David Woodd, CEO of the HPA, responds to The Telegraph’s review of the 2015 English Polo Season, and gives his take on issues within the sport.
David Woodd, the CEO of the Hurlingham Polo Association, believes the departure of Audi as three-tier sponsors in English polo was the lowest point of the 2015 season, admitting that it was “a difficult year” for the Coronation Cup although the support of Royal Salute asnew sponsors was uplifting.
Woodd admitted to The Telegraph that little can be done about the dominance of super-powers within the English season in high goal competition – with teams such as King Power and Dubai – and that within the international framework, the standard and handicap of some nations’ players precludes the very highest level of competition.
However, in Woodd’s opinion, lower handicap Test match – at 22 goals – can be just as entertaining. “It takes two to tango and not many countries can tango at the moment,” responded the polo official to the criticism that with an Ashes summer generating so much attention in the UK, with England playing against Australia – and New Zealand – the HPA had been unable to procure an Australian side to play England on International Day.
Woodd also believes that the rules need to change “to try to make it better to watch and more fun to play for the lower handicap players, and easier to umpire.”
Umpiring, and respect for umpires, also needs attention, believes Wood, who enters his twelfth year in charge in 2016. “Improving the umpiring, especially at the lower levels should be a high priority but few players want to umpire, for good reasons. We could learn from rugby where players treat the referee with great respect, even when he has got it wrong,” Woodd said.
Read Telegraph Sport’s 2015 season in review
Is there too much dominance by just a select few super powers in high goal polo?
David Woodd: Most sports experience periods when certain teams dominate. It can result from a variety of factors such as better preparation and training and the appearance of exceptional talent. If teams have achieved success in those areas then they deserve to win.
The issue for polo in England is that it is played on handicap and the aim of handicapping is to level off the teams but players are handicapped individually and cannot be more than 10.
What could be done about it?
The three main factors for success are probably the individual skills of the players, the horses and the team work. I do not think that you want to penalise those who invest in better horses but I think that you could adjust the handicapping for all polo by taking the goal difference from between the best two players rather than the whole team. This would help those who put together a three-man rather than a two-man team. At the lower level it would also discourage the use of the minus goal player in order to boost the handicap of the two best players.
Have England got their Test and International format right?
It takes two to tango and there are not too many countries able to tango at the moment, and the country that is best at it has been difficult to get onto the field which I understand. They are the best in the world and do not wish to field a team unless they feel it is the best at that handicap. It is difficult for us to field a team which does not include our best players, but lower handicapped test matches can be as good or better to watch.
Did safety improve this year?
Our rules for helmets are no different to that of the USPA or AAP and producing and then enforcing a rule that requires everyone to wear a certain type of helmet is not as simple as it might seem.
Safety first: the best, and latest, helmets must be enforced as ruling, says Ray Fine Photo: EPA
Were the women’s handicaps a success and is women’s polo growing?
I have had a fair amount of flack for saying that women are unlikely to get beyond a certain handicap. It is perhaps ironic that women can stage women-only polo but slot into other polo when it suits. Sarah Taylor has just kept wicket in a first grade match in Australia with the men so we might see more mixed teams in cricket but I guess that women-only cricket teams will continue. More flack coming my way, I am sure, but I do have two daughters who play and two ex-players in the office and the final of the ladies tournament in
Cirencester in 2014 was one of the best games I watched that summer (my daughters were not playing!). I think that ladies handicaps will help. They should equalise the teams once they get more accurate and the better players will enjoy a higher profile within the ladies game. Sponsorship and recognition should follow.
What of the restriction on ponies per chukka as raised by Anthony Fanshawe and John Horswell in Telegraph interviews?
It is really hard to support something which could be to the detriment of the welfare of a pony but in some games there are too many stops and pony changes. You need lots of grooms to be able to change very frequently so it is mainly a high goal problem. You could argue that in high goal, except at half-time, players should only be given a very short time between chukkas to change.
What should the HPA have learnt from this year?
Although we are an affiliation of clubs, there are within that a mass of different groups and agendas with their own interests and clubs, who have to balance their books, will generally do what they want and what suits their members
How did Royal Salute fare in its first year as International day sponsors?
It was a difficult year for the Coronation Cup in many respects but Royal Salute gave us great support and a different feel to the day. Given the weather on the Friday and the Sunday, I was very happy with everything.
How did Jaeger-LeCoultre fare as title sponsors of the Gold Cup?
It was sad to see Veuve Clicquot go but Jaeger-LeCoultre are certainly a great fit and I very much hope that it will work for them, for years to come.
Do the major days need greater marketing?
The polo landscape has changed. There are a lot more events being marketed, more opportunities for corporate entertainment and accessible than it used to be. Polo players are generally not interested in watching other players play.
Greatest memory of the season …
The way the sun shone and the Queen’s ground at Guards dried out for the Coronation Cup.
Worst aspect of the season …
Loss of Audi as sponsors of the England team and Pony Club.
What of Sotogrande extending its season for teams to prepare Jan-March?
Tough to go there again in August but for us probably better if they go before our season. Given the amount of polo played here, our season on its own is pretty tough on the ponies and it seems that a lot of players have had enough by mid-August.
Sotogrande is turning into a major force in polo
What is the greatest thing we have learnt or needs changing after 2015?
We are working hard to get the new Hurlingham Polo brand out there. We hope that this will be good for English polo as well as providing another income stream so that we can help develop and improve the game. As far as the game is concerned, I think that our
rules need to change to try to make it better to watch and more fun to play for the lower handicap players, and easier to umpire. Improving the umpiring, especially at the lower levels should be a high priority but few players want to umpire, for good reasons. We could learn from rugby where players treat the referee with great respect, even when he has got it wrong.