x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Nasser al Dhari is in at the deep end in discovery of Polo

Under the guidance of Sheikh Falah, Nasser al Dhari has learned all about the game, and has put his knowledge to good use.

Nasser al Dhari, second right, in action at Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club.
Nasser al Dhari, second right, in action at Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club.

Nasser al Dhari always loved horses. He owns one himself and is intrigued by them. But he had never heard about a sport that went by the name of "polo".

That was in 1997, when al Dhari was a strapping lad of 23. A meeting with Sheikh Falah bin Zayed, however, changed all that.

Ignorance of polo turned into a fascination after Sheikh Falah, the patron of Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club, saw a potential player in the tall young man.

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"When I met Sheikh Falah bin Zayed for the first time, he said, 'You are tall and have a good body, what do you think about playing polo?'" al Dhari said.

"I did not know anything about polo before. Nothing. So I said, 'What is polo?' He told me about it and said, 'If you would like to play, we will send you to learn polo.'"

Al Dhari said he was interested in the game, and a few weeks later he landed in London at Ham Polo Club, one of the premier polo clubs. When he returned home, after two months, he was well-versed in the nuances of the sport and knew much more about horses.

"Before that, I loved swimming and going to the gym," he said. "I had a horse in the house and I loved horses. I felt very close to horses.

"Sheikh Falah sent me to England and I started learning about polo there. I found a good teacher there; his name was Tim Healy. He taught me from zero because I did not know about polo and horses. He taught how I have to know about my horse.

"In this sport, it is very important to know about your horse. If you don't know, it is a problem. If your horse is lame and you continue playing, you will aggravate her injury.

"If you know your horse, you will know when she is lame and you will stop immediately. The horse will then return in a week or two to polo.

"But if you continue playing when she is lame, when you don't know anything about the horse, she will stop for six or seven months.

"So after the two months in London, I learnt everything about the horse."

To hone his skills further, al Dhari travelled to Argentina, where the sport is very popular. The South America country boasts some of the best professionals in the sport.

"I played a few small tournaments in Argentina and I saw that the difference between polo here in the UAE and in Argentina is not that much," he said.

"There is a little bit of difference because the players from Argentina are the best in the world.

"If you are not a good player, you cannot touch the ball there. You have to work a lot to touch the ball. In Argentina the game is fast, not like here."

Al Dhari will be playing alongside an Argentine, Hugo Alberto Barabucci, in the coming days, hoping to capture the championship at the President of the UAE Cup, which starts today with four teams battling for a place in the final on April 1.

Al Dhari and Barabucci will be flying the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank flag at the prestigious season-closing tournament, and they will be testing their skills against the teams representing Ghantoot, Al Basti and Tom Ford.

"It is going to be a good tournament," al Dhari said.

"The President's Cup is an important tournament. All the teams have good players, with professionals from Argentina. Any team that does not play good will go out.

"We have a very good chance. I will play alongside [Barabucci], the best professional in the club. I hope to play good and help him, and win the title."

Al Dhari was on the winning team in his last tournament, scoring a goal for Al Basti as they narrowly defeated Ghantoot to win the Golden Cup in January.

The Emirati has plenty of other trophies at home, too, but his most cherished is the 1999 triumph at St Moritz in Switzerland, which he won playing in the snow.

"Winning in St Moritz is of course my best moment," he said. "I played in this tournament for the first time in my life and we won the cup. We sent the horses to Italy two weeks before the tournament because the weather is very different.

"It is too cold and the temperature was about-18°C. We played one leg in Italy, in the snow, and after that we went to Switzerland.

"You have to be careful in the snow. They put special shoes on the horse and sometimes the horses slip."

Al Dhari is pleased to see the growth of polo in the country in the years since he stumbled upon the sport.

"When we first started polo here in the UAE, the people did not know anything about polo," he said.

"They did not know the rules or anything. But now the people like polo because they know the rules, they see polo on TV.

"So I believe more people like polo now."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae