A very challenging UK season is ahead, and many tournaments have already kicked off. David Woodd, HPA’s CEO, spoke to PQ International and Pololine about what will be different this year: Visas, polo structure, the role of the HPA, the low goal, and more.

On the Visa issue in the UK: “The Visa issue has been pretty well documented, and it is probably the biggest issue we faced here in England. It’s vital not just for us, but for all those players and grooms who have traditionally come here from overseas. We are still in discussions with the Home Office and we have a meeting scheduled for June. They have put their position very clearly to us, and we do not agree with it; we have got to try to persuade them that polo is not the same as other sports, such as football or cricket. Polo can not be aligned, and does not align with them – it’s different. So we’re working hard on that and we are using all the resources we have and others to try and persuade them. We are also looking at the structure of polo because many have been affected by the visas, we are looking at how we can get quicker and perhaps more accurate feedback from those who are actually playing polo, either professionals, patrons, or amateurs, so the stewards can be well informed as to which way they should look for the future. And we are also looking at how that representation can be managed to a few, like stewards and in the various committees below.”

On acknowledging the challenges and the difficulties faced: “I agree entirely that it is the HPA’s duty to promote polo which traditionally has worked very well. We have done it via the Pony Club, the International, the England team and Audi. We have rather lost those avenues; we do need to rethink, regroup and start again but all that does need a budget and resources. We need to get to the unconverted and it is a question of how we do that and where we are most likely to get a result.”

On the changes to be made: “People are realising it has to be more fun. There is too much juggling of dates and times of games which makes things very difficult for patrons or amatuer players who have jobs or run businesses as things change last minute and they can’t make their game. It has also become very expensive and almost a game of two halves: those teams whose players are either paying or being paid and can play most days of the week and those who have jobs and thus are confined to playing with each other. For some people it is their only income but only a small group of patrons can afford to pay those prices.”

On where the priorities lie: “It is hard to identify priorities given the different interests, clubs high and low goal, professional players, UK and from overseas, patrons and amateurs, but the handicapping is usually at the root of most problems, and of course, umpiring. I think that we have improved at the top end, but we need to do better for the low goal, which is played by the vast majority of our members. Low goal is the heart of polo and and has for many years relied heavily on players and grooms from overseas. The new Home Office impositions have changed all that at short notice and our priority really has to be to try to protect and support our grass roots polo, difficult though that might seem at the moment. If we have to or can make changes to make polo here work better then we should do. We can’t sit and watch it crumble just because it’s too difficult to change.”

On how the HPA is structured:
“Council: 66 (approx) made up by one representative from each affiliated club.
Stewards: 20 in number: Eight elected, 12 appointed.
Committees: 12 – from handicapping to welfare and so on.
The above are not remunerated in any way – not even expenses. Whilst this saves the HPA money, it also reduces the pool from which these individuals can come – not everyone has a private income and can absorb all the travel costs.
The Stewards are the directors of the company but in effect they are like the House of Lords – they can veto any proposed changes and equally must ratify them for them to take effect. Much of the power therefore lies with them.”

On what the CEO does: “His role is a mixture of a Chief Executive and Secretary. He does a lot of work with the rules, represents the HPA with FIP, has the authority to act in between meetings, can make recommendations to the chairman’s committee and so on. He is also on the front line and gets (nearly) all of the flack directed at the HPA and/or British Polo.”

The full interview with David Wood out in the next edition of PQ International, out in 10 days.

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