x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Polo match takes aim at raising awareness of breast cancer

The Life: A charity polo match aimed to raise awareness of breast cancer, one of the biggest killers in the UAE.

A polo match between ADCB and St Regis during the Pink Polo for breast cancer awareness at Ghantoot Racing & Polo Club in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
A polo match between ADCB and St Regis during the Pink Polo for breast cancer awareness at Ghantoot Racing & Polo Club in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

Horses panted, mallets were swung high into the air and all eyes were fixed on a little white ball.

More than 3,000 people had turned out to watch the polo match between the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and St Regis teams. But this was no ordinary polo match, it was the annual Pink Polo match to raise awareness of breast cancer.

An array of pink, salmon and fuchsia adorned the Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club for the match that took place on Sunday, but it was not a typical breast cancer awareness campaign, it was an altogether more masculine event to attract men and sports fans to raise awareness of one of the biggest killers in the UAE.

"The situation [breast cancer awareness] was a lot worse than it is today so I wanted to create something that was different," says Carrie McNeill, who founded Pink Polo three years ago. "It has been a tool to invite men to raise awareness. Many did not know that men could also get breast cancer."

The match took place this month, deliberately, to prolong the breast cancer awareness campaign, which usually takes place throughout the month of October alongside the Global Initiative for Breast Cancer Awareness.

"Polo is a fascinating sport, it has a very wealthy community of owners," says Paul James, a global brand leader at St Regis and The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, one of the sponsors of Pink Polo. "It's an expensive sport to participate in and like all high net-worth individuals, they have a charity element.

"So that's always a starting point. It connects to a very wide audience, both from equine sports fans and there is a wonderfully elegant and glamorous side to the audience that comes to polo. A very feminine environment and an audience that can be great philanthropists when they come together."

Breast cancer awareness in the UAE has developed to involve a wider audience, including corporations, private charities and government bodies. According to Ms McNeill, many of the campaigns focused on women. At the same time, she says, "It is important to get support from the men. Three years ago you wouldn't have seen a local guy wearing a pink ribbon. [At this year's match] we had two young sheikhs attend".

Mr James was happy to see the word being spread.

"Breast cancer is one of those major killers," he says. "When you work as an organisation, it is important to support charities that make a difference and are fundamental to people's well-being. From a female and also a male perspective, breast cancer is one of those areas globally, that still needs to raise awareness."

Campaigns such as the Pink Caravan, which offers free screenings across the country with a mobile screening unit escorted by riders on horses with pink bridles, have helped to reduce the number of cases presenting late stages of breast cancer over the past three years, from about 60 per cent to 30 per cent of all detected cases.

"Knowledge of breast cancer in the UAE has been advanced through the past four to five years of campaigns," says Kawthar bin Sulayem, a breast cancer ambassador for Pink Polo. "The Government has been doing a lot of national campaigns in the UAE and we have seen an increasing number of detecting breast cancer in the early stages."

According to a study conducted by the Centre for Arab Genomic Studies in Dubai, women in the UAE tend to develop breast cancer at least a decade earlier than their counterparts in the West. Cancer is the third-leading cause of death in the UAE, with breast cancer the most common malignancy among females according to the study, which is based on national statistics on cancers dating back to 1981.

thamid@thenational.ae