The global health outbreak came abruptly, and it’s not hyperbole to claim that it has made the world stop. Many countries were put on lockdown to control virus transmission. As a result, many people lost their jobs, businesses are filing for bankruptcy, and sporting events have been cancelled, including the most anticipated Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Fortunately, the global polo community has adapted rapidly. Here’s a closer look at how different clubs, event organizers, players, and associations are navigating through the pandemic.
“The pandemic affected the club, but we are quick to adjust and were able to ensure that our club does its part for the community and nation. Even with a 28,000 sq.m. polo field, we only allow six persons to play at a time. Due to the pandemic, we do not organize polo events, matches, or tournaments. Instead, we conduct instructional chukkas where five players and an instructor would practice together. Even the vibrant and exciting Atoms program, an excellent range of curriculums accredited by HPA for aspiring polo players, has to be regulated in our Atoms Polo Academy. We were able to organize lessons with five students and one polo coach per lesson. On the bright side, we are coping well and our programs have received great reviews. We embrace the new normal positively as it is a national call and duty for us to help in minimizing the spread of COVID-19.” – Sylvan Braberry, General Manager, Singapore Polo Club
“It’s a really difficult time for college polo in the US. Many students are not even allowed on campus, and there are restrictions on club and varsity sports in place to protect the athletes, coaches, and support staff. We are now focusing our program on off-campus graduate students and recent alumni who work in the Boston area. Many recent grads now have increased flexibility with their work schedules because they are working from home. Lots of Zoom meetings are happening from the Team Room at the Harvard Barn!” – Danielle Lussi, Assistant Coach & Barn Manager, Harvard Polo Club
“The pandemic has affected the whole world. We have to adapt to the way it is today. Safety is and always will come first. We have successfully built and organized this event [Snow Polo World Cup] for over 18 years now, and we are in this for the long run! We believe in the future of this crown event and have been fortunate to grow together with all our great partners and sponsors.” – Tito Gaudenzi, Founder & Chairman, Lifestyle Companies & Events
“The pandemic affected us a lot. We played the entire summer, but it’s very different without the spectators. The ambiance and the additional fun they give off make all the difference. We had to postpone snow polo next year, but we are now focused on the Snow Polo World Cup 2022. For the first time, six teams instead of four will be competing on the frozen lake of St. Moritz. ” – Reto Gaudenzi, Founder, Evviva Polo St. Moritz AG
“For us in Dubai, the pandemic came quite close to the end of our season, so it was painful. When this happened, the first thing we had to think about was ensuring our horses’ good health. Horses have to get the best care, no matter what, and this is what our club Al Habtoor Polo managed great. When it comes to the game, the throw-in wasn’t allowed during the summer. Otherwise, the field is big enough to maintain social distancing all the time.” – Petra Boutry Spanko, Polo Player, Digital Consultant, and Marketing Extraordinaire
“Polo is a seasonal sport which requires traveling and at the moment, this possibility is very limited, and that’s a problem. In Germany, we had the privilege to continue playing local tournaments and club chukkas during the whole season. Polo is a passion and a way of living, so any polo player will try as long as it is possible to continue playing the sport without risking the health of other people.” – Helena Schoeller, Polo Player, Bavaria Polo Club & La Tarde Polo Club
“As someone who’s always been super active, I rely a lot on going out to the ranch to ride, stick and ball, and practice with my teammates. Not being able to do so during the pandemic’s early stages was harder for me than I thought it’d be. Fast forward to now, things are starting to feel like they are moving in a positive direction again. It remains a close-contact sport, and with that in mind, we should all play our part to prevent a complete shutdown. Like any competitive person, I would rather have the option to continue to enrich my game, go out and play, and make new connections in the polo world than not be able to play at all.” – Kitana St.Cyr, Polo Player, ATX Polo Team
“We followed the decisions of the authorities [to suspend all sports activities], and although we suffered the total suspension of our low season, we were able to prepare for what is to come. Despite not having played polo in these months, the AAP never stopped working. We kept in contact with each of the clubs to find out about their problems and tried to help them. We have also defined the sanitary protocols for the next tournaments, which is very similar to the one applied in England and other parts of the world. It is very extensive and strict, limiting the entry of people, always respecting social distancing, and wearing a mask.” – Eduardo Novillo Astrada, President, Asociación Argentina de Polo (AAP)
”The USPA developed and approved the COVID-19 Relief Package in mid-2020, which included four assistance programs. The USPA COVID-19 Equine Welfare Relief Program (ERP) supported 997 horses and counting and provided funds to assist horses used in Intercollegiate/Interscholastic polo, polo schools, and/or polo clinics or consistent polo lesson or polo training program within the last year. USPA COVID-19 Distressed Club Relief (DCR) Program was designed to support USPA Member Clubs facing immediate financial viability and short-term sustainability; the program has assisted 25 member clubs. The USPA COVID-19 Polo Professional Equine Relief Program (PPER) provided aid for playing horses of professional players who lost jobs due to the mandated cancellation of polo. Lastly, the COVID-19 USPA Polo Tournament Stimulus Package (TSP) aimed at incentivizing players and teams to participate in USPA tournament polo. The recovery efforts have exceeded expectations and the USPA is well on its way to having a record year regarding tournament participation. The Association also released Return to Play Guidelines, including best practices for USPA Member Clubs, to utilize while following all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations.” – Bob Puetz, Chief Executive Officer, United States Polo Association (USPA)
“When the lockdown happened in March, all polo ceased as with everything in normal life. We put together very comprehensive guidelines, procedures, and protocols that clubs have to follow. When polo started, the level allowed was restricted to 8 goals and above. There were various rule changes, and everyone had to wear face masks, which were uncomfortable for the players and officials. In addition, the number of grooms and ponies was also strictly limited to the minimum required, and even wives were not allowed at polo. In due course, recreational team sports, which included polo, were allowed and the face masks could be removed. However, the rest of the restrictions and rule variances stayed in place. Polo continues to be played behind closed doors with no spectators. For the winter polo, there is very little difference in the procedures put in place for the summer. We are still following the government requirements of social distancing, hand cleanliness, and wearing masks when in close proximity to somebody else.” – Oliver Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive, Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA)
As the world continues to feel the impact of a year that’s been spent mostly in lockdown, let’s continue being responsible by adapting to the “new normal” and try to do our best to help those who have been severely impacted by the crisis.