The Islamabad Club Polo Ground is changing the culture and sports landscape of Islamabad. Inaugurated in March 2014, it is already drawing large audiences to its matches, reaching beyond the exclusive group of polo aficionados. The helmsman and Secretary of the Islamabad Club for the last sixteen years, Mr Arif Mahmud Khan, discussed the genesis of the Islamabad Club Polo Ground with Youlin. It was conceived in the mid-1990s, but the work on it did not start till 2011. The concept was ambitious and radical: to create a facility of an international standard, and in order to widen the base from which polo players are drawn, it would house a pre-eminent training academy for young polo players.
Battro Polo Fields of Argentina, considered the top international consultants for developing polo clubs was hired, and under their watchful eye the Club is emerging as the best in the region. They designed the Club and helped prepare the ground, giving advice on the kind of sand to use, how to slope it and the drainage system, all done scientifically after carrying out laboratory tests. They have also given a detailed manual for the maintenance of the polo fields, and the Islamabad Club authorities refer to Battro whenever they run into a problem.
Watering the polo fields
The Polo Club is eco friendly and has made innovative use of indigenous manufacturing. Technical expertise has been provided by Dr Pervez Ahsan, a water management expert who has developed a system of rainwater harvesting, that supplies 70,000 gallons of water required for the polo fields every day. The Secretary emphasizes that no fresh water is used either in the polo fields or in the three main grounds of the Club. Since the machines required for the maintenance of the polo fields were too expensive to import, they were ordered from Pakistani companies that make agricultural implements but according to the specifications and designs supplied by Battro: the sand spreader machine, which shortened the time for spreading sand on the polo field from 30 to 2 days, and with one tenth of the manpower; the vertidrain machine, one of its kind in Pakistan, has spikes sixteen inches long that are inserted into the ground to vibrate. The grass responds by extending its roots deeper into the soil, making it strong enough to withstand the pounding from polo ponies. The Secretary reflects that while the visiting teams were impressed by the polo field, but disappointed by our support services. With advice from Marcus Hancock, effort is being made to improve grooming, saddlery, horseshoeing and other such.
Arena Polo although played in other countries, and popular in Britain, has been introduced for the first time into Pakistan by the Islamabad Club Polo Ground. The concept behind Arena Polo is to facilitate polo in the offseason, so that the game can be played all-year round. It is played in an enclosed area smaller than the polo field, with teams of three players each instead of the normal four; the ground is of sand instead of grass, and the ball softer. Floodlit Arena Polo was played in the new facility last summer, built adjacent to the polo ground.
The Polo Arena
However, it is the Academy, the nursery for young players, which augurs well for the future of polo in Pakistan. With the import of an English coach, Marcus Hancock, and the imparting of lessons for almost six months of the year, the popularity of polo amongst the young is catching on. 53 students are enrolled in the Academy currently, and Mr Arif Mahmud Khan hopes that in due course we will be able to produce five to six teams from Islamabad alone. Arrangements have been made for some of those under training to spend summers in England to get further coaching and play more competitive polo. It will not be a one-way traffic, for junior players from England will be invited to come and play in Islamabad during the winter months.
Col (retd) Raja Nadeem Shafiq who has represented Pakistan in the World Cup, has been involved with the development of the Polo Club and organizes matches, is at hand to elaborate on the Polo Club’s future plans. He envisions the Polo Club as a place that families would spend afternoons, as it would have facilities like a jogging and walking track, a tack shop with a big brand franchise, and a café. He was accompanied by Roderick, the editor of The Hurlingham, who was part of the HPA team in town to play against the Islamabad Blacks; a team from France is expected early next year, while exhibition matches are planned for every weekend.
HPA vs Islmabad Blacks Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) team
When I ask the Secretary as to how this state of the art facility has been financed, he responds that the Club has done it. I compliment his management and vision, but self-effacingly he says it’s a team effort, and names the rest of the dedicated Committee members, Cristina Afridi, Col (Retd) Raja Nadeem, Col Sher Khan, Dr Pervez Ahsan and the successive Administrators. I can’t escape the nagging thought, that if the national leadership could have the same level of commitment and integrity, Pakistan would become a source of pride and a model of governance like the Islamabad Club Polo Ground.
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