The latest ‘Inside Africa’ on CNN International explores the popularity of polo in Nigeria, set against the backdrop of the Lagos International Polo Tournament.
‘Inside Africa’ meets athletes from around the world competing for the Majekodunmi Cup, including a new generation of Nigerian polo players, who are embracing the country’s traditional love of horses.
The programme visits the Lagos Polo Club, the home of the oldest polo field in the country. Nowadays the field plays host to one of the most important events in the Nigerian polo calendar, the Lagos International Polo Tournament.
‘Inside Africa’ meets the Fifth Chukker Polo Club, one of the finalists for the Majekodunmi Cup. As an Elite level team with a large budget, they are able to bring in two of their four players from abroad, often referred to as “hired assassins”.
Ade Laoye, the president of the Lagos Polo Club, explains to ‘Inside Africa’ the importance of these foreign players: “What the hired assassins… do is they elevate the game. They help the patrons and players play with them, elevate the game as well. And they also bring a more international standard to the game.”
Many of these foreign players are from Argentina, often considered the best in the sport. ‘Inside Africa’ meets Manuel Crespo, who explains the differences between playing in Africa to South America: “The field is good. Polo is becoming really good. We have some horses from Argentina, so it’s more or less like being at home.”
Crespo continues: “People here are really fanatic about polo, they really like it, they’re crazy about polo. You don’t see it in other countries.”
‘Inside Africa’ learns that importing of horses is having an impact for the sport in Nigeria. Laoye tells the programme: “We also have some Nigerians now who are breeding horses. They’ve brought in thoroughbreds from either Arabia or Argentina, and now they’re breeding some very good horses.”
However, the Lagos International Polo Tournament also includes lower division and amateur players, offering an invaluable insight to less experienced athletes and the next generation of riders.
Many of these younger players are developed at the Fifth Chukker Polo and Country Club, where ‘Inside Africa’ meets Barbara Zingg, a trainer at the stables. Zingg explains: “Principally I think our mission here is to develop the next generation of riders or polo players and really get the kids out of town.”
Fifth Chukker Polo Club also offers jobs at the club to potential players, which allows them to practice and play with the club’s horses. The captain of Fifth Chukker, Babangida Hassan, explains the initiative to ‘Inside Africa’: “We have a lot of people like that, where we see the talent, they can play the game, not actually afford it, and it’s the way of meaningful employment.”
Hassan also explains the feeling of playing polo: “Imagine riding a 450 kg animal, travelling at about 70 km an hour, and trying to hit a ball the size of a tennis ball. Adrenaline, the speed, it’s really incredible.”
‘Inside Africa’ then films at the final event of the Lagos International Polo Tournament – the Majekodunmi Cup match between Fifth Chukker and the Ironclad Trojans.
The programme meets artist Polly Alakija, who explains what the tournament is like for a spectator. Alakija tells ‘Inside Africa’: “I love watching the game, it’s also, let’s face it, a fantastic networking event. Business leaders of Nigeria support polo, so you meet a lot of business people. You meet a lot of great friends here, it’s a great social event.”
‘Inside Africa’ airs Friday 18 March on CNN International at 1730 WAT