With the sport of kings enjoying an ever greater profile in Dubai, Iain Spragg delves into the ninth edition of the world-renowned British Polo Day
The inimitable sound of mallet on ball and the thunder of hooves is an increasingly familiar one to the residents of Dubai. The city already hosts the Cartier International Dubai Polo Challenge, the UAE Nations Cup and the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series, and last Friday the capital was once again a hive of equine activity with the staging of the prestigious British Polo Day.
The sport’s foothold in the city is well established with four clubs and state-of-the-art stables and playing infrastructure – with a growing number of Emiratis embracing the game alongside the expat community, polo has become a firm fixture on the Dubai sporting calendar.
British Polo Day has played a significant role in growing the popularity of the game and with this year’s event coinciding with the UK UAE Year of Culture, proceedings at the opulent Al Habtoor Polo Club & Resort will have a particular resonance.
“I grew up in Windsor (England), next to Guards Polo Club, where it was great fun to watch some of the matches,” says co-founder Tom Hudson. “When I came to live in Dubai, there were some amazing facilities but not many people knew about the polo on offer to watch. There were also many expats all arriving from the UK at the same time, looking for opportunities to get out and meet up and I had the idea of recreating the quintessential British polo experience.
“We started with my old school, Eton College, playing our old adversaries Harrow, captained by HRH Prince Rashid of Jordan. Then a combined Oxbridge team played the Habtoor Polo team. We also asked friends from the army to take part in the inaugural ‘Cavalry versus Guards’ Camel Polo match and British Polo Day was born. I was expecting about 100 people to watch, but more than 1,000 turned up through word of mouth. It then grew organically.”
That inaugural event was in 2009. This year British Polo Day was presented by RJI Capital, and partnered by such iconic British brands as Hackett, Bentley, Royal Salute and Harrods, and Hudson says it was as much a networking event for the assembled guests as it was merely sporting occasion.
“It is a celebration of the best of British and Arabic hospitality,” he says. “It is a platform where the most influential Emiratis and expats meet and share their enjoyment of the day over shared passions and celebrate everything that Dubai and Britain has to offer.
“The Habtoor family have been incredibly supportive right from the start. They have traditionally sponsored the Royal Windsor Cup at Guards, and are the local partners for Bentley here, so they instinctively understood what we were trying to achieve.”
The British Polo Day has proved so popular in the Emirate that Hudson and his partners have expanded their horizons in recent years and it is now a hugely successful, itinerant festival which has been staged as far afield as Mexico and Morocco.
“Although the event began in Dubai, it has become a global phenomenon,” he says. “There have been more than 50 British Polo Days in 15 countries across five continents, from the Great Wall of China to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, raising over US$2m for good causes at the same time.”