Polo is regarded as the sport of kings. It was played by the likes of Darius, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great.
In India, it was widely played in medieval times, which is evidenced by the fact that Sultan Qutubuddin Aibak, founder of the slave dynasty and builder of one of Delhi’s most famous landmarks, the Qutub Minar, died of a fatal accident, impaled on the ornate horn of his saddle after a fall on a polo field in Lahore.
However, it was Babar, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, who established the popularity of polo in India in the 15th century.
Today, Delhi and Jaipur are the major polo centres in the country. If the sport has flourished it is because of the patronage of Sawai Man Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur and his wife, Gayatri Devi.
Dr Richard T. Caleel, the president of the Federation of International Polo (FIP) was in Jaipur recently. P B Chandra discussed with him the FIP's efforts in popularizing the sport.
What effort is the FIP making for the re-entry of polo as an Olympic sport?
Polo is played in 80 countries and the number itself suggests that it’s a sport which is loved and played by large number of people; the number is far bigger than some sports which are included in the Olympics.
What is painful is that while equestrian is an Olympic sport, polo is struggling for its re-entry. Of course, polo is a special sport, and apart from players, it also involves horses, and hosting an event like polo in the Olympics requires not only play fields but also stabling facilities for the horses.
Thus, the Olympics hosts always show a tendency to do away with holding the event which requires huge amount of money for infrastructure. Yet, we are not lacking in efforts and we would one day succeed in including polo as an Olympic sport once again.
What is the FIP’s mission statement?
The mission statement of the FIP is to enhance the image and stature of the great game of polo on an international level, promote the practice of the sport worldwide and unite the polo associations of the many countries that play the sport under one federation and one international rule. Our mission is also to promote the sport to FIP members through coaching clinics and tournaments for children.
What are the objectives of the FIP?
The FIP, as the apex body of polo promote uniform, international (FIP) rules and handicaps which are agreed upon and publicized by each of the national associations.
These rules would then be universal rules to provide uniformity in the sport. FIP will continue to promote an annual conference with the Hurlingham, Argentine, and United States Polo Associations to develop a set of international rules and actively promote the use of those rules for FIP members and international polo tournaments.
How many international events are hosted by the FIP?
The most important event that we host is the World Championships every three years. We also promote the holding of Ambassadors tournaments, juniors’ tournaments and clinics and senior and international tournaments.
What is being done to promote polo’s awareness among masses globally?
As I have said, polo is a different sport. It’s a team sport, but apart from teams there is also a team of horses that is required to complete the circle.
We are trying to include polo in the Pan American Games, Southeast Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and in all regions of the world where international athletes are exhibited to provide maximum exposure of polo to sports enthusiasts.
How many members are there in the FIP?
In all, 80 countries play polo. But we have 57 nations that are affiliated as full members of the FIP and are allowed to vote and participate in all the FIP activities. We also have a system to make corresponding members .They do not participate in FIP activities. But once we are convinced that the corresponding members have done enough to promote the sports we enroll such nations as full member. At present there are 16 corresponding members.
We also have contact membership in FIP and such countries, whose number is 15, are the countries with which we correspond. Their membership may come in course of time.
How does the FIP function globally?
FIP ambassadors work as the liaison between FIP and the individual countries. The position of ambassador is to represent FIP, its goals and objectives, to his or her own country, and to work on behalf of the federation in certain countries where the ambassador is asked to accomplish specific objectives by the FIP president. Ambassadors are expected to support all FIP events with time, effort and horses.
How many ambassadors are there?
There are about 80 ambassadors, who help in spreading the sport and also help in its growth. All the full members have ambassadors and the largest number of ambassadors are in Argentina, where polo is most played. Argentina loves soccer and polo.
Who all the FIP ambassadors in India?
Now M Narendra Singh of Jaipur, Col Pinka Virk, Vikram rather; Col Navtej Singh, Col Bhawani Singh and Col Tarun Sirohi are our ambassadors. Apart from them we have Gaj Singh and his son Shivraj Singh as honorary ambassadors.
What future does polo have in India?
In India, polo has been a tradition that was patronized by the princes and the army. Now civilians and individuals are playing polo and own their own stables and are going for thoroughbred horses. It’s all very encouraging. A number of youth who can afford to play polo are playing the sport. I am also happy with the sponsorships in India and also playing facilities.
In Jaipur’s Rambagh polo ground, I think, its one of the best in the world.
Do you have any funds for development?
Yes, we have a corpus, however small it may be, and this fund is meant for training and accreditation programs for umpires, coaches, administrators and players from grassroots to elite level, regardless of gender.
The FIP recommends using this fund for children’s programs and umpire clinics.
Who is the next host of World Cup?
We have zonal qualification system and the finals are played in one country. The next host is Chile.
Any special focus on promotions?
Yes, we want to promote children polo, because there is future in it. The children will grow to continue with the sport. In the US there are few hundred women polo players. That’s something India should encourage. In the US we have a separate championship for the women and it's very popular.
Which is the best run national polo body?
Of course, it is US Polo Association. They are a professionally run organization and have enormous funds and support through sponsorship.
The US Polo Association’s products are sold globally. Why don’t you ask other member nations to also start product development and merchandising?
Others should follow the US Polo Association. India can do a lot with that. I saw a number of men and women in India wearing US polo T-shirts. That’s encouraging. The Indian Polo Association can also do the brand building.
Image: Dr Richard T. Caleel