A sport that had many followers in the erstwhile Madras of the 1960s and 70s, polo is now getting back on track. This princely sport that relies on horsemanship is slowly getting the attention of Chennaiites again! A match, titled ‘Polo 2.0’, was held in the city outskirts recently, after thirty-odd years. The exhibition match saw many veteran players reminiscing over the good times. In a bid to resurrect the sport, the organisers transported ponies in custom floats from Mysore, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.
Returning to the sport after decades, senior riders were thrilled to hit the ball from their horseback perches. Youngsters too are getting attracted to this sport that requires equestrian skills, teamwork, and game strategy in equal parts. Irshad Mecca, the man behind reviving the sport, is quite content with the response from the matches. “I could do this only with the help of the polo enthusiasts in the city. Industrialist AC Muthiah, one of our chief patrons, helped us get in touch with a few players from across the country. Many came for the match with their sons,” he says.
The sport was popularised among civilians during the 60s by the Madras Riding Club and Madras Polo and Riding Club (MPRC). The ground where the players used to play was slowly repurposed for something else. “Before, there was a ground opposite Kathipara Junction where we could practice — but we lost that ground. Tournaments used to happen on Island Grounds also. Getting a large space is difficult, and that is one of the main reasons for the slow death of the sport back in the 80s,” states Irshad.
The prime idea of the exhibition match was to get everyone together. “National Polo player Bhawani Kalvi, who played for India three times, was there to give training to the newbies,” he adds. One of the main ways to perk up interest in the sport is to coach students in colleges and universities, and that’s what Hindustan University started three years ago. “We are the only University in Chennai offering horse-riding and polo classes for students,” says Salim Mahmood.
We are in our third year and are surprised to see the level of interest. We conduct 15 classes in which we teach the basics of horse riding. Students who show potential in the initial classes will be given further training,” says Salim Mahmood, Deputy Director of Hindustan University, who is also a polo player. Youngsters too are showing interest in this sport. A student of Stella Maris College, Namrata Kishore, started horse riding eight years ago. “I play cycle polo, but horse polo is completely different — after half an hour’s ride, I feel tired! But I am sure once I master the skills, it’ll be easier for me.”
The ponies that are used for the sport need to be trained for upto six years. That is what Junaid Nahri, owner of Chennai Polo and riding club, does — “It is one of the major achievements that we could revive the sport after three decades. I am sure that through the ‘Polo 2.0’ initiative, we will popularise the sport.” The members of ‘Polo 2.0’ are gearing up for a match this weekend in Hyderabad. “We need to sustain the sport — after the match in Hyderabad there will be a match in Bengaluru. Our focus, now, is to be more active in South India and I hope all the polo players in Tamil Nadu will support us,” sums up Irshad.