Polo and Pato
Although Argentine polo players continually travel all over the world to play, they rarely do so as a team. To see the best polo in the world played by Argentine teams, one has to go to Argentina, more particularly Buenos Aires where the top tournaments are played in October and November. Polo - Polo is played almost all year in Argentina, but the big tournaments are played in the spring. The main ones are the Hurlingham Open at the fashionable Hurlingham Club and then the Argentine Open on the picturesque polo fields in Palermo in the centre of town. Games, however, frequently have to be postponed due to rain and wet fields and it is quite usual that they are still being played in December. - Polo, although originally started in India, was brought to Argentina by Britons as were most other sports. There are references to it being played in the province of Santa Fe by British Farmers as early as 1875 and at the Hurlingham Club since 1888. The first Argentine Open Championship was won by Hurlingham in 1893. - The locals soon took up the game. Many Argentines, especially those living in the country, were practically born on a horse and as such, any game on horseback naturally attracted them. - By 1924, when polo was included in the Olympic Games for the first time, Argentina was represented by a team of home-born players, though some of them of English descent. The team of Arturo Kenny, Juan Nelson, Enrique Padilla and Juan B. Miles walked off with the medals. Reigning Champions: Argentina is the reigning Olympic champion. When polo was again included in the Games for the last time in 1936, they also won the title. Only once was an open world championship held - in Buenos Aires in 1949 - and Argentina won that also. - The United States is the only other country whose polo is somewhere near the standard of Argentina's. A trophy, the America Cup, is occasionally played between them and this is in Argentina's hands also. Today nobody disputes Argentina's superiority in the game, although they get few chances to show it. They just do not have any rivals. - The upkeep of horses (of which a regular player needs at least 20) and playing kit is quite expensive, so the game is basically for the rich and upper middle classes. It is, nevertheless, very popular in Argentina mainly because people know their players are the best in the world and because it is overexposed in the press. - Many leading Argentine players are also in the curious position of being amateurs at home and professionals abroad. - Nobody gets paid for playing in Argentina. In fact the players have to spend quite a bit of money to be able to play. When they go to play abroad, however, they usually do so at the invitation of some wealthy player or fan that pays them to play on his team. The players also take their own horses with them and invariably sell them abroad at a far better price than they would fetch on the home market. - Argentine polo horses are much sought after all over the world. The word may still be "polo ponies," but in actual fact, ponies have not been used for the game in Argentina for a very long time. Fully-grown horses are used for speed, stamina and strength. The game has become very fast and horses must be strong to withstand the pushing which takes place during a game. - A horse needs special training for polo and nobody can do this better than certain stable hands, known as "petiseros", at the "estancias" (ranches). The skill for this job tends to run in families and it is often said that teams depend a lot not only on the quality of their horses, but on their "petiseros". - Polo has a set of rules designed to eliminate danger as much as possible. In spite of the vigour with which the game is played, nasty accidents to horse and rider are quite rare. Following the game: Basically, teams of four players hit a wooden ball the size of an orange with a wooden mallet in order to shoot it into the opposing team's goal. This is formed by two posts at each end (in the middle) of the field. To avoid crashing into each other at top speed, the rules forbid a player from crossing the line of the ball (the direction in which the ball is going) and the horseman riding towards it. And when two players ride towards each other, both must give way to the left. - There are penalty shots at goal from different distances for a variety of infringements. The teams change ends after each goal and at the end of each period when a bell sounds. Other than that, play continues until a natural stoppage for a goal, an infringement or when the ball goes out of the field. - Each period is called a chukker and lasts seven minutes. Games are composed of six to eight chukkers, depending on who's playing whom. - There are over 6,000 registered polo players in Argentina today which means they have a handicap according to their standard and they play in tournaments. There are also tournaments for youngsters in various age groups from below 10 to 21. Women also play, and have their own annual tournament. - As mentioned earlier, it is a game for the wealthy. Many of them are landowners for whom rearing and keeping horses is not such an