Africa polo open elite living africaAfrica’s grandest polo tournament, the Africa Polo Open, is a prestigious continental event. It is the only continental tournament in Africa that pits the South African national polo team annually against another African country writes Masedi Molosiwa 

In 2017, an 11-goal South African team took on the Kenyan polo national team on a perfect day of African sunshine and blue skies at the scenic Rosefield Polo Club in Johannesburg. The expansive polo field overlooks the picturesque Magalies mountain, the oldest mountains in the world, almost 100 times older than Mount Everest in the background. The day attracted fans of polo to those yearning to learn more about the sport of kings. Thirty-one ponies were at hand to provide an evenly matched duel between the economic giants of the south and east Africa. It was a close match – the lead changed hands several times and both teams squandered chances to seal the game. 

So tight a match it was that it was left to an extra time sudden goal from South Africa to clinch victory. The final score was 7-6 to South Africa. The Most Valuable Player award went to Tiva Gross who had a sterling game, while the Best Playing Pony award was won by Davey Evens’  steed Cartoon, played by Jamie Murray.

This year, the tournament will take place at the pristine Rosefield Polo Club, Johannesburg, and attract polo fans, seasoned aficionados, business people and newcomers looking to experience the sport of kings in a discerning African setting. The match will be history in the making as Africa’s giants are decided at the 12-handicap polo match on 23 September 2018. For the first time, South Africa will duel continental rivals Nigeria. The teams will be announced on 8 September. 

The ladies’ match will feature Neku Atawodi-Edun, a Nigerian professional polo player who stars in this year’s Africa Polo Open advertising campaign.

Neku was raised in a traditional family in Nigeria’s north, with a history of polo and horse-riding. She was a teenager when she started riding and dreaming of playing polo. Neku started her polo career at age 21 and has travelled worldwide with the sport. She was the country’s only female player, becoming the face of Nigerian polo. She studied equestrian sport science in the United Kingdom.

Polo is played in Gambia, Egypt, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Malawi, Benin, Botswana, Nigeria, Lesotho, Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania Kenya, Sudan and Morocco. The players – four per team – get three-minute breaks between chukkas and a 15-minute half-time, typically using two ponies each in a game. The objective is to put the ball between the goal posts using a mallet, which can only be used on the right side of the horse. Players have a handicap to indicate ability, ranging from minus two up to 10. Both teams’ sum handicaps are weighed up against each other, and the team with the lower handicap is given a few goals which are calculated according to the number of chukkas played.