LAGOS (Reuters) – When polo comes to Lagos, the champagne flows and exuberant fashion colors adorn the green fields.
While most Nigerians would never trade their love of soccer, the commercial capital still hosts the biggest polo tournament in West Africa, with trophies fiercely disputed against a backdrop of glitz and glamour for the upper class.
“Polo has shifted from just the sports to a fashion statement,” said Mudrakat Alabi-Macfoy, wearing an airy white kaftan with a multi-colored floral necklace and head wrap at the Lagos Polo Club.
“For me it is something fun, something playful, something whimsical, something comfortable … a bit of color, a bit of pop,” said Alabi-Macfoy, who works as a lawyer when not watching polo.
In a nation with the world’s highest number of people in extreme poverty, the often-dubbed “sport of kings” is prohibitively expensive for the majority.
First introduced by British colonial servicemen, polo has been played in Nigeria for over a hundred years and nearly all the teams are owned by local multi-millionaires.
“It is an expensive sport because, you know, your horses are like babies,” said Koyinsola Owoeye, who has been playing polo since 2007, seduced by his father’s love of the sport.
A horse can cost about $40,000 – then there is upkeep.
“Maintenance is not easy. Today they can be well, tomorrow they can have, you know, malaria, fever, colic, or even get injured on the field or on their way to the tournament,” Owoeye said.
The 2019 Lagos International Polo Tournament, which wound up on Sunday, fielded 33 teams from Nigeria, Argentina, South Africa, Kenya and the United Kingdom.
(Reporting by Afolabi Sotunde, Nneka Chile and Seun Sanni in Lagos; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)