Survival of one of Sabah’s oldest sports is at stake

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Polo Association said the State Government’s ban on slot machine operations is threatening the survival of one of Sabah’s oldest sports.Sabah Polo Association founder David CV Wang hoped an exception could be made to help keep the “sport of kings” alive in Sabah.“Polo has a long history (in Sabah) and has survived over 40 years,” said David, who hoped to rekindle interest in the sport as co-founder of the Sabah Polo Association. 

“Without the income from slot machine operations our association has to close down and we are worried for the imported horses as well as loss of jobs of our mostly Bajau staff,” he said. He said the association was issued a licence to operate slot machines but the State Government has refused to grant a trading licence for the operations.“This is my dilemma. I wish the State Government can make an exception as it affects our efforts to keep the sport alive,” he said.His account of the history of polo in Sabah points to historical events that date back to the mid 1900s.According to David, there is no proper written record of how and when polo made its debut in British North Borneo (Sabah).“Some reliable sources on polo activities are scantily mentioned in the book ‘The Sama Horsemen 1999’ by Irenena Obon and an article ‘Kinabalu: The Sacred Mountain of British North Borneo’ – Sabah Society Journal Vol. 30 (2013) by Vivian William Ryves.“Irenena’s book narrated briefly on how the Hasballah family which gained prominence in Kota Belud by their untiring effort in the pursuit of excellence in equestrian skills continued to uphold the family’s tradition of horsemanship even to this day…in the person of Datuk Galkhan bin Datu Hasballah.

“His father, OKK Hasballah who came from a line of famous Native Chiefs led 120 Bajau Horsemen on ponies in 1952 to receive His Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent at the Jambatan Gantung (Hanging Bridge) in Kota Belud.“The OKK’s family also played polo against the District Officer JS Chisholm’s team while the Dukes watched. “Years earlier, Golkhan’s grandfather OKK Haji Asrat, led a contingent of riders on ponies to receive the Duke of Windsor, uncle of the Duke of Kent in Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu) in 1922, though it was not known if this event was commemorated with a game of polo.”His account of polo’s arrival in the peninsula dates back to the early 1900s.  David said the British military had introduced polo games since the earliest polo club in Selangor was based on British Military property.“Back then, polo was played purely by the royals and elites. In the case of Sabah, the Bajau horsemen are the pioneers who were coached and encouraged by the British administrators.“Polo was not just a past time event for the Bajau horsemen. British planters and the company administrators played polo in their leisure time, but polo games and competitions had become a cultural activity for the Bajaus.

“After the war when North Borneo (then under Chartered Company) became a British colony there were only a handful of Bajau horsemen who maintained the dwindling interest in polo in Kota Belud,” he said.By virtue of their rich heritage in polo, David said it was crucial for the Bajau that the sport be kept alive and hoped greater consideration could be given to ensure the sport’s survival in Sabah.The Sabah Polo Association was set up on Aug. 9, 1982 by David and his friend Dr Vernon Skinner.The idea of forming the Association was mooted by David, who admitted it never crossed his mind that polo existed in Kota Belud and that the Bajau Horsemen had maintained its interest all this while.The present site of the Sabah Polo Association stables and polo field are located at the RSTC Tambalang Race course in Tuaran. 

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