Attracted by a game synonymous with luxury, more and more South Africans are becoming interested in Polo. The most dangerous contact sport in the world and always a glamorous occasion, in this issue we take a look at Polo in South Africa, its 100-year legacy and what is on offer across the 38 South African clubs…
Polo has been played in South Africa for over a century and was originally introduced as a recreational activity by the military. The first recorded game of Polo was between the Gordon Highlanders, an infantry regiment of the British Army, and the Cape Mounted Rifles, a South African Military regiment.
Although a game initially dominated by the military in South Africa, civilian clubs eventually started sprouting up, recognising not only the sporting qualities of the game, but the opportunities for socialising and networking facilitated by such an event
The game of Polo has always been synonymous with luxury due to the high number of specially trained horses needed to play the game. Traditionally a sport for the wealthy, even now there are only around 400 registered club players in South Africa spread across 38 clubs.
The South African Polo Association (SAPA), formed in 1905, is the official controlling body of Polo in South Africa. All private clubs operating nationally affiliate through their provincial bodies to SAPA which, in turn, affiliates to its international counterparts.
One of the main objectives of the association is to extend the reach and visibility of the game in South Africa, and aside from its own events, runs regular junior coaching clinics, with bursaries on offer for development players.
Due in part to South Africa’s growing and upwardly mobile social classes and the efforts of the SAPA, interest in the sport of Polo is increasing in the country – as much for the sport itself as for the networking opportunities such classy events afford
“As it is associated with glitz and glamour, polo is growing in SA,” says Craig James, an instructor at Johannesburg’s Inanda Polo Club. “A lot of people are becoming familiar with the sport.”
One of the top-billed events in the South African Polo year is September’s BMW International Polo Series, last year attended by more than 8,000 people from all over the world.
Played against a touring international team each year, the first Test (always scheduled on a Sunday), is played at the Durban Shongweni Club and the second Test, taking place the following Sunday, is played in the grounds of the extensive Waterfall Polo Estate in Sunninghill, Johannesburg.
The 2015 event, to be held on the 13th and 20th of September, will mark the 26th year of partnership between BMW South Africa and SAPA – making it one of the longest-running consecutive sports sponsorships in South Africa.
This year’s glittering two-day Test will see the New Zealand team, captained by well-known player John Paul Clarkin, as this year’s featured international team.
A refined and distinctive event for the social calendar, CEO of SAPA, Clive Peddle, says “the luxury is vivid” and corporate marquees are sold out to varying companies and private clients who use them for hospitality and networking purposes. The event is also open to the public, with VIP hospitality tickets going for around R3,995 per head.
“Our lounges are per invite only, which includes VIP celebrities, top clients and media,” says Anina Malherbe-Lan, CEO and founder of communications agency Vivid Luxury, and one of the clients taking advantage of this year’s corporate marquees. “The event attracts very prestigious people and the middle and upper class, who use the sport as an opportunity to network and to close business deals, and propose new ones.”
Polo events are comparable to race-days and horse shows in their feeling of being a high-class garden party, but the sport itself is classed as the most dangerous contact sport in the world.
“Players have only a helmet for protection and travel at speeds of up to 40kmph on horses weighing up to half a ton. Other players use their ponies to ride each other off the line of the ball and, sadly, accidents are not uncommon,” states the association.
“The skills required by a top polo player are a combination of the hand-eye co-ordination of a cricketer, the agility of a gymnast, the fitness of a footballer and the strength and courage of a rugby player – and on top of this excellent horsemanship.”
It is this combination of indulgence, century-old tradition, and heart-in-the-mouth exhilaration that are making Polo events more and more popular in South Africa.
Another huge event to attend for an excellent Polo experience in South Africa is the annual Land Rover Africa Cup, hosted by the Inanda Club in August and expected to attract around 4,500 attendees from across Africa.
One of the title features of this event is that each year, one of the Polo horses is pitted against a a Land Rover – and most of the time the horse wins.
If you don’t want to simply be a spectator and are looking for a more hands-on experience, a number of South Africa’s clubs offer Polo lessons, and the opportunity to hire a horse if you don’t own your own. At the Inanda Club this costs around R2,500 a lesson, plus a R385 monthly fee.
If you are looking for a relaxing and classy day out, an opportunity to impress your clients or simply the chance to experience a display of impressive technical skill then Polo is the ideal option – and South Africa definitely has a lot to offer.