MAXIM gets candid with Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur on the future of Polo in India.
Even though Polo is one of the oldest games in our country, it is largely seen as a game of the niche. How can it be made a sport of the masses?
The Polo is said to be ‘Game of Kings’ and ‘King of Games’, as it is highly costly to maintain Polo horses by individuals hence is called Game of Kings and is a game that requires multiple skills so it is called King of Games. The requirements to play Polo is to have at least 4-6 horses per player, a Polo Ground of 300 yards by 200 yards and there should be minimum three teams to play in a tournament.
In India the Polo clubs and Polo grounds are only at a few places. Only few players having resources or who are sponsored can play the game. Now a days with the support of Corporate Houses a number of teams and players have come up. There is one horse Cavalry Regiment in the country and three mounted units i.e. President Body Guard, Army Service Corps and Remount & Veterinary Corps who have horses and have Polo teams, where only Army person can play. We can see that there are limitations to playing Polo and hence it is not possible to make it a game for the masses in our country. And this is the same the world over except perhaps in Argentina where it is a national sport.
Not many people are into horse riding these days. What can be done to first get children interested in riding and then perhaps take up Polo?
Riding can be made quite popular amongst children. There are some Schools who have riding facilities, there are clubs in many cities where riding is taught to children. The child is a natural lover of horses, if only we can provide a pony to more children they will be happy to adopt riding.
As I have said earlier the cost of maintenance of a pony or horse is quite high and due to that every school can’t afford to provide riding facilities. However at school at many places riding is available at an affordable additional cost.
As the conditions prevail in our country where essential popular sports facilities are not available this costly game of Polo is very difficult for government to promote but some incentive could be given to Corporates, Clubs, Schools to promote the game by making subsidized lands available for Polo fields and reducing duties on import of horses.
How can costs be cut down and change that mind sets?
Yes it is true it is a costly game. This game can only be played by people who have enough resources. More clubs should be encouraged and as mentioned above incentive given for establishing Polo academies.
Our Polo team has had some great players like Samir Suhag. But there isn’t much scope for professional Polo players. What do you think the Government, or the society can do to support the game?
The professional players of our country need to be supported by Government and the Corporates. Their professional fees should be appropriately paid so that they can maintain themselves and their horses. Unfortunately Polo does not draw crowds like Cricket, Football or Hockey hence clubs organizing Polo tournaments can’t levy tickets and get revenue. Hence Governments must consider innovative measures to support IPA recognized clubs and IPA tournaments and our national teams, travels abroad. This will give talented professional players more opportunities to play and earn better fees.
Lot of youngsters feel there is lack of opportunities to play competitive Polo abroad and that leads to stagnation in their passion for the sport. How can interaction between national and international players be increased?
The opportunity to our players is very restricted. The IPA does send teams abroad and also invites teams and organizes coaching of our players is in a limited manner. However friendly club exchanges provide a good opportunity for international exposer. We have been doing that at the Jodhpur Polo & Equestrian Institute and have had exchanges with UK , France, Holland, Spain, Brazil, Kenya, Zambia, Egypt, Singapore and players from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Ireland have come and played.
There’s also high injury risks that hinder people from taking up Polo. Are there any ways to make the sport safer?
Of course the rider is exposed to high risk. Polo is a fast and furious game. The players must have good quality helmets and equipment and properly trained horses and should be fit and alert, play the game according to the safety rules and avoid reckless play. For this there must be strict umpiring by quality umpires who should hold Polo clinics before each tournament. Properly equipped ambulance must be present at all the grounds.
What is the future of Polo in our country?
The future of Polo in India looks promising as more Corporates are coming forward to support the players and teams. Some States are looking at providing land for Polo grounds. There are more young Polo players and private clubs coming into the game, our country is progressing economically and hence more people will be able to afford to support and play the sport and aspire to being a “King”.