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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Beach Polo Cup Dubai opens 'under the stars' for the first time this week

The games are to be held at night this year and have also moved from April to December to take advantage of the cooler months

Beach Polo Cup Dubai is taking place in December this year for the first time in its 13-year history. Beach Polo Cup Dubai
Beach Polo Cup Dubai is taking place in December this year for the first time in its 13-year history. Beach Polo Cup Dubai

For the first time since the Beach Polo Cup was launched in the UAE 13 years ago, the games will open under the stars on Thursday.

The two-day event, which runs from December 14 to 15, was moved to December to take advantage of the UAE’s cooler months, replacing its usual April fixture.

Four teams of international and local athletes and roughly 120 horses will take part in the tournament at a purpose-built venue in Skydive Dubai.

“This time we decided to start the polo at night when the sun goes down. We will have a full night polo event on Thursday for the first time ever with the red carpet opening at 8pm and the first game starting at 9pm. It will be polo under the stars of Dubai,” said Sam Katiela, who conceptualised beach polo in 2004 with the popular game now played in 38 cities.

“If we had not made the move from the first weekend of April to December, the dates would have been too close to Ramadan. We also took the decision due to weather conditions over the last two years, with temperature rising, as well as wind and rain in April.”

Mr Katiela came up with the concept of the game when he watched snow polo being played in St Moritz, Switzerland. He experienced some scepticism in Dubai, however, when he talked about his plan at first: “People laughed at the idea and it took some people to believe in us,” he said.

“We have two giant patrons, the Habtoor family and Ali al Bawadi’s family, who have supported us with horses and players. This has now become a vehicle to promote Dubai as an open and safe place for tourism and business. It also shows that Dubai hosts world-class events where people can have a good time.”

Some 48 truckloads of special sand is required to cover the polo field and three-and-a-half tonnes of equipment to build the arena, which takes three weeks to set up and about a week to dismantle.

“The area for regular polo is 10 times bigger [than the area for beach polo]. Beach polo is a very hard game because we are playing in an arena that is only 50 by 100 metres. Most people don’t know what polo is so they can start to discover it,” said Mr Katiela.

The smaller grounds puts the audience at a vantage point. “The viewer has great access to discover and enjoy the game because they are very close to the field,” he said.

48 truckloads of special sand is required to cover the purpose-built field at Skydive Dubai. Beach Polo Cup Dubai
48 truckloads of special sand is required to cover the purpose-built field at Skydive Dubai. Beach Polo Cup Dubai

Other differences include that, instead of the hard ball used in field polo, an inflatable, red, specially-modified ball is used for beach and snow polo that is safer for the players.

“To succeed in [beach polo] matches, it depends 50 per cent on the player and 50 per cent on the horse, so it’s an equal division. But in normal polo, it depends 70 to 80 per cent on the horse because you need a fast horse to cover a longer space. It is more attractive for the players to be part of a smaller field because it allows them to show off more of their skills. The game here has a very different character,” Mr Katiela said.

The game’s founder also said that safety was a key focus for the contest’s organisers. “Polo is a dangerous game because you can fall of a horse or you can get hit,” he said. “Our biggest hope is that none of the horses or players get injured. We want players to be safe if they fall and we want to secure the horses as well. We have had some accidents with falls from horses but there have been no serious injuries."

The game is held under the patronage of the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.

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