POLO YATRA – USHERING IN A RENAISSANCE IN WOMEN’S POLO
(L Somi Roy)
(L. Somi Roy is the Principal of Huntre! Equine. He works in cultural conservation and is also a writer and translator.)
For Polo Yatra, the international tournament project of Huntré! Equine, women’s polo and the wellbeing of the endangered Manipuri Polo Pony- are top priorities. Beginning 2013, we set out to strategize a policy for both the sport as well as the pony. The “Polo Yatra” concept provided us a strong foothold, and the organic take-away from the first two Polo Yatras was that the long- term mission of Huntré! Equine would be to support, develop and promote women’s polo in India.
The little mountain State of Manipur, the birthplace of modern polo, accounts for about one third of the 300 polo players in India and about three-fourths of the 40 women polo players in the whole of India. Distinctively and uniquely, here it is not the Sport of Kings, though Manipur’s monarchs avidly played polo during the course of the kingdom’s history, but the Sport of the People. Egalitarian, village-based, popular, Manipuri women’s polo rests on the fabled power of its confident, gifted, and outspoken women. Huntré! Equine would undertake to field a women’s- only tournament as a strategic development for Indian women’s polo. And so was born the Manipur Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament in 2016, the first and only annual women’s polo tournament in India.
Huntré! Equine decided to extend help to the State’s other polo association, the older, struggling All Manipur Polo Association (AMPA), in its mission to support polo in Manipur. It handed it the task of organizing the tournament in 2016 for the very 1st Manipur Statehood Women’s Polo Tournament to be played at Mapal Kangjeibung, the oldest extant polo ground in the world.
That year, Manipur fielded three teams for a mixed tournament of four teams. Each was led by one of the American players . Then it was off to Jaipur where the Indian contingent played with their American counterparts in an exhibition game we called Cowgirls v Gopis. It took Jaipur’s polo community by storm before the finals of the Maharaja Sawai Bhawani Cup!
Since then, the result has been five annual women’s international polo tournaments in Manipur from 2016 till 2020. In 2017, BSE came on to sponsor the winners’ cup. The tournament has grown to accumulate eight competing teams from USA, Argentina, Great Britain, Australia, Kenya, Egypt, the Indian Polo Association (IPA), and host Manipur.
Polo Yatra really took a step up in 2018 when Incredible India! under KJ Alphons of the Ministry of Tourism stepped in to join Manipur Tourism and the USPA in supporting the tournament. In 2019, Team Argentina, making their debut in the 4th Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament, rode gallantly to upstage Team USA. The 5th Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament in 2020 was recognized as the official closing event of Polo150, the global commemoration marking the 150th anniversary of the arrival of polo in England. Only nine months in existence, Team Egypt made its first international appearance to join Teams USA, Great Britain, Argentina, IPA and Manipur. Appropriately enough for an official Polo150 event, as , it was Team Great Britain that rode off with the Manipur Statehood Day Polo BSE Cup scoring five goals to the USA’s two.