A chat with Sabine Schaffer, the first woman to compete for the Dubai Beach Polo Cup

The Austrian expat is set to make a huge gallop for women in sport in the UAE

The Beach Polo Cup will return to Skydive Dubai on December 13 and 14 for another glamorous tournament set to be watched by hundreds of spectators. And this year, they’ll get to witness a little piece of history.

Joining the mix of Argentinian professionals, Emirati stars and international players will be Sabine Schaffer — the tournament’s first female player in its nine-year history.

“It’s been in the planning for a while and we’re overjoyed to finally welcome Dr Sabine to the tournament,” says Gabriela Noser-Katiela, event and tournament director at Beach Polo Cup Dubai. “She’s a fantastic polo player with years of experience and will give the male players a tough time on the sand. There’s a small — but steadily growing — network of female polo players in the UAE and I hope that we encourage more women to try the sport.”

Schaffer — alongside her day job as managing director at a boutique investment firm — has played professional polo in the UAE for more than a decade. Here she talks to us ahead of this weekend’s event .

How did you get into polo?

While I shared a passion for horses since young age, my polo “addiction” started about 10 ten years ago when Ali Albwardy encouraged me to try out a round of stick n ball. Fascinated by the experience, I soon fell victim to the unique sensation of mastering a pony, focusing on hitting the ball and playing a team sport strategically.

I certainly learnt the hard way, as playing with the guys is challenging, and while a lot of women associate polo with high heels and bubbly, it was always dirty boots and sweat for me… but I love it and would not want to change it for anything else in the world.

How does the polo scene in the UAE compare with other places in the world?

There is a growing polo scene in the UAE. Over the past years, we have seen polo clubs opening up across the region and at the Desert Palm Polo Club, founded by Ali Albwardy, we are seeing more and more people asking for polo lessons and taking up the sport.

We’re also seeing more women in the region interested in polo. Under the patronage of Shaikha Maitha Bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, the first female Ralph Laurent polo tournament took place five years ago and since then, the number of women-only polo tournaments are steadily growing and becoming part of Dubai’s annual polo event calendar. Hopefully in the coming years we’ll have an all-female team in the Beach Polo Cup Dubai.

48 truckloads of special sand is required to cover the purpose-built field at Skydive Dubai. Beach Polo Cup Dubai
48 truckloads of special sand is required to cover the purpose-built field at Skydive Dubai. Beach Polo Cup Dubai

How do you feel about being the first female to play in the Beach Polo Cup Dubai?

I am very flattered to be given the opportunity to play at this year’s Beach Polo Cup Dubai. I won’t compete at the same physical level as the male players, but with a clear team strategy, good ponies and most importantly, a true passion for horses that began when I was very young, I will give the guys a run for their money and it will be an exciting game for the fans.

Do you feel polo is a sport that offers equal opportunities for men and women?

Like with a lot of other sports, polo started off as a sport played among men, so I would not necessarily say that the sport offers equal opportunities for men and women as – physically – it is harder for a women to compete with men. However, recently there is a growing number of women enjoying the sport.

What would you say to women who are interested in getting involved in polo?

There are a growing number of polo clubs throughout the Emirates, with most of them offering lessons or private classes so you can try out the sport. There is a growing number of female players now across the various clubs, and we always love to welcome any new or interested members.

How do you balance playing polo with your day job?

For any professional, it is always hard to find time for any leisure activity – polo is no exception. However, given that a lot of polo clubs arrange approximately two games during the week and another two on the weekend, it allows for everybody to find at least one or two opportunities a week to play. Also, the advantage of polo – compared to some other sports – is that a game of polo can be played within a hour or so and therefore, still leaves time to spend with family – although they often come along to the field anyway.

Courtesy Beach Polo Cup Dubai 
Courtesy Beach Polo Cup Dubai

How does beach polo differ from field polo?

The Beach Polo Cup Dubai is a fantastic event for everyone and spectators get closer to the sporting action than is normally possible at a polo game. Compared to traditional polo, where we play using a ball slightly bigger than a tennis ball across a field almost double the size of a football field, beach polo is played on a smaller surface with a much bigger, red inflatable specially designed ball. This, along with the purpose-built venue allows the spectators and fans to easily follow the game and be closer to the action. Sam and Gaby do a great job when it comes to entertainment, ensuring that everyone of any age has a fantastic time on this very special beach polo weekend in Dubai.

Tell us a bit more about the event?

The Beach Polo Cup Dubai is one of the most prestigious and glamorous events in the UAE’s social events calendar, attracting polo professionals and enthusiasts from around the world. This year will be the ninth edition of the Beach Polo Cup Dubai, which was founded and organized by Mamemo productions in 2004. Since then it has grown in popularity and now has a global following with similar tournaments played in 38 cities across the world.

In addition to the polo, the entertainment and socialising on offer always attracts a huge crowd to the tournament. Guests will be treated to spectacular entertainment a the Skydive Dubai venue including a half-time show with horse acts and dressage, and on the final day, The Greatest Show (be there to find out more). There will also be the tournament’s first-ever Holiday Christmas Market, which will be packed full of unique and stylish gift ideas from small businesses across the UAE.

Beach Polo Cup Dubai will take place at Skydive Dubai on December 13 and 14. For more information or tickets, visit www.beachpolocup.com.


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