By Thomas Shambler
This weekend sees the Beach Polo Cup return to Dubai. Here, founder Sam Katiela, describes the game's progression, the 'more fun' format and why Dubai is its home…
Did you ever expect the concept of beach polo to become popular in so many cities?
We had our suspicions that beach polo was a novel and transferrable sporting concept but it was a great surprise when the sport took after internationally after launching in Dubai in 2004. The sport quickly spread to Miami in 2005 and twelve years later, the sport is now played in 33 cities across the world. If I had known the sport would have been so well-received and would grow so quickly I would have held onto the sport’s commercial rights!
Why do you think it's done so well?
I think beach polo resonates so well internationally because it is so far removed from the traditional, elitist image of polo and it focuses on a younger, more sociable crowd – it’s a sport for everyone.
Does that idea extend to the players as well? Is it a sport played by everyone?
The 12 players this year include a mix of professional polo player and patrons from as far as the USA, Brazil, UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and of course, Argentina where polo is hugely popular. Some of the players are based in the UAE but travel the world for the polo season. The facilities and the weather in the UAE make it a great place for polo players to train – plus the regions’ love of horses is an added bonus.
Where does Dubai rank against the traditional polo capitals in the UK and Argentina?
The UAE is known for horses: endurance racing, Dubai World Cup, show jumping in Abu Dhabi, the horse beauty competition in Ajman. This country is fanatical about horses, which is beautiful and it reflects the culture. This has made it a welcoming country for polo, and has mas put the UAE on the map for polo.
What makes beach polo different from traditional polo?
Beach polo is played on a smaller field than regular polo – the polo arena is 100 x 50 meters – which gives the spectators a more personal experience as they can see, hear and even smell the action of the horse and the player. The smaller field helps people become more connected to the game.
Does it attract the same audience?
I think that while the Beach Polo Cup Dubai maintains the prestige of the sport, we’ve striped away the old, privileged perception of polo to appeals to a younger and social crowd. All fans get to watch the polo players in a luxurious structure that we have built especially for the tournament at Skydive Dubai. We build the entire arena from scratch using nearly 5,0000 tonnes of equipment and materials.
Who are you expecting to show up this year?
There will be thousands of polo fans, celebrities and sporting enthusiasts from the region and internationally watching the matches and enjoying the atmosphere. Even royalty. The 2016 edition of the Beach Polo Cup Dubai will be held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman, Dubai Sports Council.
Is it hard to put on an event this size year on year?
It is a challenge, especially when companies in almost every industrial sector are trying to lower their budgets. The flip side is that when there is a cautious business environment, companies look for something different. They look for unconventional opportunities. People start to be innovative and more creative in how they spend. We speak their language.
Those challenges must get bigger when you talk about growing the sport internationally, no?
Other tournaments are not as established as the Dubai event and do not have the level of support that we enjoy here – yet. Marbella in Spain is interested in hosting a Beach Polo Cup as is China and Nigeria. We are welcoming a Nigerian delegation to the Dubai tournament at the weekend.
Why do you think Dubai is the home to beach polo?
I think an international audience enjoys the Beach Polo Cup, which Dubai certainly has. Ultimately, polo is still a sport that is played primarily by high-net-worth individuals; it’s an expensive sport to compete in. These high-net-worth individuals are attracted to Dubai and they spend when they are here. I believe the Beach Polo Cup Dubai generates strong economic impact for the city as a whole and the event also helps portray Dubai and the wider UAE as a sporting hub and a luxury event destination, which is why we are fortunate to have the continuing support of the Dubai government.
The Dubai Beach Polo Cup is held at Skydive Dubai on April 1st and 2nd 2016. Standard tickets are priced at AED 95. For more information, head to beachpolo.net