“I do it and I will continue doing it because it’s my passion,” says Patricia Panzarasa. She is one of the most popular names at the moment in Argentina, where Women’s Polo is at its height. She is also responsible for the growth of this sport in the country. She adds, “This is an excellent moment for the globalization of this.”
It is a hot afternoon in Palermo and Ellerstina and Chapaleufú’s horses are still galloping around in the main field, at the most impressive setting of world Polo. In spite of that, everybody who passes by Patricia Panzarasa takes a minute to greet her and slip in a nice remark knowing they will always get a smile in return.
Known by everyone as Pato, this Polo Lady is currently at the lead in the organization of many of the most important women tournaments in Argentina. Her involvement has been growing at the same time as the sport, and that is the reason why her phone never stops ringing any time of the year. Panzarasa shows her usual friendliness but taking important matters seriously and emphasizing her passion for everything she does. In each answer, she explains to Polo Lady a bit of everything—her beginnings, the current flow of players, the preparation of girls, and even about how to organize a tournament step by step. It’s enough to keep you captivated throughout this interview.
How and when did you start playing and organizing Polo?
“I have had horses since I was young, although they were not Polo horses. My family has nothing to do with this sport. Years later, I bought some small farms in Capilla del Señor (a province in Buenos Aires, Argentina) and there was a small Polo school. They invited me to organize a tournament and said, “You have to play. You cannot just ride a horse, organize, and not play.” The tournament took place in 2006. It was one of the first ones with a club. Not a traditional one, kind of similar to Copa Miriam Heguy. Then I started playing. I remember I started hitting the ball in January and by March, I already had two horses. I got hooked immediately and started playing simply because I had fun. One thing led to another. My previous work with companies enabled me to invite them to participate in these tournaments and I started organizing championships with friends and contacts. They started growing the same time as Women’s Polo did.
“In the beginning, no one knew about Women’s Polo. People used to say, “Do women play?” It was not so easy back then. My beginnings were contact with friends who gave me a hand and I paved the way in organizing Women’s Polo tournaments.”
Where is Women’s Polo at the moment on a global scale?
“Presently, it is an excellent moment for globalization. Actually, any piece of news becomes global immediately as technology has grown in all aspects. This influenced Women’s Polo as there is more information everywhere. We contacted each other and more girls joined in. Today, there are many more players who are connected with each other. They know where the tournaments are and go to play in other countries, whereas before, they did not go anywhere because they did not know anything about them.
Now, when there is a tournament, players from different places come from outside Buenos Aires, such as foreigners from Córdoba, Entre Rios, Rosario, and more.
“It has grown tremendously especially in the last year because handicap was authorized not only in Argentina, but in England and the United States as well. Many English players come to Argentina where we have globalized Women’s Polo. We used to have women who played here and those who played there. All the countries are now organized and on the same wavelength.
“Besides, now is the moment when there are different generations in the fields. There are those excellent players more aged that continue being excellent and many very young girls or teenagers who have the characteristics of professional Polo players.”
I imagine children/youth tournaments also help the development of Women’s Polo.
“In youth cups, 30 teams might register and amongst them, there are 12-year-old girls who already play brilliantly. Now, you can see that there is a breeding ground that did not exist before because girls did not join in. They did not do it because it was a men’s sport.”
Do you remember the number of tournaments you have organized? Which was the most important?
“I don’t remember the exact number, but there were good years when we organized up to eight tournaments. Like in 2010 or 2011, we had three in low season, one in snow, three in high season, and one of beach Polo.
“The first one we organized in a club which supported us was Chapa Uno with Bautista Heguy at the lead. He was the person who seriously opened the doors for us. He saw that Women’s Polo was growing. We proposed it and without knowing how it would come out, he accepted it. That was the first big tournament I organized.”
It is sometimes said that there is too much centralization in high men’s handicap because it is played in very few countries. Is it the same for Ladies’ Polo?
“I don’t think so, because it is new for everyone. Many foreign players were sponsors, and the reason they played in men’s teams was because these players did not have women teams.
“Mainly, since 2014, nearly all clubs have started having tournaments for women only because in general, there were only mixed tournaments—mixed tournaments which were not really mixed, with one woman and three men, and the woman was nearly always the owner.”
