Just after the Argentine Polo Association announced that ten teams will play the Hurlingham and Palermo Opens, the new AAP President, Eduardo Novillo Astrada, spoke to PoloLine about the first 45 days of management and about the coming challenges. He also describes the intense decision making process which led to the format changes of the most important tournament in the world.

“It’s been forty-five days; I have been busier than I thought I would be, on the computer and on the phone,” shares Novillo Astrada. “;I am learning the ropes and getting organised. I have now begun training earlier, so I can be ready to work when offices open in Argentina. We work flat out towards the end of the day.”

“It was obvious that the previous Council was more preoccupied with politics and elections than with management. The elections went on too long; it should have been sorted before. It would have been good to see an easy hand over in terms of the organisations. This is not a good time for the AAP, there are no funds, no productivity, and there are many unsigned contracts. We are reorganising everything; there is a lot to do. When we have finished tidying things up we are going to release a statement informing everybody of the current state of affairs, so that everyone is in the loop.”

Did you think, to some respect, that the changes would be easier to make?
I think that it is part of the process. We want to be transparent and let everyone know what we are doing and why we are doing it. We don’t want to do things for no reason and just impose them on people. I think we are doing that; there are people who get what we are doing and people who don’t. The good thing, regarding the Triple Crown, is that I have been there. There are times when you think of things in the short term and others when you think long term. For example, I just sat down with people from the television and with sponsors; they are both asking for things, and one must listen and work with them. That is one of the things we criticised about the previous management: they did not listen to sponsors, people or players.

Are you still as motivated as you were when you decided to stand for President?
Definitely; even more than I was then. We are now concentrated on healing the finances of the AAP. Our priorities are to reorganise the AAP properly and bring sponsors back into polo. We want sponsors to see a long term project with chances of international diffusion.

On June 10, with Eduardo Novillo Astrada already instated as President, a meeting was held between the players currently competing in the English high-goal season. The objective of the meeting was to discuss whether ten teams should play the Open. After a few weeks discussing possible formats and alternatives, players voted and decided in favour of the motion.

Regarding the time scale of the decision, Novillo Astrada tells:
-In April 2016, players ask the Association for a meeting, in which they request ten teams play Palermo. The AAP denies the request stating that there is not enough time to fit it all in. They say they will not change the system and, without asking, in an imposing manner, add another date to the Open.
-In December 2016, all the players (who have played the qualification and the Triple Crown for the last three years) get together and vote. About fifty or sixty players voted to decide whether ten teams should play the Open, and 90% voted in favour. In May the elections get pushed back; they were due on 23/5 and get moved back a week. Instead of making the process easy, they decide to stretch it out as much as possible.
-The AAJP (Players Association) writes a formal request asking to extend the inscription of teams, because if there was going to be a change of management, surely there would be a change of system. The AAP denied the request.
We hurried to sign up, even though we could have just waited and done it later. We decided to sign up, follow the rules and not fall out. We did not want to fight with the AAP.
-That is why things are not very clear now, but the players had previously decided to include ten teams in the Open, and everyone knows that we have been talking about this for four of five years now.
-Every other sport tends to have more competitors. It is a positive change; the best will continue being the best, but you open the door and give others a chance to grow long term. We won’t see a difference over the next few years, but in the future there will be younger players involved; it won’t be the same old guys playing year after year, and we see now.

The exact format of play of the Triple Crown, regarding the number of chukkas or length of play, will be announced on Tuesday. “Imagine if we had eight chukkas; many of the players, not only those in the new teams, don’t have a fixed job and can’t manage twenty horses for the season,” explains Eduardo.

What else is the AAP working on besides the Triple Crown?
We have to help polo grow, and change the system of tournaments. We are going to set up amateur tournaments, of which there are none. We want to differentiate between amateurs and professionals so that more people can get into polo. That creates amateur competition, which is more loyal than the Pro-Am tournaments. That will encourage more amateur players to get involved, to buy horses, get organised, and prepare to compete with their equals. We then want to set up products for sponsors, open the doors of Palermo and host more events. We also want to go out and see polo as a product outside of Argentina, and host Argentine polo events abroad.

What can you say about the situation in England regarding work visas?
They should do everything possible to fix it. I think England has a big management problem, in terms of running the HPA, and they need to sort it out. There are people who need to be more involved, and those who are now running the HPA do not understand the spirit of polo. They are not travelling with polo and they have not been everywhere. It is an English problem, and the English should work to fix it; it needs to be seen whether they even want to fix it. If they don’t, then I think it will harm them and they will have a big problem with Argentina and the rest of the world. They are going to lock themselves out. The polo season last five months – from May to September; unfortunately, if this is not sorted, they will not have anywhere else to play polo for the remaining seven months of the year. Whether they like it or not, they need the high-goal to survive, just like we need Palermo to survive – 85% of what the AAP earns comes from the Open. Guards and Cowdray live off the Queen’s Cup and the Gold Cup. If they don’t have those tournaments, and they don’t have the best in the world playing, they cannot survive and English polo can’t thrive.

Is there any other change you would like to see implemented at Palermo?
We are going to try and play matches in Palermo at night, if we can. We are not going to play during the week at Palermo; we are going to play in Pilar or at the Jockey Club. But we are going to open on a Friday night and try and play the Saturday 2pm game then instead. It would be a lot of fun.

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