Sunday, April 21, 2013

If you're fond of sand dunes...

If you're fond of sand dunes, as the song goes, you have come to the right place because sand is a thing we've got rather a lot of. That's why Beach Polo, a slightly smaller version of the game that's played on sand rather than grass, preferably by the sea, was invented in Dubai.

There has been a bit of a hiatus in recent years, as director Sam Katiela put it at the opening press conference, "a commercial break" because sponsors "hung up the phone" when you called them during the financial crisis that had a profound effect on Dubai. But the sport continued to grow while the polo fans of Dubai were on a break from it, and this year was the year when it returned to the Emirate, and was held at Mina A'Salam Hotel, right next to the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

We had a bit more interest in polo than usual as him indoors' shop, Le Clos, sponsored a team in the two-day tournament and also had a promotional stand giving out free samples, which it's safe to say were pretty well-received by the spectators.

Here's a pic of the Le Clos team in action:


In the number three shirt on the left for Le Clos is Argentine professional Lucas Labat, on the right with his mallet down having just hit the ball is Dr Thomas Rinderknecht, and at the back in the number one shirt for Le Clos, Patron Piero Dillier who is also a big cheese in European polo, including in the San Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow.

Le Clos was placed four out of four teams, with victory going to title sponsors Julius Baer, but it was by no means a poor performance. Coming last is pretty standard for first time sponsors and they took an early lead in their subsidiary final game against Aston Martin, only to be beaten 6-5 in the final chukka. Le Clos were the only team who did not have their own ponies to ride, having to borrow them from rival team members, so they were on unfamiliar mounts. The previous day, they were beaten 7-5, again, a pretty decent score, by eventual winners Julius Baer.

Here's another pic of them in action:


And a shot of Lionel Ritchie (on big screen because I was on the wrong side of the pitch to see him) throwing the ball in for the third chukka of the final between Julius Baer and Maradiva, with the Burj Al Arab in the background.


And here's a shot of the final game with Nacho Gonzales, in the number three shirt for Julius Baer, who was named Most Valuable Player:


That's the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Wild Wadi water park in the background.

It was stinking hot, as it tends to be in Dubai towards the end of April, but a grand day out. It's interesting, for someone like me, for whom polo has accidentally become rather a large part of their life, to see it played three-a-side on sand instead of four-a-side on grass. And with a large, orange, lightweight ball that is more visible and skips more easily over sand, instead of a small white ball. Most people don't believe me when I tell them that polo is an evolving sport. It's played traditionally on grass and on horses (called ponies for reasons I still haven't established) but it's played on camels in Dubai, on elephants in Nepal and Thailand, and, I learned recently, on tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka, and, I shudder to learn, Segueways elsewhere. And of course there's on sand in 30 cities in the form of beach polo, and on snow in Switzerland and more recently, China.
Putting on a beach polo tournament is no mean feat. It's not simply a case of putting some jumpers down for goalposts on the beach. We have, I am told, the wrong kind of sand in Dubai, it is too slippery, making it dangerous to the horses and the players, so truckloads of sweet sand had to be brought in, layered, watered and carefully ploughed to make a suitable surface. There's a joke in there about selling sand to the Arabs, I'm sure.

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