The Hurlingham Polo Association is the governing body for polo in the UK, Ireland and many other countries throughout the world. In November Stephen Hutchinson will have completed his 4 years as Chairman of the HPA and will be putting forward Nick Wiles for election as his successor.
THE HPA IS THE OLDEST AND ONE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT POLO ASSOCIATIONS IN THE WORLD. FOR HOW MANY POLO COUNTRIES IS THE HPA RESPONSIBLE AS THEIR GOVERNING BODY?
We have approx. 26 International associations affiliated to us as well as a handful of independent clubs.
HOW HAS THE HPA, ITS WORK AND PHILOSOPHY DEVELOPED SINCE THE INAUGURATION OF POLO IN THE UK 150 YEARS AGO?
It is difficult to cover the development of the game and its philosophy over 150 years. Up to the 1939 World War, polo was really a game played by amateurs and the military. Grounds and ponies were very different to today but it attracted large crowds for the major games. The HPA as the governing body was then as now focussed on handicapping, the rules, discipline and the fixtures list. Post the war with restart of polo it was not very different until the Falklands War when the Argentines were banned from playing here. Their arrangements for playing here were quite informal but their absence created a shortage of good players. Thus, the English season began to attract players from around the world and by the time the ban was lifted for Argentine players a market for professional players had been created. Polo grew at the same time and hence the balance there were more and more players starting to play who needed the services of professional players to make the game work for them.
HOW MANY POLO PLAYERS ARE ACTIVE IN THE WHOLE DRAW AREA OF THE HURLINGHAM POLO ASSOCIATION?
This is very difficult to tell as we do not collate that type of data on our oversees associations.
AND HOW MANY ARE THERE IN ENGLAND?
Including university students we have about 3,000 players within the UK.
IS THE NUMBER OF PLAYERS AND YOUNG TALENTS CONTINUOUSLY GROWING?
The number of players generally reflects the financial climate so for the last few years the membership has been fairly static. The number of talented players tends to go in batches as a group of talented players tends to raise the standards of their peer group and whilst they flourish the group just behind tend to struggle to break through.
ENGLAND HAS THE BEST REPUTATION FOR THE SUCCESSFUL PONY CLUB – WHEN WAS IT SET UP AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Pony Club has been a great ‘nursery’ for polo. It was established 90 years ago with polo introduced as a Pony Club sport 60 years ago in 1959. With the very rare exception every member of the England team has played Pony Club polo and that is certainly the case this year.
HOW HARD IS IT TO ENSURE COMMON RULES AND REGULATIONS INTERNATIONALLY?
The rules of polo are probably overly complicated but some are not easy to write and more difficult to umpire; and not many players ever read them. There has been a lot of work done recently to unify the rules which is important as the professional players move around the world and it is not clever if the rules vary in the different countries. Most sports have adapted their rules to attract more spectators or to make it easier to understand or to put on television. Polo has been slow on this front but is now trying to catch up. With Argentina so dominant in polo changes in the rules need their support and this is now more forthcoming than it has been in the past and several new rules have been or are being tried, and some have already been introduced.
HOW FAR IS THIS ALSO A QUESTION OF UMPIRING AND THE
EDUCATION OF UMPIRES?
It is a very difficult game to umpire and the importance of winning for the pros has increased with sometimes significant financial implications. This has not only changed the attitude to losing but also that of the players towards the umpires. Umpires can improve but a lot of the umpiring is down to a judgement of extent of the danger and who created it and the players involved will often disagree and genuinely believe that it was the other player. It is improving but umpires are often badly treated, even when they are doing it for free, so that is not helpful and in many ways the umpiring is in the hands of the players. Abusing an umpire is unlikely to improve him.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE APPROACH OF JAVIER TANOIRA AND HIS CRITICS ON PATRON POLO AS IT IS PLAYED ON THE HIGH GOAL LEVEL TODAY?
Polo is a wonderful game to play and it is sometimes wonderful to watch, but like many sports and other activities it is not always great for the spectators whoever is playing. The filming of it is getting better but it is on a big field and fast so it is difficult to pick up the tactics television. A tennis court, rugby and football filed fit a tv screen so perfectly and in golf the ball can be followed in slow motion as nothing else is happening. The patrons fund polo at the moment and although there have been and will continue to be moves to professionalise the sport entirely, the total input from patrons across the board is a significant sum which will always be hard to replace.
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT EMBRYO TRANSFER AND THE NEW BREEDING ECONOMICS?
Embryo transfer has certainly been a bonus for the supply of good ponies. I am instinctively against cloning but do not have good reason for being so.
WHICH SUBJECT IS THE HPA FOCUSSING ON MAINLY IN ITS
Umpiring is a focus for 2019 and has been for a few years now. That includes behaviour on the field. The game has got very expensive, especially at the top end and we would like to try to make it cheaper and more fun. It is a wonderful game to play and those who play are more focussed on playing it rather than watching it. Handicapping is always an issue and that has to be fair but with so many players there is not a lot of flexibility with the majority of players below 2 goals. Inevitably some feel that their handicap should not be the same as the opposing player who has just beaten them but is on the same handicap. We have been looking for the solution to that since 1909 or thereabouts.
WHAT WILL BE THE POLO HIGHLIGHTS IN ENGLAND AND IN THE WHOLE UK TERRITORY IN 2019?
We are half way through the season but the highlights are the finals of the Queens and Gold cup and the Hurlingham Polo International when England faces Argentina led by Facundo Pieres. Both are 27 goals but Facundo will be supported by 3 very talented Argentine players, all improving fast. We have to be realistic but we have a good team and being the underdog is sometimes a help. Whatever the result, it will be the highpoint of the season and it is a real privilege to play against Argentina and Facundo who for many is the best player to watch in the world.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SHOULD DEFINITELY IMPROVED IN THE
INTERNATIONAL SPORT OF POLO?
International games are important to promote the sport. There are no countries that can compete with Argentina and it is excellent to see Argentina fielding teams in other countries. An international tournament is very difficult to organise due to the number of horses required. Australia did an amazing job for the 14 Goal World Championships in Sydney two years ago but there are very few countries that can do that and perhaps we need to look at how we can make an international league or world cup more manageable.
(c) by Thomas Wirth, Polo+10