What started as a far-fetched idea amongst a group of friends having coffee has evolved over the last 12 months, offering a new perspective on Ladies’ Polo.
A few years ago, a group of friends were sitting in a café discussing Ladies’ Polo and opportunities for female players. What baffled the ladies was the struggle for aspiring female players to make a name for themselves outside of junior Polo. The opportunities for female players were scarce, the chance for progression unachievable, and the interest in supporting lady players largely focused on the size of her purse rather than her skill set. They wondered if this was the same for talented young men.
The experiences of the group found that at a junior level, playing opportunities were frequent, affordable, and equal in the UK. The Pony Club works hard to accommodate all players, regardless of gender, age, and pony power. However, the opportunities for juniors outside of Pony Club were less accessible to the standard female player. In fact, less accessible to the standard Pony Club player full stop.
This year’s Hurlingham Polo Association select committee decided not to support Pony Club players for future development. Olly Hughes, the HPA’s Deputy Chief Executive, told The Telegraph in October 2015 that the talent comes from HPA specific tournaments. “There is some real talent in the Pony Club, don’t get me wrong. But the cream does tend to play the British Junior Polo championships,” they said. And of course, the four players chosen this year were all male.
It is, then, no wonder why so many female junior players leave the sport after their Pony Club years.
For those who do carry on to pursue their Polo dream, the ride does not get much easier. For years, the Polo focus in the UK has been on both the high goal and the men. What the Women In Polo founders noticed was that this approach is not only unrepresentative of the UK Polo scene, but also unsustainable in current economic times. Of course, we all like to keep up to date with the latest tournaments, teams, and up-and-coming players in the high goal game.
But what about the 763 female players in the UK or the thriving, busy low-goal scene which gets little recognition?
Opportunities for women at an amateur level are not readily available, and when they are, often come with a hefty price tag.
What remained as just a vision for the WIP UK eventually came to fruition in 2014. Mother and daughter duo Sarah and Georgie Wood saw an opportunity to really push their ideas into something credible and sustainable.
2014 and 2015 brought a lot of attention to the women’s game in the UK, with leading British female players pushing for more recognition and more equality in the sport, thus leading to the introduction of the new ladies handicapping system in the 2015 season.
WIP UK saw this as a time to make a difference in the sport. As the name suggests, the organization is primarily about women involved in polo in the UK. This covers all female players, from junior level (where the founders started) to adults and total beginners to amateur and aspiring female professionals. WIP has two objectives—firstly, to create more opportunities for female players at various levels, both in Ladies’ Polo and mixed Polo, and secondly, to raise the profile of women in the sport. This means more media coverage, more recognition, more publicity, and more people talking about Ladies’ Polo than ever before.
The only issue was these plans were a lot easier said than done. WIP UK did not underestimate the task at hand and how difficult it would be to introduce new perspectives to a male-dominated sport. The success of WIP UK has relied on two things—firstly, extensive support from friends, family, clubs, and female players around the world, and secondly, grit, and determination in the face of adversity.
This year, WIP UK has progressed in leaps and bounds for Ladies’ Polo in the UK. On the playing side of things, the organization introduced the first Ladies League which saw participation from five clubs and 14 teams in its first season. WIP also designed an International Exchange Programme which establishes subsidized playing opportunities abroad for UK ladies teams and vice versa. The first of these was a tour in Colombia in September 2015. Additionally, WIP sponsored several low goal ladies tournaments and mixed doubles throughout the summer. The winter season is no quieter for the organization, who are organizing a Battle of the Sexes day in the UK and taking two ladies teams to the first-ever PIPA Ladies World Cup on Snow in February.
In addition, WIP has generated a new awareness of female players and the sport in general. With regular features on the Ladies League in The Polo Times and promotion of Ladies’ Polo in The Telegraph, awareness of Women’s Polo has been increasing. WIP has also made headway in mainstream media.
Earlier in 2015, the organization joined Glamour Magazine’s ‘Say No to Sexism in Sport’ campaign, discussing how Polo can be more accessible to the public and beginners and getting more recognition for those already involved in the sport. WIP UK also became partners with Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, designed to encourage women across the country to get involved in the sport, follow their passions, and break stereotyping boundaries.
The next 12 months sees a busy calendar for WIP UK. For the founders, this year has proved the need for change in Ladies’ Polo—it has given a taster of the possibilities for the future. There is a demand amongst female players for more affordable, accessible, and realistic Polo. WIP aims to provide these opportunities, whether for Ladies’ Polo, mixed, local, or international.