by Andres Ugarte Larrain
Andrew Hine is an important figure in English polo, but his work isn’t limited to Britain. Hine is regularly called upon to advise, play, or even coach, all around the world. In the run up to the English season, Hine spoke to PoloLine about the current state of the sport and the direction it has taken in this year’s eventful first quarter.
“Polo in England has been played at a 22-goal level for many years,” explains Hine. “I like that level, but we have not tried 26- or 20-goals. I would loved to see 26-goal polo in England one day.”
“Many of the game I’ve seen in the US last too long: two or two and a half hours, with only 45 minutes of play,” he continues. “I think we should make the game more dynamic and entertaining for the spectators.”
How could this idea be put into practice?
“We could take example from other sports, such as rugby:
Rules are constantly modified to ensure the game is as entertaining and dynamic as possible. In my opinion, I would prohibit the situation where the attacking team have players block and protect the player with the ball. Hardly any sports allow you to block a player who is not in contact with the ball!
If players address the umpire in an offensive manner, they must be penalised immediately.
Rugby umpires aid the speed of the game by telling the player to release the ball or warning a defensive player to back off. The same technique can be used in polo.
In rugby, players are allowed to take penalties quickly.
Javier Tanoira has introduced many good concepts in his All Pro Polo League.”
What do you think about having an international panel of players, coaches and directors to work on possible changes?
“It would be good to have a type of international panel that can address the USPA/AAP/HPA and suggest ways to make polo more fun to play and watch. Changing aspects of the game could make it more attractive to patrons and corporate sponsors.”
In Argentina, two teams stand out: La Dolfina and Ellerstina. What do you think about there being two exceptionally strong teams – King Power and Dubai – in the English high-goal this season?
“It is a disadvantage in so much that many organisations who have invested a lot of money are less motivated than they would be otherwise. Some teams think that they cannot win because big-budget teams have the best players and the best horses. Even presenting a medium budget team is expensive, and the season is very short. It is therefore a worry that the cost is so high; it is one of the reasons the number of teams competing is lower that it was four years ago. Patrons should enjoy playing polo, that should be an important focus of the game. The constant blocking, and the fact that they hardly get the ball, doesn’t add to the fun – for anyone.”
“On the other hand, I think it is normal to have a few dominant players or teams in an international sport such as this. It is worth remembering the greats every time we analyse certain eras. There have always been dominant teams in England, such as Stowell Park/Foxcote (with Eddie Moore), Tramontana (with Carlos Gracida), Ellerston (with Gonzalo Pieres), and now Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres have marked another chapter in polo history.”
An idea which has been mentioned recently by Facundo Pieres, among others, is the need for salary caps. Speaking from experience and knowledge of the English season, Hine states: “When I started considering the possibility of salary caps, I was in favour of the idea. The main advantage being what happens without a cap, being that big teams and organisations will always secure the best players and the best horses. So how would organisations with lesser budgets compete? But on the other hand, it must be considered whether a salary cap can really be put into practice. There are certain regulations in place in several sports that result in a more level the playing field. There are certain financial rules in the Premier League and the Champions League, for example. If teams do not abide by the rules, transfers are prohibited and they receive other fines. Many American sports have salary caps. The issue with polo is the following: if you manage to cap the salary of a player, how can you make sure patrons don’t spend more money on horses to make up for the difference? Or, how do you avoid a patron playing a high sum for just two weeks of polo with his player somewhere else and outside of the established season? I reckon the only way to enforce salary caps is if an initiative come forward from patrons themselves, so they can agree on regulations, laws and fines.”
What do you think about the unification of rules recently announced by the HPA?
“It is very positive that the three most important associations have agreed to unify the rules. However, I still think the rules need to be changed.”
There have been complaints about work permits for grooms and players in England, especially over the past two seasons. What do you think about this?
“Employment laws in the United Kingdom state that those who possess a sponsor license should follow the law when they apply for a visa or work permit. There are expensive fines in place for those who violate the rules. It is therefore natural that foreign sponsors and players be wary of breaking the law. The ideal solution would be a balance between the freedom of patrons to invest their money in the players they want and what the law says you can or cannot do.”
To conclude, Hine clearly states his position regarding umpiring on a global scale: “I am completely in favour of there being an elite panel of umpires who oversee the most important tournaments in the world, all year round. Look at the Premier League – the most important umpire, Mark Clattenburg, umpires many more important games than other umpires. The same goes for Rugby and the Six Nations or the World Cup. There should be a system. Polo could have A and B categories for umpires, and players and teams should be able to vote according to an umpire’s performance at the end of the season. Umpires would therefore be moved up or down a category accordingly.”