His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum made the sport of kings socially acceptable in the United Arab Emirates. In 1996 the enthusiastic equestrian founded UAEHorseRiding, a polo school that has now achieved worldwide recognition. However, this was not enough for the ambitious Emir of Dubai, Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE. In 2010 the city on the Persian Gulf acquired its own prestigious tournament. The patron of the Dubai Polo Gold Cup is currently the son of the sheikh and deputy ruler of the emirate, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The polo event, now the fourth most important in the world, is held every spring and since 2013 women have also had their own top tournament in Dubai, at the Desert Palm Polo Club.
THE CRADLE OF POLO
The origins of this equestrian sport can be found in around 600 BC in the Persian empire. People loved this game, the popularity of which grew continuously, even becoming the national sport in the 16th century. Under the stern gaze of the shahs, who watched the polo matches from the balcony of the Ali Qapu palace, the riders contested games on the central square of the then-capital Isfahan. Accounts from this time indicate that polo was equally popular with men and women, and that they even played it together. The sport found its way to India and Arabia as a result of the Islamic expansion. Great Britain is the motherland of polo as it is played today. British officers stationed on the Indian subcontinent used polo as a form of training and the game made its way to Britain, where the first polo club was founded in 1859. In the 1920s Great Britain had to relinquish its position as polo superpower to Argentina. Today, the best players in the world mostly come from South America. No other country has as many +10-handicap players contesting coveted trophies around the world as Argentina.
DUBAI POLO GOLD CUP
The rise of the Dubai Polo Gold Cup in the last five years has been as breathtaking and meteoric as that of the emirate itself. The tournament has left many venerable events that have been contested far longer in its wake as far as international significance is concerned. The tourna ment now occupies fourth place in the worldwide polo rankings. only the tournaments in Argentina, the USA and Great Britain have a higher standing than the annual polo highlight in the Persian Gulf. For the fifth edition in 2014 the patron, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, presented a record field of competitors, comprising ten first-class teams. The Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series has rapidly established itself on the world stage of equestrian sport and is now the highest handicap tournament (+16) in the Middle East.
DECEMBER PREMIERE FOR LADIES’ POLO
The first ladies’ polo tournament in the United Arab Emirates took place from 10 – 13 December 2013 at the Desert Palm Polo Club in Dubai. The host team and two teams from Europe and one team from the USA contested the first official ladies’ polo title in the Persian Gulf. Patron and participant with her Arab team was Her Highness Sheikha Maitha Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, daughter of the Emir of Dubai. one of the best German female polo players was also present in the orient (team Europa 1), Anna oettingen-Wallerstein: “I immediately accepted when they invited me. There is no way I wanted to miss out on playing at this unique event in Ali Albwardy’s wonderful Desert Palm venue. This is a historic moment, joining forces with HH Sheikha Maitha and promoting ladies’ polo in the process.“ In the final the two polo players faced each other as opponents. The German quickly realised that the hosts were there to win it, which they did, with a welldeserved 6:1.5 victory. After the award ceremony Her Highness Sheikha Maitha Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum thanked the main sponsor: “The Ralph Lauren International Ladies’ Polo Tour – nament is of great significance to the United Arab Emirates and for women through out the region. It was a great honour for me to take part in this pioneering event. I firmly believe that more and more women will now take an interest in polo.“
Text: Ulf Jacks
Photos: © Dubai Polo Gold Cup