PLAYERS AND SPECIALIST TALK ON WHAT COULD HAPPEN NEXT WEEK

One of the issues plaguing the polo world over the past months has been the fate of the English polo season after the Home Office provisionally suspended the HPA’s ability to emit work visas to grooms, players and other people related to the sport.

The good news is that Interim Relief has accepted to take the case up on behalf of the HPA to determine how the upcoming English season can take place under this new legal criteria. They will deal with the issue once the case has been discussed over two hours on Wednesday, January 25.

“I never imagined that it would get this far; it is a shame for English polo,” states Adolfo Cambiaso. “Every area of polo is affected. It affects medium and low goal polo above all, the Argentines, all the grooms. A polo player without his groom is like an F1 driver without his mechanic. It is very difficult to compete without your groom. This ruling also affects high goal polo, since good patrons come from medium and low goal tournaments.”

The Home Office is maintaining a tough exterior, but, on the other hand, we have reached this point after several seasons of not dealing with the situation effectively. Mariano Darritchon, who is very involved with the English low goal, says: “Not only were the Argentines going about things the wrong way, but the whole of English polo was, too. No one ever looked into visas. Three Englishmen made the Home Office take note, but we had been doing things wrong since 2008, when the current visa system was set up. We were never told anything. You called Polo Permits, they gave you a visa, the HPA endorsed it, and we all took grooms over.”

Up to this point, the Home Office ruling means that grooms will experience the most trouble when attempting to work in the UK. “The whole of the polo world is affected; everyone will suffer due to this administrative decision,” explains HB’s Ludo Pailloncy. “But, as in every crisis, the big fish come out on top. It is sad for everyone, even the butcher who sells meat for the asados! The decision will have a domino effect.”

Many people affirm that the most affected are those who participate in low goal polo. “From top to bottom, everyone is harmed; a small club has three or four professionals offering a livery service with its six Argentine grooms,” explains Malcolm Borwick. “And on the other hand, the high goal without the big players who don’t have European passports will not be the same show it was before.”

Nic Roldan, who had a great 2016 season with La Indiana, clearly describes why low goal polo will suffer greatly: “The medium and low goal will suffer the most, as will the high goal in certain parts. Medium and low goal polo creates patrons and gives young players a chance to improve.”

Matías Ballesteros, manager of Four Quarters Polo, a team who plays a lot in the medium goal, stated: “From what I have seen in meetings and what I have heard, I think that they will allow players who are 5-goals or more, and foreign grooms for every level. There was a meeting a few days ago and I was told that the Home Office is a bit more relaxed.”

It is worth stating that this situation affects all foreign players without a European passport, not just Argentines. But if we measure the number of people affected, the majority are from Argentina and South America as a whole.

Jaime García Huidobro says the following: “I am following everything very closely; I didn’t expect the situation to get so far. Unfortunately, the players cannot really do much, it is up to the patrons. But I would call European clubs and ask them to consider changing their fixtures, because if the problem persists it would be mean an important change for European polo.”

Fred Mannix, who was going to make a comeback to English polo, brings up another issue: the possibility of players choosing other destinations. “I think that both the HPA and the Home Office have underestimated how serious the situation actually is. If things continue this way I think everyone will be affected, especially English professionals. The proposed changes would mean less polo and this would affect local players. Foreign players and patrons can go elsewhere to play, and Spain would benefit the most.”

“There has been talk about moving to Spain, the only country that has the infrastructure to accommodate 10 high goal teams, with fields and boxes,” says Sapo Caset. “I don’t know if there is anywhere else in Europe that can host so many high goal teams.”

Adolfo Cambiaso is even more direct when it come to this idea: “If you ask me, the solution would be to go to Spain, where they are waiting for us with open arms. The weather is great and the fields are good. England is amazing and so are the tournaments, but we have to adapt to what is happening now, and the only solution I can think of is moving low, medium, and high goal to Spain.”

But a problem arises with this possibility of moving everything abroad, especially because many patrons are based in a certain place and are unable to move away for months or weeks at a time. This is Manuel Fernández Llorente’s case: “My patrons are English and it is hard to go somewhere else. For those of us who play the medium goal it is hard to travel to England if you don’t have the chance of playing with several teams.” Matías Ballesteros agrees: “My patrons don’t want to leave the club that they have invested so much in. They don’t want it to shut for a year. We are waiting for the Home Office’s decision to see what happens.”

Only so much speculation can be done, and we are all anxiously awaiting the verdict that will come out on January 25. But some people on the edge of the situation are putting forth ideas. Mariano Darritchon states: “Not many solutions can be put forward today. We don’t have time at the moment, but we could set up a system where we can classify, train and certify grooms so they have the right level of knowledge to work. We could work with the HPA and the AAP to set the standards and make the change.”

Joaquín Pittaluga, who has spent the last few years playing the medium and high-goal with Ferne Park, shares: “I think that, independent of the level of professionals and their nationality, we have to remember that our patrons want to have a good time playing a sport they love. For that reason, we need to limit bureaucratic or political obstacles, which are now increasing.”

To conclude, Gonzalito Pieres expresses his concerns: “It would be a shame to suspend the English season. It has a great history and I consider it to be one of the most important seasons in the world, on par with the Argentine season.”