Dubai: The UAE has made itself famous as a global sporting venue over the past three decades — motorsports, golf, football and even camel racing.
Now we can add polo to the list as the Churchill Cup took place in Dubai on Friday.
While polo may seem like an exclusive sport, this will prove the difference.
There is one exception as — of course, crowds of kids and traditional stilettos took the field during the chukkas break at the Al Habtoor Centre in Dubai — UAE’s best fought it out for glory at the Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club.
With one eye on the future, there is one horse rider who knows his way to victory. “I always wanted to be here — the adrenalin and the connection with the courses and the nature. It’s priceless,” said Tomas Palacios, the manager of Al Habtoor Polo Academy, and regular team rider for UAE.
“I see the process as I did as a child: get on the horse, ride the horse or fall off. I did not fall off. Now I am here in the UAE and I think this is the centre of anything and everything to do with horses.”
A professional of 16 years, the Argentinian felt polo is growing with a number of young people from school, university and academy coming in to learn to play the sport.
“The idea is to encourage more people to take up the sport. In England we have a lot of people think it is only for royalty, but it is not. Everybody is welcome, the entrance is free. The truth is, in Argentina polo is a farming game. We play polo in the farms with or without boots with or without helmets.”
Is there any way to see the sport returning to the Olympics fold?
“Polo used to be an Olympic sport, but the problem is that the game has developed so much that now with each game we play, we need lot of horses. So it’s a complication, the logistics, the horses, the quarantines. It’s tricky, but it’s possible. They can put a few regulations. Currently, if you play in Olympics a player needs to take 7-8 horses, which means about 40 horses per team and then all the staff.”
Develop the game
Jochen Knecht, CEO of International Free Zone Authority (IFZA), said: “The embrace is great. I always wanted to be here and develop the game of polo. There is such an amazing team around me and we can it can only get better, Everything is with vision. Polo is growing and we are happy to contribute to the positive development of the sport in the UAE.”
The new polo season kick started with the launch of the IFZA Polo Lounge, which is a fusion of business networking/social platform/sporting event. Each weekend is designed to target our network of Professional Partners, business influencers and social influencers.
Martin Pedersen, Chairman of International Free Zone Authority (IFZA), said events like these will bring a positive feeling.
After the experiment in the first year, IFZA extended the partnership for a second year when Pedersen and Mohammad Khalaf Al Habtoor, Vice-Chairman and CEO of Al Habtoor Group, signed the deal for another year in November.
“We always tried to interact and connect with all the stakeholders in IFZA and sport is something in mutual platform. We had 2,000 of our partners from around the world stayed in Dubai with us and it is amazing environment and great success,” Pedersen said.
To kick start the season, four teams took part in the opening weekend of the Sir Winston Churchill Cup at the 300-yard polo pitches at the Al Habtoor Club. In the first match, Hesketh defeated UAE, while Bin Drai outplayed Al Habtoor Polo 4-1.
Bin Drai was represented by Rashid Bin Drai, Cristobal Sanchez Duggan, Adrian Laplacette and Khalid Bin Drai, while Ahmed Al Sammach, Justo Cuitinho, Tomy Iriart and Juanji Diaz Alberdi represented Al Habtoor Polo. Martin Pedersen, Chairman of IFZA, gave away the prizes. Estrella, ridden by JJ Diaz Alberdi and owned by Habtoor Al Habtoor, won the Best Playing Pony award.