Legend of the sport Eduardo Novillo Astrada says nation that “God created for polo” will be perfect host for the first edition of the Youth Olympic Games in Latin America.
“It will be a great honour to show the sport the way it is played in Argentina, in an amazing stadium in Buenos Aires”.
Polo’s inclusion as a showcase sport at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games is an opportunity to show the world it is not just a pursuit for the super-rich, according to Argentinian star Eduardo Novillo Astrada.
Polo is wildly popular in Argentina but there, as with the rest of the world, it is often seen as a sport played by the privileged few rather than the common man and woman.
“We want to try to bring polo a little bit more to all the people and change the perception it is an elitist sport and only for a few,” said Novillo Astrada, one of the finest players of his generation and now president of the Argentina Polo Association.
“We want to show polo is a sport people can practise without being super-rich or having a lot of horses, that they can just go and rent horses for the weekend, have a lesson and a nice day with their family.”
Polo at the Buenos Aires YOG will take place at the famous Campo Argentino de Polo, known as the cathedral of polo, in the fashionable Palermo neighbourhood. While the format is still to be finalised, it will feature competitors aged 15 to 18 from all over the world playing chukkers (periods of a polo match) in a non-competition context.
Argentina’s first Olympic gold medal came in polo, at Paris 1924, and the nation also won the title in the sport’s fifth and last appearance in the Games, at Berlin 1936.
Novillo Astrada, who won polo’s prestigious triple crown of Tortugas Open, Hurlingham Open and Argentine Open, believes his country is the perfect place for the sport to return to the Olympic scene.
“It will be a great honour to show the sport the way it is played in Argentina, in an amazing stadium in Buenos Aires,” he said.
“It is the only thing we are the best in the world at, without doubt. Polo in Argentina is maybe like rugby in New Zealand, when people think about polo they think about Argentina.”
So why did polo take such a strong foothold in Argentina after being introduced by British immigrants towards the end of the 19th century? Novillo Astrada points to the climate, the vast plains known as Las Pampas and the cherished tradition of los gauchos, the Argentinian cowboys.
“Geographically Argentina has the right weather all year round to play polo – that doesn’t happen in most countries – and it is a very flat country and horses are a big part of Argentinian life and our history. Every weekend in one part of the country you have an event with horses.
“And the combination of gaucho riding, which is a little more crazy, with English riding means the Argentine has the perfect combination to be good at polo. It’s like God created Argentina for polo.”
Despite an unsuccessful bid to be reinstated for the Tokyo 2020 Games, the sport’s world governing body – the Federation of International Polo – is still intent on a return to the full Olympic programme. Novillo Astrada knows Buenos Aires 2018 presents an opportunity to further this cause.
“It could be one of the most important things in our sport in the last 100 years because we have not been involved in the Olympics for more than 80 years, so to come back to the international world of sport is very important,” he said.
“I would love that (a full Olympic return) but at the moment we have to be very cautious because that is a decision the International Olympic Committee will evaluate at the right moment.
“But this is a great little window that is open and we need to get the best out of it. It’s something very good for our sport and our country. We are going to work hard to be in international sports events and if at some point we get to be there (the Olympic Games) that would be great.”