The word “POLO” is derived from the Tibetan word “PULU” meaning “ball”. The precise origin of polo is obscure and undocumented, there is an ample evidence of the game’s regal place in the history of Asia. It is not certain where or when stick met ball after the horse was domesticated by the tribes of central Asia, but it seems likely that as the use of light cavalry spread throughout Asia minor, China and the India sub continent so did this rugged game on the horse back. Mounted Armies became very popular in this part of the world, conquering and re-conquering. Polo became the most noble of pastimes by the kings and emperors, shahs and sultans, khans and caliphs of the ancient Persians, Arabs, Mughals, Mongols and Chinese. Great rulers of the early centuries were excepted to be brave warriors, skillful hunters and polo players of the exceptional prowess.
Several controversies do exist about the exact origin of polo as history varies from one country to the other .some scholars are of the opinion that polo originated among the Iranian tribes some time before Darius –I and his cavalry forged the first great Persian empire in the 6th century B.C. The Persian literature and art gave us the richest account of polo in antiquity. Firdausi, the most famous of persia’s poet-historian ,gave a number of accounts of royal polo tournaments in his 9th century epic, shahnama.
Others believe that the Chinese (the Mongols) were the first to try their hands at the game. In the earliest account. Firdausi Turanian force and the followers of syavoush; a legendary Persian ruler from the earliest centuries of the empire. The poet is eloquent in his praise of syavoush’s skills on the polo field. Firdausi also tells of sapor-11 sassanid, king of the 4th century A.D, who learn to play polo when he was only seven years old. A 9th century historian, Dinvari, describes polo and its general rules and gives some instructions to players, including such advice as “polo requires a great deal of exercise” if polo stick breaks during a game, it is a sign of using strong language and should be patient and temperate. During the 10th century the Persian king Qabus also set down some general rules of polo and especially mentioned the risk and danger of the game.
Yet another school of thought associated polo with the British Empire, but the games origins are far older. Polo came to the west via India in the 16th century, by the middle of the 19th century, polo flourished in several Indian provinces, where it was observed by puzzled British government officials. One of them wrote an account of the sport and in 1869, an officer with the tenth Hussars, a Calvary regiment based at Aldershot, near London, read about it in a sporting journal. He was so impressed that he immediately ordered his men to start playing makeshift games; within a year. Polo was a standard part of a British Calvary officer’s training. But the game was confused with melees. So in 1874 London’s fashionable Hurlingham club established a set of rules many of which are still in use today. Duly armed with their laws, the British took polo around the world.
British cattlemen introduced the game to Argentina, the current Mecca for polo aficionados. In Buenos Aires every December as many as 30,000 polo fans attend the Argentine open, the worlds most prestigious tournament. In the lands of the gaucho, boys growing up on estancies (estates) play polo as soon as they learn to ride consequently majority of top-ranked players are Argentines, like 27 year old Adolfo Combiaso, the sports tabloid goal score on the world polo tournament.
Historically speaking, polo most articulate spokesman must be Winston Churchill, who learned the game in 1895 when he was a young Calvary officer. (He wrote to his mother and begged her for money to buy polo ponies.” I cannot go on without any for more than a few days”, he wrote “unless I give up the game, which would be dreadful”). A year later, stationed in India, he organized a polo club and purchased 25 horses from another regiment with the aim of wining India’s prestigious inter-regional tournament. His team practiced every day in the blistering heat, and traveled up to 1,400 miles by train with its horses to play invitational matches Churchill’s team won the inter-regional tournament in 1899. He continued to play polo until the age of 52, despite suffering a constant dislocating right –shoulder which forced him to ride with his hitting arm bound to his side .
Hear his advice to parents;
“Don’t give your son money”, As far as you can afford it, give him Horses, no one ever came to grief – except honorable grief –through riding horses. No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle. Young men has often been ruined through owing horses, or through backing horses, but never through riding them, unless of course they break their neck which taken at gallop, is very good death to die.
A notable American publisher brought polo to New York in 1876.Within ten years, there were major clubs all over the east including long island. 50 years later, polo achieved a tremendous popularity in the United States. By the 1930’s, polo became an Olympic sport an crowds in excess of 30,000 regularly attended international matches at the meadow Brook polo club on long island .In the 1950’s, inter collegiate polo was played by only four teams .Today it includes more than 25 colleges and universities. Players membership in the united states polo Association has more than tripled with over 250 active clubs, with almost 1000 polo clubs worldwide in almost every country of the globe, including Nigeria.
It is worthy of note at this juncture that in spite the different views held about the origin of polo, some parts of the history still remain the same. Some of the meeting points are:
- Polo is the oldest team sport
- The exact origin of polo is unknown
- Polo was probably first played by nomadic warriors over two thousand years ago.
- Used for training cavalry.
- First matches were played in Asia (Persia)over 2500 years ago
- British officers re-invented the game in 1862, after seeing a horsemanship exhibition in Manipur, India.
Polo continues to represent the pinnacle of sport and reaffirms the special bond between horse and rider. The Feeling of many of its players are epitomized by a famous verse inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit, Pakistan; ”let others play at other things, the key of games is still the game of kings”.
THE NIGERIA EXPERIENCE
The modern game of polo has become well established in Nigeria. It is governed by the Nigeria Polo Association (NPA). The game is played at polo clubs throughout the country. 3 main centres were established viz:
- Kaduna polo club
- Lagos polo club
- Kano polo club
Other established clubs also exist through out the country, some of these are:
- Port –Harcourt Polo club
- Ibadan polo club
- Katsina Polo club
- Jos Polo club
- Yola Polo club
- Abraka Polo club
Officials are appointed to oversea the activities of the Nigeria Polo Association.
THE PORT HARCOURT EXPERIENCE
The Port–Harcourt polo club was established in 1972 by the Nigerian Army’s under the able leadership of Lt Gen T. Y. Danjuma (RTD) who is also a patron of the club. By 1974 the club was handed over to civilian management. The club is duly recognized as a polo playing club by one of the best polo playing fields in the country located along Tombia street, G.R.A. Phase 11, Port Harcourt. The clubs premises has the following:
- A large polo field and practice field
- Paddocks, stables, lush green lawns, tree lined drive way
- Serene Club house.
All these provide a unique environment for relaxation, horse riding and polo playing. A yearly NPA polo tournament is regularly organized to attract tourist and to improve the social life of the people of Port Harcourt and its environs. This is done to encourage horse riding, equestrian sporting activities and of course the game of polo. The Port Harcourt polo club has a board of trustees and a management committee to look into its affairs.