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Snow Polo World Cup 2013 in Tianjin

Snow Polo: The Bespoke Pass Time Aiming to Woo China’s Nouveau-Riche

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China is developing at a breakneck speed in most sporting fields, but perhaps the most unlikely “hot” new sport in China is one played in freezing conditions. For Tianjin Plus, Paul Ryding investigates the newfound popularity of snow polo.

Polo has long been regarded as a sport of the world’s aristocracy. Its origins lay in the days of the British Empire. Calcutta Polo Club, the first of its kind, was established by British generals based in India in 1862. The game spread to other strongholds of the Empire before taking root in Argentina and spreading north to the US.
Today, you’re more likely to see European royalty – specifically of the UK – playing the game, but an early form of the sport was once popular with the upper classes of China’s Tang dynasty over 1,000 years ago. However, “The Sport of Kings” died out almost entirely in China until a recent surge of interest in foreign sports saw it steadily gaining a following, particularly in Hong Kong.

Snow polo is a more modern take on the game. Established as a winter alternative to the typically summer sport, it was first introduced in 1985 in Switzerland. The game has grown in popularity ever since, and 2011 saw the first Asian snow polo competition held in Mainland China

The Snow Polo World Cup will take place at Tianjin’s Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club between 25 January and 3 February where twelve polo associations will be represented. Teams from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States will compete for the second annual FIP Snow Polo World Cup. Last year’s edition was won by the Hong, Kong, China team.

The matches are held on a pitch covered with artificial snow at the Tianjin Metropolitan Polo Club on the outskirts of the city. The CNY 10-billion complex was completed in 2010 and will once again host the competition. The facility is state-of-the-art and houses two international-sized polo fields and stables large enough for 150 horses, as well as training facilities, a riding school and a prestigious clubhouse. Membership at the club starts at CNY 380,000 and can go as high as CNY 10-million for members who wish to establish their own teams.

It is a natural fit that the Federation of International Polo (FIP) would deem China, and specifically Tianjin, as suitable hosts for the sport in Asia. Predominantly played by the upper classes, snow polo’s introduction to the wider Chinese market is viewed as a way of enticing China’s burgeoning nouveau-riche to the sport. The Tournament draws a large number of prestigious guests including national celebrities and high-profile sportsmen and women.

The scale and high standards of the organisers has not gone unnoticed by representatives of some of the more established polo associations. "I think it's absolutely first class, the entire operation from what I've seen here,” said Donald Pennycook, the President of the Canadian Polo Association, at the media launch of this year’s edition. “I mean, this hotel, the club house, the restaurants, everything, it's absolutely on a world class, top of the class scale."

The development of polo on the Chinese mainland is still in its nascent stages. But the ability to host such a high-profile international polo event to such a high standard shows that the Equestrian Association of China and the Federation of International Polo are serious about making China a key player on the international scene.


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