|the-south-asian.com JANUARY 2002|
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JANUARY 2002 Contents
Asian Art -
at Every Alien Door'
- FROM BLUE-BLOODED TO BLUE CHIP SPORT
Polo, once a royal sport, is gradually turning into a high-profile game of CEOs of giant corporate houses. Many business houses are shifting away from the fading charms of cricket to sponsor polo events. Suddenly, the sport is everywhere. Filling up pages of newspapers, grabbing airtime on TV sports channels and spilling over to the internet.....
Naveen Jindal's day begins around 5.30 a.m. when he drives out of his sprawling Prithviraj Road bungalow in Delhi for his farm on the outskirts of the city where he has a vigorous polo training session. He is back by 9 a.m. and is off to office in about half an hour's time. It is evident that the youngest scion of the multi-million dollar O.P. Jindal group, takes his polo seriously. He is captain of the Jindal polo team, rated among the better teams of India. " I take the game very seriously as I want our team to win as many tournaments as it possibly can," says Jindal, a management graduate from the University of Texas, who presides over Jindal Strips and Jindal Power.
Polo, once a blue-blooded sport, is the new blossom sector among corporate houses. Many top-of-the-line business houses are shifting away from the fading charms of cricket to sponsor high profile polo events. Suddenly, the sport is everywhere. Filling up newspaper pages, grabbing airtime on sports channels and spilling over to internet where aficionados have set up special sites to report on matches and players. And leading organisations such as the Oberoi Group of Hotels, ABN Amro Bank, LG Electronics, Akai, Seagrams, Merrill Lynch, Radico Khaitan, Brown Foreman, Eveready, Hyundai, McDowell, Omega and many more have suddenly catapulted into the sport.
Many, like the Oberoi Group and the Jindals have their own teams. Others are content to sponsor and organise polo tournaments." The Oberoi group is committed to preserving the history and tradition of this age-old sport and takes a keen interest in promoting polo," says P.R.S. Oberoi, vice chairman and managing director of East India Hotels. Himself a keen polo player, Oberoi was the former vice president of the Indian Polo Association [IPA] and is now its honorary patron.
Indeed, the blue-blooded sport has come a long way from just a decade or so ago when only the Indian army could boast of half a dozen worthwhile polo teams. That, of course, was before the corporate houses got into the act and turned the game on its head.
Today, the army still has some of the best teams but so do a few top organisations. It is not uncommon to see an army team clash with the private sector in the finals---the Oberoi Blues versus Army Reds, or the Jindal team versus the Army Greens." The armed forces have been associated with polo for plenty of reasons," says Major Rajiv Gaur, a keen polo player. " For one, in the earlier days the scions of royal families were usually commissioned in the army where they introduced the sport. Secondly the army has some of the best horses in the country and thirdly it is a macho sport which the young officers like to associate themselves with."
Polo is an expensive sport. Even now it remains out of reach of the common man simply because a sturdy polo horse can cost as much as a car. Added to it is the cost of training, feeding and grooming and above all transporting the horse to various venues where the tournaments are held. Some companies are even flying overseas players and reportedly paying them up to $ 2000 per goal handicap.
However, with the coming in of big money, the sport sometimes assumes the hues of a carnival or a spectacle of who’s who. A tournament is usually accompanied by a royal ball at a five star hotel, top designers rush in to make special ensembles for the participants and at times for the celebrity viewers. Film stars and models are pressed into service to give a touch of glamour to a tournament.
This touch of new-money certainly takes away from the dignity that was once associated with the sport. It must make a polo enthusiast squirm. But, says Viren Rathore, a polo player himself whose father looked after the royal stables in Rajasthan, " The game may have degenerated into a masala sport but at least it is getting popularised. That's a positive sign. A few years from now it may get back the glory of the old times."
Polo is one of the world's oldest sports and remains to this day a highly competitive activity that allies the skill of the rider with the speed and power of his mount. Although it demands both strength and stamina, polo differs from many other sports in its spirit, a spirit reflected in the dignified bearing of players and their scrupulous respect for the rules. In this sense polo is not just a sport, but a lifestyle. Which explains the sudden rush of corporate investment in the game. A polo tournament is a high profile event and associates a brand with the lifestyle it symbolizes.
By associating with an elite sport---a byword for quality competitiveness and fair play---corporate houses seem to be busy forging a new image for themselves.
" A polo handicap is your passport to the world", Winston Churchill once told the Oxford University team. The same seems to hold true for the young executives of corporate India.
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