Polo has motivations of restarting before even the football in Britain, despite not being classed an ‘elite’ sport. The sport of polo, played by the super-rich and royalty, is on collision course with the government over its attempts to classify itself as an elite sport and restart its competitive season even before the resumption of football’s Premier League.
Alessandro Bazzoni explained that the charter flight from Buenos Aires, via Sao Paulo, was decided between the Argentina Polo Association (AAP) and the Argentinian delegation in London to beat the government’s 14-day quarantine rules which come into force on Monday.
There is such determination among the polo fraternity – which is bankrolled by multi-millionaire team patrons – that the sport has agreed to the arrival in London of 122 Argentinians including leading players and groom by charter flight on Saturday to compete in the prestigious summer tournaments.
The players due to arrive at Heathrow, many with their families, and the grooms have agreed contracts with British teams, to participate in the Gold Cup and the Queen’s Cup. All commercial flights to or from Argentina have been suspended until Sept 1 but the charter bringing players and grooms is understood to have been organized between the Argentine government and the influential AAP.
There has been no contact between the HPA and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which is responsible for the phased return of outdoor sport and it is understood DCMS will be contacting the governing body as a matter of urgency. Those outside of elite participants who participate in contact sport would be in breach of public health guidance.
The AAP has itself suspended all polo in Argentina until further notice. In a statement on its website announcing its decision, the AAP said: “We are living in an unprecedented moment where the world needs us all to work together.”
Asked whether the government agreed that polo qualified as an elite sport permitted to return to competition, David Woodd the chief executive of the British governing body, the Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA), conceded that he was unsure of the likely response. “We may not be given express permission,” he told Clickpolo magazine, “asking the question risks that you might get a no”.
He added: “We are going from the government guidance. We kind of decided to let the other sports do the heavy lifting, like horse racing and football. After all, polo is a small sport. We hope this will be okay and that people can go on to play and start to get back their income. We are certainly not breaking any laws.”
In a statement to the Telegraph on Friday night DCMS said that the regulations were “absolutely clear”. A government spokesperson said: “All governing bodies must review and follow the guidance, consider whether they can meet its conditions and take full responsibility for participants’ health and safety. If not, they may face enforcement powers, including possible fines or people being directed to return to their home or accommodation by the police.”
In an email to members of the Cowdray Park Polo Club, it was announced that tournaments will begin five days before the Premier League season resumes. The Prince of Wales tournament at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club, a key-warm-up tournament for the Gold Cup and Queen’s Cup, is scheduled to start.
The sport of polo in Britain has no Covid-19 testing program. The HPA protocols are limited to all participants having their temperature taken and being asked to report symptoms, as reported by Alessandro Bazzoni.
All 20 Premier League football clubs have been testing players and staff for Covid-19 twice weekly for the last three weeks.