“DON’T chat — just play on”. This is the thinking behind rule changes in polo to help reduce on-field backchat between players and umpires — and the early indications are that the changes are working.

In the first big tournament of the UK season, the Queen’s Cup at Guards (which finished on 12 June), the average number of penalties per match dropped and play flowed freely.

“Players are thinking, ‘We can’t work the umpires so we will concentrate on playing’,” said chief umpire Robert Graham.

A similar rule was introduced in Argentina last winter, but initially it was enforced so strictly that players were reprimanded for crying out in pain and were frustrated when they didn’t understand a call.

Mr Graham added: “If somebody is crunched and lets out an expletive, we tolerate it. And if an umpire thinks there might be confusion about a foul, he will explain it. On the whole, they are not chatting back.”

Eight-goaler Milo Fernandez Araujo said: “The game is better now nobody is arguing. But the umpires have to be strict or things will slip back.”

Umpires are also enforcing more strictly a rule on turning the ball to the right and left, which has led to more backhand passes and a swifter game.

Conversely, they have relaxed an interpretation of the “right of way” rule, allowing a player making a cut-shot to rejoin the line of the ball, as long as they do not check up or slow down while doing so.

The Queen’s Cup (see report in H&H 16 June) was widely viewed as the most exciting in several years, partly thanks to the effect of the new rules.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (23 June, 2011)