Bouncy castles and music surrounded Al Habtoor Polo Academy over the weekend as polo and IFZA opened their doors to the public — showing an inclusive insight to the ‘Sport of Kings’ that can now be enjoyed by all.
Tomas Palacios, manager of Al Habtoor Polo Academy took us through the journey. “We have so many players coming through from school and university that we are almost turning them away at the door,” the Argentine explained. “The adrenalin keeps us hooked. The idea is to show this game to the people. Everyone thinks this game is closed — away from the public. This is a sport for everyone. I got involved as a kid and anyone can join us. And all we want to do is make it bigger.
“The idea is to show the game to the world and entrance is free.”
The International Free Zone Authority has renewed its partnership with UAE Polo at Al Habtoor and the future looks bright.
“When guys like IFZA host an event like this, the general public can come along, see what the sport is all about and realise what we do,” Palacios said. “Then they see: ‘Oh, this has been here all along and we can go every week!’ And they are hooked.
“It is such an attractive and addictive sport. And it is open to everyone. This game in Argentina began on the farm, not with royalty, and here in the UAE we are aiming to get back there — to the roots.”
Palacios obviously switch from farm to going professional, but the leap from running around on a horse with chums to the international circuit was not that great a leap at all.
“We always play for fun,” he said. “So we convinced ourselves we were the best and the next step was almost natural. The scouts are watching and they say: ‘Oi, I need a player in England.’ They see your talent and take you and give all the opportunities.
“Sometimes it can be hard as one rider will need eight horses — they do the running and we need subs — but, once you are in the saddle you are looked after.
Palacios also dreams of getting polo back on the Olympic Games schedule. Polo was first on the agenda when the Games came to Paris in 1900, but dropped off after 1936.
“The polo sport is traditional, but it has become modern and professional — much like rugby and soccer — and we will have it back on the map soon.
“The game has developed so much. Now we need all the logistics to take teams around the world — eight horses per player, quarantines et cetera — and it is tricky. But If we can do it for the other sports, I think it can be done. The UAE today is a perfect base as we can travel with 40-50 horses to any place in the world. We have the biggest club in Dubai and UAE with our tournaments.”
Jochen Knecht, CEO of IFZA, concurred. “Polo fits into the backbone of our vision at IFZA and it is a perfect opportunity to talk about the sport and also talk about business, the future of the UAE and how we develop hand in hand,” he said as the first chukka started at Al Habtoor on Friday. “The passion for polo is growing and IFZA contributes to that on occasions such as this with our growth, development and awareness. We are very happy to do tat. We have created a society around the events and we will continue to grow
Martin Pedersen, Chairman of International Free Zone Authority (IFZA), was celebrating a second year of partnership with UAE polo.
“Sport is such a neutral platform as it touches everyone and IFZA tries to reach all. We started last year with brilliant success in difficult tiles, with 2,000 partners, but the breakthrough was amazing and we loved it. To have this platform for connections is second to none. We can talk business and do it in environment we can enjoy.”