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Polo pushes ahead to return this week

Polo is set to return behind closed doors this week as the governing body moves forward with plans to get the sport back “in some shape or form”.

The Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) announced that the Prince of Wales Tournament will start on Friday (12 June) at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club and run as a “training tournament” at high-goal level. Seven teams will take part in the tournament, with one match scheduled per day, until the tournament ends on 21 June. All tack will be cleaned thoroughly between matches.

HPA chairman Nick Wiles told H&H the tournament is operating within government guidelines, and said the association has been in contact with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

“The sport throughout this crisis has sought to operate absolutely within the guidelines,” said Mr Wiles. “As with every sport we are taking tentative steps to see how we can work within those guidelines to open up our sport.

“We’re taking a lower-key approach with some rule changes; there will be no lineups and contact will be kept to a minimum. There will be two teams of four players on the ground at any one time, with a minimal number of grooms and a minimal number of other people. We’re talking about one manager, one or two drivers per team to get the horses there, and one or two grooms per player.”

Players and those attending will be met by a Covid marshall and have to undergo temperature checks – but not Covid-19 testing. They will be required to wear facemasks and sign a waiver to confirm they have had no Covid-19 symptoms in the past 14 days, and will exercise social distancing when getting on and off the horses.

“We have thought about Covid-19 testing; we haven’t said we won’t – but we’ve said not for now,” said Mr Wiles.

“When talking to the government it may be something they may feel we need to do, and if that’s the case then we’ve taken provisions such that we can.”

Mr Wiles confirmed players had arrived from Argentina last week to take part in the tournament – and added he considers the resumption of polo to come under the government’s guidance on elite sport.

“The players have arrived from Argentina to fulfil their obligations during the summer. They each arrived here with a health certificate to say they have been tested for Covid-19 and found to be negative, they have passports, playing visas and return tickets,” he said.

“We would certainly argue at the levels we’re talking about these are elite sportsmen deriving a living from competing in the sport. This is not grassroots amateur sport – these are people at the top of the sport making a living from it.”

Mr Wiles said it is important for the sport to resume.

“This isn’t really about the eight people on the field – it’s about supporting a whole community that is hugely reliant on the sport getting back in some shape or form; farriers, feed merchants, drivers and every other aspect of the support network that sits within our sport,” he said. “We have a huge obligation to them and it would be too easy for this to be seen as too difficult. It is the HPA’s obligation to do everything it can within the government guidelines to make this possible.

“We are clear that we are working hard to work within the government guidelines. If we need to change course at any point because the government feels we should, then of course we will absolutely take its guidance.”

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A spokesman for the DMCS told H&H discussions are taking place between the DCMS and the HPA.

“The guidance on sport is absolutely clear. For professional and elite sport events they need to draw up protocols that adhere to the government’s return to domestic competition guidance. For grassroots sport, groups of no more than six people from different households can exercise outside and they must be socially distanced at all times,” he said.

“All governing bodies must review and follow the guidance, consider whether they can meet its conditions and take full responsibility for participants’ health and safety. If not, they may face enforcement powers, including possible fines or people being directed to return to their home or accommodation by the police.”

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