A PoloLine study has shown that the majority of polo matches last two hours, with forty minutes of real playing time.
by Juan Cruz Diaz Cespedes
Last April, after having won the US Open, Adolfo Cambiaso told PoloLine: “There were no nice games because the rules are constantly being changed. It’s unbelievable that a six chukker match now lasts two hours! I’ve played matches that have lasted two hours and fifty minutes. It’s a joke. Everything should be decided quickly and that’s it. I thought that Sunday’s umpiring was a disaster in general. At half time I told the umpires: “People must be bored of watching such bad polo, that stops every two minutes.” It’s shambles. They give penalty 1 – what type of penalty is that?! They want to make up rules, so it’s not really the umpires who are bad, it’s that there are so many rules that they don’t know what to blow anymore. There are good umpires; Hector Galindo played the US Open and I would have him umpire everyday, and Tommy Biddle, also. But there must be simple rules that stay the same, not rules that change three hundred times. “You can’t do this, you can’t do that,” just let us play! Polo has been ruined since the “no turning” rule came into effect. If you have a player like Polito, Facundo, myself, Sapo or Pablo Mac Donough with the ball, why are you going to stop us? There were better games five years ago – we’re moving backwards. Every country should have the same rule book. The good umpires are the ones who know which are the dangerous plays. That’s what everyone should be concentrating on.”
Most polo games around the world last six chukkers. There are exceptions, however; four or five chukkers are played in low-goal polo, and in Argentina, seven or eight chukker matches are played in high-goal games.
We will consider the majority polo matches, which are made up of six chukkers of seven minutes, with an extra thirty-seconds added after each chukker. The chukker ends when the thirty-seconds is over or until the ball goes out of play, touches the boards, a goal is scored, or a foul is given. Those seven and a bit minutes tend to stretch to fifteen if the total time it takes to complete the chukker is included. And then comes the time between chukkers.
Multiply that by six, plus the half time break after the third chukker, and we have a game that normally lasts about ninety minutes – as long as a football match, a two set tennis match, or a Formula One race.
However, it is now common to see six chukker games lasting over two hours. You might think: “Great, more time watching polo,” but this is not the case, since those extra thirty minutes are usually made up of “dead time,” meaning less play and games which are increasingly tedious and boring.
And it’s true. High-goal games have become boring over the years. Both umpires and players should take time to reflect on what went wrong. It is unacceptable for umpires to spend ten minutes deliberating over a foul. It is unacceptable to have to replay a video over and over just to see whether it was or wasn’t a foul, and who committed it. And many times, after ten minutes of talking it over, the play results in a throw in. There should be a time limit to decide on the foul so that we don’t get bored to death. If an umpire blows a foul and has doubts about it, then they should be accountable afterwards, as happens in almost every sport.
The players should also take responsibility for their actions; more than once players can be seen celebrating a foul as if it were a goal (just like some footballers celebrate a penalty just to kick it out or have the ball saved moments later).
Polo players seem to focus more on getting the foul than the goal in front of them. They pay more attention to the line of the ball and spend more time urging umpires to blow the foul than running to goal. Spectators get tired of seeing sticks in the air and hearing the complaints. An attitude previously considered bad sportsmanship has now become engrained in the fabric of polo.
FlexJet vs Valiente, and other examples
There are three games that can be examined to highlight our previous points; three USPA Gold Cup games played in Palm Beach this year, for example.
The first example took place in March at Lechuza Caracas, USA. It was the first match of the Gold Cup, where Flex Jet beat Valiente. The game began at 10:08 (late; it should have started at 10:00. This was the first error committed by the umpires) and finished at 11:59, nearly two hours later. It is worth noting that there were no falls which significantly delayed the game. The first half of the game (chukkers one, two, three) included 21:59 minutes of play and 30:20 minutes of dead time. The second half was somewhat better, with 21:20 minutes of play and 13:37 minutes of inaction. In total, there were 43:19 minutes of polo and 1 hour 8 minutes of dead time.
Another controversial game was the one between White Birch and Dubai, played on IPC’s number three ground. The game started at 12:37 (also late) and finished at 14:29, almost two hours later. There were 42:50 minutes of play and 70:10 minutes of dead time, almost double the play time. There were no falls that significantly delayed the game.
Lastly, let’s analyse the Gold Cup semifinal between Dubai and Coca Cola. The game miraculously started on time, at 12:00. It ended at 13:58, 118 minutes later. In this case the second chukker was interrupted by injury as Cambiaso took a stick to the face. That chukker lasted 36 minutes, with 29 minutes of dead time. To make up for it, the fourth chukker was one of the best of the season, with no dead time at all. No fouls were given and we saw seven minutes of play (it would be good to know if this was the only chukker of full play in the whole Palm Beach season).
Generally, statistics indicate that the worst chukkers are the second, third and sixth. The chukker with most play, where players avoid fouls and go for goal, is the fourth. The game between White Birch and Dubai only had 43 minutes of play, and a total of 75 minutes of inaction.
A spectator who watched any of these three games witnessed two minutes of inaction for every minute of action. Or, put differently, 33% polo and 66% of nothing. When one speaks of a crisis in polo, of a lack of attraction for new patrons or even television, perhaps the topic of the game itself should be brought up and the ways in which we can make the game a faster, more dynamic spectacle discussed between associations, umpires and players.
Between them all, they are killing polo. They are making it boring. No new blood joins the ever-smaller polo community: No new patrons, no new sponsors. Perhaps the answer can be found on the field, so those who watch can leave satisfied instead of bored, and we can start promoting the sport once again.
One seldom hears “it was a great game.” More common would be “it was an awful game” or “it was incredibly boring.” Hopefully this trend will die down. Hopefully we will see more great games and the sport will become a spectacle once again. There is still time. Just start playing!