Pololine Exclusive: Renown patron talks about his polo history and highlights progress of Brunei team.
By Andrés Ugarte Larraín
HRH Prince Jefri Bolkiah, one of the most important patrons in the history of polo, who revolutionised the sport in the ´90s alongside the Heguy’s and Co., began the year with a busy schedule. He kicked off 2016 in Bangkok, where he spoke exclusively with PoloLine; Prince Jefri was in the city supporting Brunei Polo Team in the All Asia Cup 2016 at the VR Sports Club, and he made the most of his visit playing practices with friends and old acquaintances. A few weeks later he moved on to Dubai, where he is playing the Polo Masters Cup with Zedan at the outstanding Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club; it was here that he met up with PoloLine for a second time.
When did your relationship with polo begin?
I think it was in 1976 in Brunei. After a few years we set up a small tournament and, later on, around 1979, we played a tournament with Malaysia, Singapore and an English team.
How did you start playing? Did you take classes with a high-goal player?
Argentine grooms always came over with the horses, so I practically started playing with them. We didn’t have a class schedule or any coaches, we simply played with them. it was only later, around the end of the ´90s, that many high-goal players began travelling to Brunei. It was like a high-goal season for us. The Heguy’s came over, as did many other players, and during my younger years 14 or 15 of us would play everyday. I can’t keep up with that rhythm any more! (laughs)
HRH Prince Jefri Bolkiah took a break from polo for a while, but a few years ago the polo bug bit him again and he got back in the saddle. “If I’m not mistaken, I stopped playing around 2000; I took polo up again in 2009, also in Brunei,” he explains. “I still play, but not as I did before. I now really enjoy playing low goal. At any rate, I don’t think I could play a higher level. I reckon that when you are 61 years old you have to concentrate on a lower level of polo; I’m not looking to get my handicap up. I just really enjoy playing.”
How important is the All Asia Cup in terms of helping the growth of polo in Asia?
In my opinion, it is very important. I was here two years ago and I really enjoyed it. I was able to meet lots of people, and I met up with them all again this year. I would like there to be even more people.
How do you feel when you see Brunei’s national team competing?
I love it, and it makes me very proud. I think they are doing a great job. This was HRH Prince Mateen’s first big polo experience; my son [HRH Prince Bahar], who played with me here two years ago, also took part. And the Princess [HRH Princess Azemah] also played the Kings Cup here last year. This is a new generation of players. I was part of the first generation, and they are the second. I am delighted that they continue the tradition.
Do you enjoy watching polo, be it live or on TV?
I have not seen polo in Argentina or the US; only in England. But I love watching the games on TV. I always ask for the videos of the finals and of any match I can. I watch them while I run – it keeps me going.
How would you describe your relationship with horses?
I love horses, and I always really enjoyed playing. For example, every time I travel, for those used to having good horses, I try and learn everything I can about the horses in each place. I believe that having good horses is an advantage we have.
What aspect of your game most stands out to you?
I think that when it comes to playing the best aspect of my game was always running with the ball. I always liked hitting long shots, but not anymore (laughs)! The only thing I think about now is taking the ball as fast as I possibly can.
To conclude, HRH Prince Jefri Bolkiah highlights two players whom he much admires: “It was a long time ago, but I always liked the way Alfonso Pieres played. He once said to me, “If you want to score, don’t just try and hit the ball, always try to do a shot that is distinctive, different. That’s going to be your best goal. You won’t do it by just hitting the ball.” Alfonso could do anything on the horse. My rival today is my son, Bahar. I can never catch him; I try everything to hook his stick and get the ball off him, but I never manage it.”