SPORT + LEISURE

Where polo turns tuscan

Discovering new surroundings for an ancient sport
by Marco Del Pasqua   (issue no. 31/2006 / April 20, 2006)

The origin of polo remains uncertain. The sport probably originated in the Middle East, where it was played on a barren field by nomadic warriors as early as 2500 years ago in Persia and perhaps as far east as China. The Afghan sport ‘Buzkachi’ is considered a primitive form of polo which is still practised today.  In the 16th century AD a polo ground was built at Ispahan, then capital of Persia, by Shah Abbas the Great. It stretched a total of 300 yards, with goal posts placed 8 yards apart. The British cavalry discovered polo in India during the 19th century. Polo was considered the national sport in the state of Manipur (Munipoor) and British officials eagerly learned the game from the area’s inhabitants. Indian players had developed the sport by imitating a Tibetan game, in which the ball was called ‘pulu’. Known in the Orient as the Game of Kings, Tamer lane’s polo grounds can still be found in Samarkand. In Lahore, Captain Sherer’s eagerness to play the sport was met by a warning from the Maharajà. ‘Attention Sir! We needed 2000 years to learn it!’

 

The first polo club in the world, namely the Calcutta Polo Club, was founded in 1862 by British tea planters at Silchar, west of Manipur. By 1870 the game was played all over British India with local small ponies. British tea planters in India had come in contact with the game in the early 1800s but it was only in the 1850s that the British Cavalry drew up its earliest rules. By the 1860s the game was well established in England. Soon afterwards, Hurlingham became the most important polo club.  Today, Hurlingham is home to the League of the British Polo and it defines the game’s official rules.  Polo spread throughout Europe, the America and Africa.  The sport found a particularly warm reception in Argentina, thanks to the infinite Pampas, the extraordinary abilities of the gauchos and the limitless availability of horses. Polo has been an Olympic discipline since the Paris games of 1900. In Italy this sport arrived later. Italian polo was started in Rome in 1930 with the foundation of the first Italian polo club. The first national Italian polo team was founded in 1940.

 

Polo has become a widespread sport throughout Tuscany over the past few years. Contrary to popular belief, it was not the foreign community that introduced the sport to the Tuscan region. The credit goes to passionate Italians who have begun to build private polo grounds. Tuscany has become one of the most popular  regions where polo is played. Two important grounds are situated in Monte Argentario and Punta Ala, and there are many private polo grounds in local villas, like the one found in Villa a Sesta  in Chianti. The last ten years have seen the presentation of several spectacular tournaments at Le Cascine race course. These tournaments have hosted an increasing number of spectators over the years. In 2005, a local polo club was founded by a group of Florentine businessmen including Salvatore Ferragamo, Francesco Ricci and Francesco Olivieri, honorary consul of Luxemburg in Florence. The Florentine Polo Club’s headquarters are located at the Consulate of the Principality of Monaco and at the racecourse, Le Cascine. In addition to sporting events, this young club sponsors social and cultural activities including art exhibitions, and book presentations. Proceeds tournaments are given to charity. During the summer, the club organises open-air parties at the polo ground located near the race course. On April 24 and 25 this year there will be a tournament involving four teams that will host players from every part of the world.

 

The Florentine Polo Club is also particularly interested in bringing this sport into the schools, making it available to boys and girls of every age. Initially children learn to ride the polo bike and use a short mallet during practice. They then are trained to develop a correct approach with horses.

For information about the Florentine Polo Club: infofi@olcilaw.it 

 


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