Sir Winston Churchill had once remarked, “A polo handicap is a passport to the world.” Polo, one of the most aspirational games, in its modern form was a joint collaboration between Indian royals and the British when they were in India. It is from here that the game traveled to several parts of the empire – from Australia to Argentina, and Canada to China. Polo has an aspirational value to it.
The complexities of polo and its long list of variables (read turf, opponents, horses, shots, ball, conditions, umpires) make it an addictive sport for competitive men; but like golf, few ever master it. And yet these very things make people come back to polo. More than 2000 years after it was invented, the game continues to feed the sphere of the wealthy and the influential.
Once a pastime of the Royals, the game has metamorphosed into a high-profile game of corporate czars, diplomats, and celebrities. British Polo Day, celebrates this history and heritage of polo in a network of events that spans the world.
“I think polo has a particular intrigue to people because it has this incredible affinity with royalty, with an aristocracy, with quality, and with class. Therefore, invariably, the crowd that it draws is a very impressive crowd. They are aspirational and fancy and pea-cocking, showing off their clothes,” says Tom Hudson, Chairman & Co-Founder, British Polo Day, an outfit that seeks to marry polo with business. The exclusive sport of polo is being used as a platform for people to network around the world.
British Polo Day saw its eighth large event happening in Jodhpur under the patronage of Maharaja Gaj Singh of Marwar-Jodhpur. Himself a keen polo aficionado, here is what Gaj Singh had to say: “Britain and India have a rich and complex heritage that through polo comes to life with a modern twist. It is a wonderful platform for British and Indian friends to meet up over a long weekend or even a couple of days in the middle of the week and celebrate the ties that bind us.”
Ben Vestey, CEO & Partner at British Polo Day, agrees with polo being an ice-breaker for people to come together and talk. “The nice thing about polo is that the sport itself makes for a great conversation topic as people talk about horses and how the game is played,” says Vestey.
Mostly polo remains out of the reach of the common man (see box) – a good steed, an Argentinean or Australian horse can cost as much as a car. And we aren’t factoring in the cost of training, feeding, grooming and transporting the horse to tournament venues. Its competitive nature, which demands strength and stamina, the dignified disposition of players and their unwavering respect for rules, elevates the world’s oldest game to the status of a lifestyle. This explains the sudden rush of corporate investments in the game.
A polo match is a high profile event and associates a brand with the lifestyle it symbolizes. “Our partnership with British Polo Day not only celebrates the core values of Justerini & Brooks – luxury, elegance, and heritage, backed by a rich aspiration but also provides us with a distinct platform to reinforce this brand essence,” says Chadwick Delaney, Managing Director, Justerini & Brooks, on the company’s association with British Polo Day’s annual event held in Jodhpur. His sentiments are echoed by Chadwick Delaney of wine major Justerini and Brooks. “An elite sport such as polo is synonymous with fair play while being competitive – the perfect image any corporate would want to have of itself,” says Thilo Sautter, who plays in Windsor at the Guards Polo Club for the British Army.
Global consulting major Protivity, a Fortune 1000 company, real estate developer Chelsea Barracks, Bentley and many more companies have been besotted by the sport and are sponsoring major tournaments along with super-luxury brands like Royal Salute, Bvlgari, Jaeger LeCoultre and VistaJet. The high-end sponsors come in hordes as a game of polo is attended by the target clientele these luxury brands are looking for.
The sport also takes on the hues of a spectacle with the coming in of money. A tournament is mostly interspersed with high society soirees, high-end fashion shows, luxury charity auctions as the high echelons of society resplendent in their Cartiers and Rolexes talk about horsing around. Film stars and models are pressed into service to give a touch of glamour to the events.
Many of these companies also underwrite cocktail dinners. Some sponsor hospitality tents and luxury lounges at the venues where they host delectable lunches for the elite. Such events are common place at venues like the iconic Jaipur Polo Ground in Delhi, Rajasthan Polo Ground in Jaipur and the Umaid Bhawan Palace Polo Ground in Jodhpur. From the oldest polo club in Kolkata to swish venues in Mumbai and Bengaluru, the galloping ponies of the Carysil Cowboys of Bhavnagar and the Manipur Polo Ground in Imphal considered to be the cradle of world polo, polo as a sport is all-pervasive today.
“In a country of a billion people you want to distinguish yourself; having a polo team beats having a Mercedes-Benz. I noticed a wonderful conundrum in China – among our patrons we have a couple who went through the Cultural Revolution with a grandson who has a collection of Lamborghinis,” says Tom Hudson about the lure of polo.
Clearly, polo has never had it so good. Polo grounds in big cities, till a few years back confined to leisurely training of rich youngsters, are now the venues for a slew of power adrenalin-pumping games. Events like the Hyundai Sonata Ambassadors Cup, Audi Quarto Cup, Royal Salute Cup, Standard Chartered Jodhpur Polo Cup, Vodafone Sirmur Cup and many more get a large and an enthusiastic attendance of India’s elite.
A royal sport needs royal sum to play it. Equipment and gear for polo is not everyone’s sport.
* Spurs cost between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,500.
* Special polo helmet prices are in the range of Rs 8,000 and Rs 12,000
* Special boots required for the sport can cost between Rs15,000 and Rs 35,000.
* Top-quality knee guards range between Rs 2,500 and Rs5,000.
* Eyewear and gloves are in the range of Rs 5,000 and Rs7,500.