Chit Chat on the Nile: Police polo
BY HEBA ELKAYAL
Polo is apparently not only a clothes brand; it’s a sport often played by handsome, debonair Argentinean and English men and, as I discovered last month, by some Egyptian policemen.
Polo is known as the game of elites because of how costly it is: a groomsman is needed to care for the horses, the polo field needs constant tending to, and the price of buying and keeping horses can be exorbitant. Yet, for some reason inexplicable to me, the Egyptian police force has a team. Their horses have shiny brown coats, strong long legs and an expression of utter resignation.
I watched the last match of the local season, where the Gezira Club team beat the Police team. It was hosted on the estate of Farouk Younes, an elderly gentleman who volunteers his field in Saqqara for the love of the game. Gezira Club’s polo field had been parceled out by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to the Gezira Youth Club in the late 1950s and so the space was no longer available.
With the Abu Sir pyramids serving as an incredible backdrop, I couldn’t help but wonder, had Younes’ generosity and dedication to the sport not intervened, once a player himself, polo may no longer be played in Egypt.
The rules seem quite simple: Get on a horse, hold a mallet similar to a croquet mallet and make sure you don’t fall off your horse as you swing away at a small white ball into your opponent’s goal posts. You will gallop erratically from one side of the field to the other. Your teammates and opponents will also be holding mallets, riding horses that seem a little put off by the heat and the grunts of team members and you will all run in a tight pack on a very large field as your audience squints to follow the ball’s course.
I was part of a small audience composed of polo players’ wives, family members and a smattering of nannies there to take care of some young children. Clearly, they’ve watched many games and supported their favorites. One nanny was encouraging an American Gezira Club member, yelling “Swing Marshall, swing!” while her young charge took an interest in pulling out some long weeds from underneath our seats.
One wife was particularly supportive, watching the game intensely as she fanned herself from the flying gnats that appeared as the sun was setting. Perfectly coiffed with a scarf knotted around her neck, her all blue-ensemble of slacks and silk blouse seemed a little too chic and affected for such a hot afternoon. Other wives were in jeans and shirts, looking somewhat bored. The Egyptian Police team had a heavy-set coach who was also intensely watching the game from behind a large black mustache, yelling at his own players.
One polo wife whose husband was umpiring the game explained to me that a game of polo can be quite poetic. The scene of large beautiful horses adeptly controlled by a rider with one hand as his other hand swings the mallet came across to me a dramatic statement of 19th century sportsmanship. At any minute I expected a Mr. Darcy to pop out onto the field. She told me the Argentineans possess the skill of never missing a ball when they swing, and games played for cup tournaments are a sight to behold.
Which brings me back to our game. The Police team was struggling on the field to keep up with the more skilled and graceful Gezira players. Horses careened, mallets were swinging every which way and some players were injured after being knocked around roughly while on horseback. I was assured this was all part of the game. The Gezira Club beat the Egyptian Police team 4-1.
Seeing that the Egyptian Police team was mediocre at best, I wondered why an unknown (possibly huge) amount of money is being spent on horses, groomsmen, coaches and uniforms for a few policemen whose efforts would be more helpful on the streets of Egypt?
Watching the game reminded me of how much I enjoy watching the Olympics. We have a few weeks to go before the Olympic games start with a few athletes representing Egypt. The National Sports Federation financially supports Egyptian athletes when it comes to training, equipment, uniforms and traveling to compete abroad — budget permitting, of course.
At the London Olympics, Omar Nour will partake in the triathlon event, Hussein Hafeez in judo, Hadia El Said in badminton, Amr Ezzeldin in fencing, Mazen Aziz in long-distance swimming, Mustafa Weeza in kayaking, Ramadan Darwish in judo and the Egyptian synchronized swimming team (one of eight national teams to qualify) will be competing. In a country of 80 million people, I’m surprised the number of athletes going to London isn’t bigger.
Maybe if more money and bigger budgets were allocated to teams and young athletes who play a sport that represents not just themselves, but our country, other young athletes will be inspired, uniting our divided nation.
Instead, Egypt has a team of clumsy polo players who moonlight as policemen.
Heba Elkayal is a Cairo-based lifestyle and culture writer.
Note: This article was updated to replace the initial reference to the Dahshour Pyramids with the Abu Sir Pyramids. We regret the error.