Polo is one of the oldest sports in the world, and has a long and fascinating history in Kenya and around the world. Traditionally thought of as an expensive sport for the rich and famous, the Nairobi Polo Club and advocates of the sport in Kenya have worked to transform the image of polo, and are proving that it is a vibrant game with something to offer to all Kenyans.
Sylvester Stallone famously said that “Playing polo is like trying to play golf during an earthquake”. The speed of galloping ponies and a ball that can reach 100kmph during the game make for an exhilarating display, even to those with little or no understanding of the rules of polo. Grace, strength and power are united as the mounted players pound across the field, which is five times the size of a football pitch, hitting a small white ball with long-handled mallets. Goals are scored by the ball crossing the line between the goal posts at either end of the field, regardless of who knocks it in, even if it’s a pony. The team with the most goals wins.
A game is divided up into seven-minute periods called chukkas, and a game may be four, six or eight chukkas in length. Compare this to the length of, say, a football match, and you might start to imagine the kind of intensity that is packed into every second of the game. In fact, it is so intense that the ponies are often swapped for fresh ones between chukkas.
Although the game itself is marked by formality and etiquette as well drama and panache, spectators enjoy a relaxed, fun, and relatively informal experience.
“I think the concept of polo that people had in the 1920s and the 1930s was much more accurate, when going to a polo match was seen as a great day out and great fun on a more popular level.” – Nacho Figueras
Traditionally, spectators arrive before before lunch and bring picnics to eat on the lawns before the games begin. Some choose to pay for a sit-down lunch. Lunch always comes first, then polo, and drinks flow throughout, and when the games finish (usually in the later afternoon), festivities continue on through the evening and sometimes into the night.
The Nairobi Polo Club is one of Africa’s biggest. Founded in 1907, its two full-size polo grounds have been graced by renowned players from around the world, and continues to grow in popularity. The sport’s elitist reputation is not without justification; professional polo players can be paid in excess of 100,000 USD a day for tournaments. However, one of the big differences in Kenya is that polo is an amateur sport here.
Kenyan polo is powered by a genuine enthusiasm for and enjoyment of the sport, both on the part of players and spectators.
The money that changes hands for the Kenya Polo Association and the clubs to operate only goes towards maintenance and development of the clubs.
Polo is a sport for the avid enthusiast, but it is also a fun sport for those who want to spend a leisurely weekend afternoon socialising in the open air.
“There’s no snobbery or resentment from serious polo people towards those who just come for the party.” — Kate Reardon
In the case of the Nairobi Polo Club this weekend, there is also a charitable dimension, as they have partnered with the Kenya Red Cross for the 35th Kenya Open Polo Championship (the most prestigious of the season). The Tournament, which is runs from September 18-20 and September 25-27 is donating funds from ticket sales and tailgating the Kenya Red Cross to assist with its work in disaster management, provision of water, health services and sanitation, and improvement in education and food security.
The 10-14 goal Nairobi Polo Tournament starts this weekend from the 25th of Friday to the 27th of Sunday from 10am to 5pm, and it is set to be an event for young and old alike. Whether you want to have a drink (or three, or four) in the sun, enjoy fine dining, go tailgating with the whole family, or dance the evening away, you’ll find your desires satisfied at the Nairobi Polo Club this weekend.
The Kenya Red Cross is a brilliant cause, and the weekend will be an exceptional event for seasoned polo fans and first-time spectators alike.
“Polo is the most inviting sport I’ve ever seen.” –Nacho Figueras
As usual, What’s Good Live will be there to party with you, provide good music (and maybe even some drinking games). Make sure you come by and say hello.
We’ll be giving away five tickets every day this week, so make sure you keep checking our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages for all the latest updates, and the chance to *win free tickets* to the polo this weekend.
Advance tickets are on sale at J’s Fresh Bar and Kitchen, and Samsung shops at Village Market, The Junction Mall, Prestige Mall, Valley Arcade, Nakumatt Galleria at Ksh. 1000 each. Tickets at the gate will go for Ksh. 1500 and are redeemable for 2 Peroni beers or two glasses of wine. Children get in for free.
All photographs courtesy of Nairobi Polo Club