Egypt’s first female polo team rides to victory

The polo mallet finally passed to women in Egypt when Farah Awadalla, 23, formed a 10-member team called “Nefertiti.” The young team named after the daring queen won its first match March 29.

“I formed the team because there wasn’t a single women’s polo team in Egypt,” she told Al-Monitor. “I felt that women needed representation in more sports, now that we are advancing in so many fields. It’s been 100 years since women held their first mass demonstration for their country’s independence and it seemed like the right move.”

Farah is the daughter of Ibrahim Awadalla, one of the country’s most renowned polo players. She grew up riding horses and has been playing polo for the last two years.

“My dad is definitely my role model,” she said, also listing Argentina’s Mia Cambiaso among her heroes. “Her dad is also a polo player [Adolfo Cambiaso] and she grew up in the polo world just like me,” she added with a laugh.

 She also praised Argentinian polo, saying, “We use Argentinian polo ponies, which are considered the best for polo. We dress the same and the matches and rules are the same as abroad.”

To form her team, Awadallah contacted female players in a number of Cairo’s equestrian clubs and encouraged them to join her. She created the Instagram account @nefertitipolo to spread the word and encourage more women to learn the sport and join in.

“I hope that young women who see us on TV and read about us in local news will feel encouraged and join us,” she said.

On March 29, the Egyptian Polo Federation, founded in 1980, organized the first female polo match. Nefertiti played against women from the Police Union Club in Cairo, winning the game 2-1.

“This first game will hopefully increase the number of teams and women’s matches,” Karim Loza, a member of the board of the Egyptian Polo Federation, said.

“Since childhood, when I watched scenes of riding horses in the movies, I imagined myself riding. It was a dream for me,” Aliaa Mohamed, 16, told Al-Monitor. She has been riding since the age of nine and is one of the youngest members of the Nefertiti team.

Mohamed admitted that it took a while to get her parents to permit her to join a riding club and then a polo team. “I do sometimes fall off or get injuries, but I simply cannot imagine a life without riding,” she told Al-Monitor. “Dealing with horses made me more compassionate toward all animals. I and the horse understand and love each other — we are friends.”

Mohamed joined the team after receiving a phone call from Awadalla. “Forming a female polo team in Egypt is a key step in spreading this sport in the community,” Mohamed said, adding, “The establishment of a team will enable us to play with other female teams in other countries. We will represent our country and win international tournaments.”

Though the history of modern polo is traced to the British, who learned the game in India, history’s first recorded polo match was held in 600 BCE in Central Asia. A group of nomadic Turkmens beat a team of Persians. In 1858, British tea planters and military officers discovered the game in Manipur, on the Indian border with Burma. Captivated by the game, they established the world’s first polo club called Silchar Kangjei Club in western Manipur.

Then the British brought the sport to the United Kingdom, where the rules were written down by London’s Hurlingham Club in 1869. It later spread in other countries such as Australia and the United States and Argentina, which held its first match in 1875.

In Egypt, it is said that the polo sport appeared during the Ayyubid Dynasty in the 12th century and that the first Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt, Saladin, was a fan and his army were keen to play polo as training.

Salwa Samir, an Egyptian journalist, has been writing about human rights, social problems, immigration and children’s and women’s issues since 2005.

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