Lack of quality opposition for England in 2016 is in stark contrast to world polo aiming high for inclusion at 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“It seems that Uruguay will come next year. Those are the rumours; or maybe America again. It’s difficult to find international teams.” So said James Beim, the England polo captain, after lifting the Royal Salute Coronation Cup with a July win over a South America outfit.
These were hardly positive words for Guards’ annual ‘Test’ match, both for next year’s ticket sales and the best possible quality of opposition.
Argentina still holds sway when it comes to top level sport
Thus it was surprising to see polo, a five-time Olympic participant up until 1936, being put forward by the Federation of International Polo (FIP) for possible inclusion at the Tokyo 2020 Games. The sport, along with other such pursuits as orienteering and tug of war, unsurprisingly failed to make the final shortlist.
FIP president, Nicholas Colquhoun-Denvers, stated that polo’s Olympic hopes, even if unsuccessful, would “raise the profile of the sport across the world and hopefully assist us in future applications of a similar nature.”
But as Beim told Horse & Hound, the logistics and costs – a key IOC requirement in the current sporting climate – would take some working out, “what with horses and format — and the level of play, but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
And there’s the crux of the issue: how many countries would be able to participate if the Olympic maxim of “Higher, Faster Stronger” took preference? Few. In fact, it would mirror polo’s previous Games experience where only five countries participated, some with mixed nationalities.
So five-ringed aspirations are one thing, but polo has first to get its house in order on several fronts.
Opt for a medium goal handicap format with drawn horses and most of the best players – Argentines – would miss major Games. Rather like its own World Championship (14 goal), FIP needs to find an international format now to take forward, promote and encourage a future generation, ostensibly from countries other than South America.
Argentina’s 40-goal tournaments (where teams of four compete with 10 goal handicaps, the highest in polo) are simply on a different plateau.
Polo’s only multi-Games inclusion is as demo sport at World Equestian Games
Where polo has to make strides is gaining proper recognition at the World Equestrian Games, where it is currently a demonstration sport, and FIP’s aim of inclusion to the 2019 Pan American Games.
Equestrian’s world governing body, the FEI, told Telegraph Sport that “there are no plans at this stage for polo” for the 2018 event in Bromont, Canada. FIP, meanwhile, was unavailable for comment.
Surely polo should be doing more than just being satisfied with becoming a “sell out” demonstration sport, as it was at last year’s edition. According to the FEI, it is up to the discretion of the Canadian organising committee whether polo will demo in 2018.
For the time being, Beim’s opening words are hard to erase. The skill and horsemanship at the top echelons of the sport are undisputed, yet a global divide remains. These are testing times for world polo.