The Calcutta Polo Club wants to remain true to its roots as it celebrates its 150th anniversary.
If Kolkata got the game of cricket from the British, then it is from this city that the British borrowed the kingly sport of polo . The 150-year-old Calcutta Polo Club is the oldest polo club in the world and maintains its lineage of royal patrons at a time when other clubs are wooing corporate patronage.
“It is a patron-driven sport and the club is trying to look for patrons who are passionate about the sport,” says Keshaav Bangur, President of the Calcutta Polo Club. Instead of seeking support from corporations, the club is focusing on a subsidised scheme for horseriding. The club is targeting schoolchildren, who will be allowed to practice riding for two months at a nominal charge. If a child develops an interest in the sport then he or she will be encouraged to pursue it. The club maintains that the blind pursuit of corporate funding diminishes the charm of the royal sport.
The current club membership is about 200, with members from the business and royal families of Cooch Behar, Burdwan, Darbhanga and the illustrious Mullickbari of north Kolkata. Pat Williamson Polo Ground in Kolkata overlooks the Victoria Memorial and has seen stalwarts like Maharaja Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur and Maharaj Prem Singh. The legendary Gayatri Devi, the princess of Cooch Behar, fell in love with her future husband Sawai Man Singh at this very polo ground.
History has it that two British soldiers, Robert Stewart and Joe Shearer, witnessed a game called sagol kangjei played by locals on horses in Manipur. Captivated by this game, the soldiers introduced it to their peers in Kolkata and in 1862, the Calcutta Polo Club was founded with the subsequent creation of a new format.
The club stable for horses is near the second Hooghly Bridge. The Indian Army continues to support the club, allowing it to use the Pat Williamson Polo Ground, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command.
To commemorate its 150th anniversary, the Calcutta Polo Club, with the Indian Polo Association, is organising the Ezra World Cup, during December 18-25. “Four international teams from the USA, Italy, Brazil and Indonesia will be taking part in the tournament, along with the host team of the Indian Polo Association, and the Indian Army team,” says Bangur. With a budget of over Rs 3 crore, the tournament is expecting world-class polo players like Santiago Toccalino, Roberto Alvares and George Mueric to be in action. The Indian Polo Association is bringing 100 thoroughbred polo ponies to Kolkata. Members of former royal families from all over India are expected to attend the tournament to enjoy this chivalrous sport of kings.