By Sebastian Meresman
Buenos Aires, Oct 8 (EFE).- Tradition, spacious and elite playing fields, genetically superior horses and a profound passion for and dedication to equestrian sport are some of the keys to the success of Argentina’s unmatched polo success, the president of the Argentine Polo Association (AAP) and two of that sport’s biggest stars told Efe.
“It’s a combination of many things. It’s very natural to play … here. It’s easier and more accessible than in other places. We have a horse gene pool that’s very good,” AAP chief Delfin Uranga said at the Campo Argentina de Polo (Argentine Polo Ground), a facility in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo that is known as the cathedral of that sport.
“The horse has a huge impact … and having good horses makes you play better and at the same time allows you to play against the best. When the best play one another, everyone improves. What we need now is for the different professional players worldwide to come to play here, as is starting to happen, so polo at the global level gets better,” he added.
Argentina won gold the last two times polo was played at the Olympics – in 1924 and 1936 – and has been the dominant force in that sport ever since, winning a record five titles at the World Polo Championship since 1987 and finishing runner-up (to Brazil) on one occasion.
But those results do not truly reflect Argentina’s superiority, since the handicap system used to make the world championships more competitive essentially prevents any of its most highly rated players from participating.
But according to Uranga, the son of the founder and first president of the Federation of International Polo, Marcos Uranga, Argentina’s overwhelming dominance is not a good thing.
He therefore encourages players from England, the United States, Spain and Brazil to come to Argentina to further develop their knowledge and skills.
According to Gonzalo Pieres, one of just a handful of players with an outdoor handicap of 10 goals (the highest level possible), Argentina excels mainly due to greater dedication to the sport.
“When you start off as a kid, you have lots of dreams: winning the (prestigious Argentine Open Polo Championship in Palermo), getting to (a handicap of) 10 goals, having a nice career. I see us (the Argentine players) as more professional and more goal-oriented, more willing to sacrifice,” Pieres, a member of the Johor Ellerstina polo team, told Efe.
“Obviously having more grounds and more horses is part of it, but with regards to the other polo players I think the key is dedication,” he added.
Juan Martin Nero, another Argentine 10-handicap player who starred for the highly successful La Dolfina team and now plays for RS Murus Sanctus, says Argentina is unique in the polo world and is “far and away the country with the most and best players.”
Among other factors, he pointed to Argentines’ ability to play year-round due to favorable weather, a plentiful number of high-quality polo grounds and the ease and affordability of the sport – particularly in the nation’s interior – relative to other countries.
“If you’re from the interior and you have a friend who has a playing field with a horse, it’s not as expensive as if you were living in Europe, which is more expensive because there’s less space and that makes it more difficult,” Nero said. EFE