The Game Of Kings

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This verse is inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Skardu Pakistan, north of Kashmir, near the fabled Silk Route. In one ancient sentence, it epitomises the feelings of many polo players today.

Many scholars believe that polo, in its antiquated form, originated among the Iranian tribes some time before Darius of Persia and his cavalry extended the Achaemenid dynasty rule to the greater Persian Empire.

Throughout Asian antiquity, from Japan to Egypt, from India to the Byzantine Empire, Polo and its variants were the nearest equivalents to a "national sport". However, as the great Eastern empires decayed and collapsed in the Middle Ages following their decimation by the Mongol hordes, so too disappeared the glittering court life of which polo was so important a part; and, the game itself was preserved only in remote villages.

The contemporary sport

Polo is now an active sport in 77 countries, and although its tenure as an Olympic sport was limited to 1900 -1939, in 1998 the International Olympic Committee recognized it as a sport with a bona fide international governing body, the Federation of International Polo.

Polo is, however, played professionally in only a few countries, notably Argentina, England, Pakistan, India, Australia, and the United States. Polo is unique among team sports in that amateur players, often the team patrons, routinely hire and play alongside the sport's top professionals.

Argentina dominates the professional sport, as its polo team has been the uninterrupted world champion since 1949 and is today the source of most of the world's 10-goal (i.e., top-rated) players.

The game

Rules

Polo requires two teams of players mounted on horseback to play the game. When playing outdoors each team has four players, whereas arena polo is restricted to three players per team. The object of the game is to score the most goals by hitting the ball through the goal.

A game is divided into periods, called chukkas-since 1898, from Hindi chakkar from Sanskrit chakra "circle, wheel", compare chakka -of 7 minutes, and depending on the rules of the particular tournament or league, a game may have 4, 6 or 8 chukkas; 6 chukkas are most common. Games are often played with a handicap in which the sums of the individual players' respective handicaps are compared. The team with the larger handicap is given free points before the start of the game.

The game begins with the two teams of four lined up each team in line forming two rows with the players in order 1, 2, 3, 4 facing the umpire in the center of the playing field. There are two mounted umpires on the field and a referee standing on the sidelines. At the beginning of a game, one of the umpires bowls the ball in hard between the two teams.

Player positions

Each position assigned to a player has certain responsibilities:

" Number One is usually the novice or weakest player on the team, but the position is one of the most difficult to play. Number One's job is to score goals as well as neutralize the opponents Number Four (defensive) player.

" Number Two needs a fast pony, a keen eye, and high maneuverability as his job is to get hold of the ball.

" Number Three is the tactical leader and must be a long powerful hitter to feed balls to Number Two and Number One as well as maintaining a solid defense. The best player on the team is usually the Number Three player.

" Number Four is the primary defense player and though he can move anywhere on the field, he often tries to prevent scoring.

Polo ponies

The term pony is purely traditional and the mount is actually a full-sized horse. A good pony should have docility, speed, endurance, and intelligence. It is said that the pony is 60 to 75 percent of the player's skill. Thoroughbreds were originally the only breeds used, but in the contemporary sport mixed breeds are common. Many of the best polo ponies are bred in Argentina and United States. Polo training begins at age four and lasts from about six months to two years. Ponies reach their peak at around age 10; but without any accidents, polo ponies may have the ability to play until they are 18 to 20 years of age.

Equipment

The basic dress of a player is a protective helmet, riding boots to just below the knees, and a colored shirt bearing the number of the player's position. Optional equipment includes knee pads and spurs, face mask, and a whip. The outdoor polo ball is made of plastic, but was formerly made of either bamboo or willow root. The indoor polo ball is leather-covered and inflated and is about 4? inches (11.4 cm) in diameter. The outdoor ball is about 3? inches (8.3 cm) in diameter and weighs about four ounces (113.4 g). The polo mallet has a rubber-wrapped grip and a webbed thong, called thumb sling, for wrapping around the hand. The shaft is made of bamboo-cane with a bamboo head 9? inches in length. The whole mallet weighs about 7 ounces and varies in length from 48 to 53 inches. The ball is struck with the side of the mallet rather than the edge.

Polo saddles are English-style similar to jumping saddles. The legs of the pony are bandaged from below the knee to the ankle to prevent injury. The pony's mane is clipped, and its tail is braided to prevent interference with the rider's swing.

Facts about polo

" The oldest royal polo square is the 16th century Maidan-Shah in Isfahan , Iran .

" The oldest polo club in the world still in existence is the Calcutta Polo Club .

" The highest polo ground in the world is on the deosai Plateau Baltistan, Pakistan at 4307 meters (14,000 ft).

" Polo must be played right handed. Left handed play was ruled out in 1975 for safety reasons. To date, only 3 players on the world circuit are left-handed.

" The most prestigious international Polo Tournament in the world is the Palermo Polo Open, held annually in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

" The most prestigious Polo Tournament in the USA is the US Open Polo Championship held in Wellington, Florida in April where the top players in the world compete.

" Argentina has been the uninterrupted world champion since 1949 and is today the source of most of the world's 10 goal (i.e., top-rated) players.

Related sports

" Buzkashi involves two teams of horsemen, a dead goat and few rules. It is the national game of Afghanistan and a possible precursor of polo.

" Horseball is a game played on horseback where a ball is handled and points are scored by shooting it through a high net. The sport is a combination of polo, rugby, and basketball.

" Kokpar is a Kazakh game similar to Buzkashi.

" Polocrosse is another game played on horseback, a cross between polo and lacrosse .

" Pato was played in Argentina for centuries, and may be the reason Argentines excel at polo.

Polo variants

Polo is not played exclusively on horseback. Such polo variants are mostly played for recreational or touristic purposes; they include canoe polo , cycle polo , camel polo, elephant polo, Segway polo and yak polo .

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