Toffs only? Polo is seeking new image

The sport seen as a preserve of snobs wants fresh blood. Jonathan Brown and Charlotte Rhodes report

IT may have been invented by war-like Eurasian tribesmen as a way of keeping fit until the next bloody tussle with rival herders, but polo gave up claims as a sport of the ordinary man around the time of Byzantium. Over the years the noble classes from Maidenhead to Manipur have enjoyed nothing more than squaring up for a few hard- fought chukkas.

But now the Hurlingham Club, the spiritual home of polo in Britain, is hoping to again throw open the sport to the masses as it prepares to host the first tournament in central London since the Second World War.

With tickets costing just £15 each and entrance free to locals, polo's governing body hopes the three-day international event, Polo in the Park, will lead a popular renaissance for the testing pursuit which pits man and pony against each other in an at-times death-defying test of skill and horsemanship.

Hammersmith and Fulham council has given the go-ahead to the event next June, which will bring up to 5,000 to west London to witness city teams from across the world thunder at up to 40mph across the lawns at the Thames-side Social Club in a globally-televised contest. Among those to welcome the initiative yesterday was Jilly Cooper, whose bestseller Polo depicted a horse-mad, sex-crazed world.

"Polo's like playing golf from a helicopter," she said. "It's a great adventure. People absolutely fall in love with it once they see it. The ponies are so clever and brave and the players are gorgeous men, so people always like that, don't they?" World Polo Ltd, the sport's first franchise-based polo tour, is planning massive investment in next summer's tournament, which will also see a major refurbishment of Hurlingham Park. But whether this will help dispel the "toffs on horseback" image remains to be seen. While polo matches have long been a place for the super-rich and the merely privileged to get together – it was through the sport that Princess Diana met the cavalry officer James Hewitt – some find it harder than others to be accepted into the fold.

Earlier this year, Katie Price, better known as the glamour model Jordan, accused the organisers of one polo tournament of snobbery amid allegations that her manager was told that she was "not the sort of person they wanted" at their event.

Price, 30, paid £6,000 for a table at the Cartier International at Windsor – the polo calendar's most glittering occasion – but it was alleged the organisers Chinawhite vetoed her presence. "It should be about the sport. No one should be excluded," she said. A spokeswoman for Chinawhite said the model was only refused entry because the event was sold out.

The Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding sampled the sport for a reality TV show. She concluded: "I had a great time, but I was in agony and covered in bumps. I used to do showjumping when I was little, but this was bad."

Paul Bristow, a Hammersmith and Fulham councillor, said it was his intention to break down the class barriers. "Unfortunately, that has been the traditional view but polo originated in the city, and if we want to attract a new generation, it has to be held in places like inner London," he said.

The sport insists it has been trying to make itself more popular andwants to return to the Olympics after a 72-year absence, although it will not be back for the London 2012 Games. But there has been major take-up among India and China's new monied classes and a resurgence as a university sport.

"Polo has changed in the past 10 years and there are more clubs," said David Woodd of the Hurlingham Polo Association, the UK governing body. Still, even devotees such as Jilly Cooper concede not everyone can afford it. "There are such nice people who play and they are not at all snobby. It's only that the horses are quite expensive, but most of the teams have a patron who picks up the bills," said Cooper.

Polo: The history

While polo in Britain can only date its origins back to the high Victorian period – it was brought here by the 10th Hussars at Aldershot, Hants, in 1869 – the sport had been played among the princes of Asia for nearly 2,000 years. Persia, now Iran, is considered the birthplace of the sport, with accounts of matches and top players in ancient literature and art. The name is said to originate from the Tibetan word pulu, meaning ball. By the time of the arrival of the British Empire in India, the game was being played from Constantinople to Tokyo. Military officers in the sub-continent took to it with vigour, establishing a club at Silchar in Assam and the game spread through the empire. Indian teams dominated the first internationals, then Britain and Argentina led the world, with the South American side taking the last Olympic gold in 1936. The Hurlingham Club, founded in 1869, became British polo's HQ. However the post-war Labour Government's compulsory purchase of the polo fields to make way for a council estate saw the game lose its central London home. Today the Guards Polo Club in Windsor is the top venue: the Duke of Edinburgh is president, the Queen is patron.

Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines