The Game Of Kings goes to Ibadan
Polo is one of the games that conjure royalty. More than ever, images of princes and emperors thundering across manicured lawns on their thoroughbred ponies come up. It’s a game of champagne and marquees, divot-stamping and rich prizes, played only by an elite few who can afford the trappings.
First organised as a club in the world by the British tea planters at Silchar, today the oldest existing club is Calcutta Polo Club, which has heavily influenced the British Army officers, who brought the sport back to England in the 1870s.
The game of polo seems to be the last sport on the minds of the average Nigerian. However, it is indeed the sport of choice for the elite, royals, politicians and the affluent as pointed out by Forbes. It is to the Nigeria’s upper class is what golf is to the rich of the western hemisphere.
Often referred to as the ‘Sport of Kings’, the game is fun, classy, mentally engaging and as expected, absolutely expensive to access. Hence, the category of people who patronize it as they can afford and use it as another symbol to further set themselves apart from being ‘ordinary.’
Indeed a game of kings, King Sapoor of Persia played it first at the age of seven in the 4th century AD. The Moghuls took it to India, where it was played by Emperor Babur, and then made its way to Japan, where it was the favourite sport of the last Shogun in 1868.
British tea planters at Silchar formed the first polo club in the world, but today the oldest existing club is Calcutta Polo Club, which heavily influenced the British Army officers, who brought the sport back to England in the 1870s.
The British Naval officers introduced the game into Nigeria in 1903, and it started with the founding of the Lagos Polo Club, at an old British Army parade ground. It was then seen as a leisure activity for colonial officials, but Nigerians began to play when Dr. Oladele da Rochas became the first Nigerian member of the club in 1958.
In a bid to make the sport more popular to indigenes and residents of the ancient city, Ibadan, plans are currently reaching high notes as trustees, committee officials and players set to organise and host the Ibadan Polo Tournament 2017, which will commence in a few weeks.
As the event gathers momentum, interest is also being generated from patrons, sponsors and those who have keenly followed the sport for a number of years, among who is Dimeji Belo, an energy specialist with interests in asset management and hospitality. He is a new entrant to the sport, and he hopes to play alongside his primary hobby, sailing.
His thought of the sport: “Definitely a fun sport to watch; the ambience is always electric. Sailing gets a bit monotonous and I am looking forward to trying something new! Let’s see if I will enjoy playing or will want to get back on the waters pretty quickly,” he said.
Asked if he exercise any concerns on taking up the sport, Belo says: “More excitement than jitters, really. For example, I bought a boat at an auction before I learnt to sail. This was wasted effort but we all learn from experience.
“I will be looking to friends to tell me how to manage accosts while enjoying the environment. An associate was kind enough to advice that I buy my gear gradually just in case I don’t play in the long-term; I was grateful for the chat. If I do not end up playing, I will definitely stick around for the great banter and awesome cocktails,” he added.
For him the relationship with the Ibadan Polo Club is a mutually beneficial one. “As a group with interests in Ibadan’s hospitality space, it is my vision that as we grow, we will support the club and the sport.”
The Captain of Ibadan Polo Club, Konyin Owoeye, says the game is a lot more pocket friendly in Nigeria, compared to other countries. For him, winning the Ibadan Cup (the highest cup for now) at home is the high point of his career, while coming on as a substitute for a team, which was leading, unprepared and loosing the game is his low.
“Polo is all about patience, commitment and discipline; it also encompasses respect for the beautiful beasts, which do majority of the hard work in the game. So persevere, keep at it, respect your pony and other players, play safe and the game will be good to you,” he said.
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