By Mikhil Bhat/Doha
Last month in Buenos Aires, polo was played under the Olympic banner for the first time since 1936, when it was showcased at 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
At Campo Argentina de Polo, also known as The Cathedral of Polo, in Buenos Aires, junior competitors from as many as 10 countries demonstrated the sport.
The Youth Olympics in the Argentinian capital also coincided with the South American visit of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
“Argentina and Qatar are in a strategic partnership. It’s not just about economics and politics, we have also said that we will be working together in sports, culture,” Argentina’s ambassador to Qatar, Carlos Hernandez, said at a press conference yesterday.
And so, as part of that initiative, Argentinian Polo Association (AAP) president Eduardo Novillo Astrada is on a visit to Qatar, on an invitation by Qatar Olympic Committee President HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani for the Longines Global Champions Tour equestrian competition at Al Shaqab.
“I have a very good relationship with Jan Tops,” Astrada told Gulf Times yesterday, referring to the Dutch former equestrian Olympic gold medallist and the mind behind the Global Champions Tour, which began in 2006. “What I am trying to do in polo is something he did with Longines Global Champions Tour.
“We had His Highness the Amir in Argentina and saw polo, which was also part of the Youth Olympic Games recently. And Sheikh Joaan heads the Qatar Olympic Committee. After that I received this invitation to come. And I thank him for that. So let’s see how the discussions pan out. We hope we can expand polo around the world,” said Astrada, who himself has been an accomplished polo player.
While the British are credited with popularising the modern version of the sport, which involves horseback riders using wooden mallets to hit a solid ball in opposition’s goal, taking it from the Subcontinent to Europe and elsewhere, it has come to be truly dominated by Argentinians who boast some of the biggest names today, including the highest-ranked Adolfo Cambiaso.
“It’s like All Blacks in rugby,” Astrada said.
Astrada spoke about building on Qatari involvement in horses around the world, including showjumping and racing, to help spread polo, which has been attempting to make a comeback at the Olympic Games.
“Just like the people of Qatar, we love horses in Argentina. The tournaments in Argentina attract a huge number of people from across the world,” Astrada said.
“We know that Qatar has a strong equestrian team, and we hope that we can also build a strong polo team too.”
Astrada said that in Argentina polo is a popular sport, and not elitist, as is the case with many other countries.
“People own horses, but there are also people in Argentina who don’t own horses, and pay rentals for horses to play. Obviously that’s a popular perception that if you don’t have a horse you can’t play polo. But that’s not the case,” he said.
Talking about other benefits, he said, “Horses are very good for young kids. They make children responsible for an animal, take them away from the phones, video games, television.”
Astrada, who took up the reigns at the Argentine association last year, said it was their responsibility as the best team in the world to promote the game in the world.
“Twenty years ago we used to go buy saddles in England, the boots, the mallets. But today we are big producers, and we are a big industry. We have to start spreading the sport.”
As part of the polo tour that Astrada spoke about, the plans are to host the first tournament in Argentina next year, before spreading it to three countries in 2020 and five the year after that.
“I am looking at 2020-2021 so we can pull a facility together, but these are still early days,” he said, adding that England and USA are the other stops on the tour for 2020.
Talking about the talks with Qatar, he said, “We see in Qatar the best partner in the region to promote polo.”
He added: “You know the people here in charge of sports, they have a vision, and how important it is for the society at large.”
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