What would you say the differences between Men’s and Women’s Polo are inside and outside the field?
“Outside, the organization for women takes longer as you have to organize your family. You can see this in the number of people at the fence. In men’s games, there are only players and maybe a child. On the other hand, present in women’s games are children, grandmothers, boyfriends, husbands, and dogs, apart from us. On the field, we are considered to be fighters and sometimes protesters but it is only a game! The game itself is different. The speed is different. It is much slower. As we are not so fast and the ball goes faster than the players, the organization is different from men’s games.”
Are the horses very different?
“Concerning horses, they are the same as in a low handicap men tournament. As many girls start playing without coming from Polo families, they start with just two horses and as women games have four periods, they can use those two and that’s it.”
How are polo associations behaving on a worldwide scale? It was commented that there had been problems in the case of Argentina some time ago.
“All associations are supporting Women’s Polo. It was mainly in 2015 when they all adopted the handicap that was created in 2010. This allowed you to know how worldwide players played. It was only a matter of ‘this player plays well, that one plays badly, and the other one plays very well’ before. Then, depending on this, you place her in a team. Now, the assessment gives you an idea of how they play and it is the same in all countries.
“I do not think there are any problems with the Argentinian association. It all takes time. Women’s Polo as a formal activity is only five years old (since the creation of the handicap). We have to give it time to organize itself better. The fact that so many players play and that it is growing makes the players demand things to be more organized, ruled, and managed by the association referees. It all evolves together. The commission of Women’s Polo will evolve with the increase in players and in the number of tournaments played.
What are the steps to be followed to organize a Women’s Polo tournament as recommended by Pato Panzarasa?
“I start by talking to the organizing club to find out what they want to do. Then, the handicap to be given to the tournament is decided. It depends on who it is organized for—if it is international, if there are sponsors interested, or if it is a tournament to be played by as many teams as possible. Later, all the players who are going to participate in the tournament have to be contacted and a date needs to be arranged that is convenient to all. Finally, we need to look for commercialization so it has all the elements that I consider it needs, like get good press and communication, so it is useful for sponsoring companies, useful for the club, and a good return for players, companies, and clubs. These are all the elements and I like taking part in all of them.”
What response do you get from sponsoring companies?
“The evolution and good communication of tournaments and supporting companies, that excelled excellence, are the key points that make them want to associate with us. Polo is, for sponsors, a link with a certain audience. But high handicap Polo is a huge sponsorship for a company. On the other hand, it can also be linked to the same audience from a more accessible point and that is Women’s Polo.”
What was 2015 like and what plans are there for this year?
“2015 was a very important year for me because of the growth in the activity. At the beginning of the year, I organized very nice and complete tournaments for all; that was in Salta (in the north of Argentina) and in aid of the charity Lalced (Argentinian League to Fight against cancer). It was excellent because of the level achieved in all aspects—sponsors, communication, returns, and the fact that it was beneficial for the charity. Later on, we had Ladies Diamond Cup in La Dolfina, the first Women’s Polo tournament organized there with María Chavanne, the other organizer. We are extremely proud that everything turned out beautifully.
“In 2016, we are sure we will be organizing these two tournaments and there are always other smaller ones which I am always predisposed to do. My main goal is trying to ensure that each club has its own Women’s Polo tournament, big or small. Being called upon to organize a small tournament is as important as organizing a big one. I hope to plant the flag of Women’s Polo in provinces and in small and big clubs, because when a Women’s Polo game that they know is good is introduced, then it continues on its own without me being there. Clubs will know it can be done. If I contributed in a small way to make it start, then I am happy.”
Are you still playing Polo or is your focus purely on your role as a principal tournament organizer?
“I do not play in the games I organize because I end up looking outside the field while I am on the horse, supervising that everything is alright. I am now playing in internships and with friends. When I was riding the horse and also organizing, it became terribly complicated. I was very stressed and I used to play better when I was training than at the actual game. My passion for the game is as big as my passion to promote and spread Women’s Polo globally.”
Finally, what do you think of the launch of Polo Lady?
“It must be the first concept devoted to Women’s Polo only. I congratulate Katya Prunkova for this business venture and we must be proud to have a media dedicated to this.”
Polo Lady is a worldwide opportunity to help everything grow internationally.