The Sport of Kings
Information provided by Moscow Polo Club
Polo was first played in Russia in 1870. During the reign of Alexander III it became popular among the military aristocracy. The first official Russian polo tournament took place at Peterhof in June 1884 to celebrate the opening of the Hippodrome. All the members of the Imperial Family were active polo enthusiasts until the revolution of 1917 ended all activities which were considered elitist and bourgeois. Now polo is back in Russia. The Russian Polo Cup is being played June 25 and 26. You need to have money to play the game (see left), but entrance to the match is free. Here is some background to the game that is called The Sport of Kings.
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Polo originated among the nomads of the steppes in Central Asia, about 2500 years ago. Darius I, King of Persia (522-486 BC), was one of the first royal players. Back then polo was called “Chaugan” (mallet). “Let other people play other things – the king of games is still the game of kings;” this verse is inscribed on an ancient stone next to a polo ground in Gilgit, Kashmir. The name of the game – polo – comes presumably from Tibet, and was taken from the local name of the root from which the ball was made.
The game was part of Chinese court life in the 8th century during the Tang Dynasty. In the 13th century Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, brought the game from Asia Minor and encouraged it among his warriors. Valuable for training cavalry, by the Middle Ages the game was played everywhere from Constantinople to Japan.
Polo came to Europe via India, where the game had been played since the 14th century. British tea planters discovered polo in 1854, and a few years later the British cavalry which had been on duty in the Indian Empire brought it to Europe. Today, more than 70 countries play polo.
Moscow Polo Club (established in 2002)
Russian Polo Club (established in 2005)
(095) 749 6222, or 960 2150
Polo is an outdoor sport: please, dress according to the weather. Spectators at a polo match wear everything from jeans to high fashion. If you want to go divoting at halftime, don’t forget to wear shoes other than sandals and a hat for sun protection. Divoting is a long-standing tradition at half time. Spectators wander all over the field stomping down the torn-up turf.
Polo is played by two teams of 4 players mounted on horseback. The object of the game is to score the most goals by hitting the ball through the goal. Games are sometimes played with a handicapping system in which the sum of the individual players’ handicaps are compared to each other, and the team with the worse handicap is given a few goals before the start of the game. Each player is given a handicap from -2 to 10 (for the best players)
Ground – The maximum permitted area is 300 yards long and 200 yards wide. Goal posts are 8 yards apart.
Duration of Play – Play is divided into chukkas of 7 minutes each, with an interval between chukkas of 3 minutes, extended to 5 minutes at half-time. A full match is 8 chukkas, but usually 4 or 6 chukkas are played.
Bell – A bell is rung at the end of each 7 minute period. Play continues after the bell until the ball goes out of play, or the umpire stops play for a foul, or the bell is rung for a second time (30 seconds after the first bell); in the last chukka play stops with the first stroke of the bell. In the case of a tie, the last chukka ends in the same way as previous chukkas, and then after an interval of 5 minutes the game goes on with additional chukkas, the goals being widened to 16 yards, until a deciding goal is scored.
Changing Ends – Ends are changed after each goal scored, or at half-time if there is no score by then.
Right of Way – This extends on the left side of the exact line of the ball (as seen by the player following or meeting the ball). Any player riding the right of way is entitled to hit the ball on his off side unless ridden off it. If there is no player on the exact right of way, the right of possession passes to the player riding at the smallest angle to it in the direction in which the ball is traveling.
Crossing – Any player who crosses the player in the right of way close enough to be dangerous or cause a player to slow up, commits a foul.
Riding Off is permitted, whether the other man is playing the ball or not. But it must not be done by charging in at a dangerous angle, nor must the man in possession of the ball be crossed.
Hooking Sticks – A player may hook an opponents stick provided he is on the same side of the opponent as the ball, or directly behind him, and provided the stick is below the level of the opponent’s shoulder.