In 2005, the US introduced the Miami Beach Polo World Cup in 2005, and China is set to host the next event later this year.

“We are so proud of how the event went,” says founder Katiela, who adds that there’s no beating “the excitement and vigor which surrounds Beach Polo”.