expense. There is an atmosphere of cordiality, friendship and sportsmanship among players probably not seen in any other sport. it stems mostly from long-standing friendships between the families involved. - To a large extent, the game runs in families with generation after generation playing it. Sons of leading polo players start to ride and hit a polo ball around almost before they can walk. By the time they are in their teens, they are good enough to rank among the top players in any country. - If you attend a polo match in Buenos Aires, you will rub elbows with relatives and friends of the players themselves. They are landed gentry for the most part, "beautiful people" who divide their time between the family estancia and elegant apartments in the city. Their dress code is casual elegance (sports coats, designer jeans, and crisp skirts) and they watch the matches with the reserved demanor of a crowd at a garden show. It is all a world removed from the boisterous and sometimes violent crowds of the soccer stadiums. It is a world of belonging, one most Argentines have heard about but few have actually experienced, a world where one mingles between matches with players in dusty breeches while eating finger sandwiches under the grandstand. Pato - A cross between polo and basket-ball, pato is an authentic Argentine sport probably played by the Indians before white settlers set foot in South America, and certainly by the gauchos as far back as the 16th century. It has a colourful history, starting with its name which is Spanish for duck. The duck certainly got the worst of it during the formative period of pato. - A leather basket with handles and a duck inside it was placed midway between two estancias (ranches) or Indian encampments. Two teams of horsemen, either workers from the ranches or Indian tribes, lined up at their respective homes. At a given signal, both teams raced across the countryside towards the duck. The object was to grab it and carry it home. There was no limit to the number of participants. - The game was thus a trial of strength and horsemanship between horsemen wildly tugging at the basket's handles. As one would be pulled off his horse (with the likely fate of being trampled to death) and another would let go to avoid falling, a third would manage to get away with the duck's basket and ride at full speed for home. The rest would race after him in hot pursuit. - There were no holds barred, from lassoing an opponent to cutting his saddle free. The only unbreakable rule was that the man in possession of the "pato" had to ride holding it in his outstretched right hand, offering it to an opponent to grab if he was caught up. This would invariably produce another tug-of-war. The winning team was the one which managed to get the duck's basket back to their own farm or village. - The game was played after a feast which would include the inevitable barbecue and which would ensure that most of the participants were the worse off for drink. It was followed by a dance at the winner's farm or village for those still able to stand. Excommunication for pato players: - In fact, "games" so often ended in fights and disorders that the Catholic Church tried to ban them in 1796 under the threat of excommunication for anyone who took part. The Church was not very successful, but the government was when it banned pato by law in 1822. The punishment was one month's hard labor and the penalty was doubled for subsequent offences. - As a result, fewer games were played, but the sport, if one can call it that continued to flourish in the more remote areas. The passage of time did what government and church were unable to do. As people became more civilized, they turned to less dangerous sports and pato virtually died out. - It was left to Alberto del Castillo Posse, a great champion of Argentine tradition, to revive the game in 1937 by first drawing up proper rules. Then he arranged exhibition games and a year later, the Argentine Pato Federation was formed. - Today pato is played by teams of four horsemen. The duck's basket has been replaced by a leather ball the size of a soccer ball with six handles. The playing area is approximately 650 feet by 300 feet (200 meters long and 90 meters wide). At each end is a basket, with the opening facing the field, about 10 feet (three meters) from the ground. The ball must be thrown into the basket to score a "goal". Games are played in six periods of eight minutes each. - One of the few links with the past is that players wear gaucho costumes. Unlike the past though, players now wear protective head gear. Players must still ride with the ball in their outstretched hand. They punch or throw the ball to each other in team work. When it falls to the ground, they must pick it at full speed. It provides a spectacle of outstanding horsemanship. - The game is still played mostly in the provinces but major tournaments, such as the annual Argentine Open, are played either at Campo de Mayo, a military base in the western suburb of Hurlingham, or at the Palermo polo fields.
Tags: Polo , Pato , Argentina , Latin America
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