You've heard of polo played on horses and in water. You've also probably seen pictures of people atop elephants bending low with polo mallets in their hands. Now, how about a game of polo on your bicycle?
If this is the first time you've heard about this sport, you're not alone. Anil Uchil (40) and Firoza Suresh (39), members of a popular networking website for cyclists called www.cyclists.in with more than 3,600 members, haven't heard about the game either. "If someone was doing this in our online cycling community, we'd have known," said Uchil.
Army officers and Maharajas during the British era played the game as a way of staying fit during the off-season of horse Polo, informs Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod, 58, president of the Cycle Polo Federation of India. "Our association was registered in 1966 and we began holding state and nationallevel cycle polo championships," said Dundlod, who was part of the Indian team that won a gold in the first World Cycle Polo Championship held in 1996 in Richmond, USA.
However, he added, a lack of funding and proper infrastructure has prevented the team from playing in any World Championship since 2007.
Polo on wheels
The game, Suresh and Uchil agree, sounds rather interesting. Cycle polo follows the same rules as horse polo: there are four players in each team and the aim is to get the ball through the opposing team's goal post. However, unlike the 54" or 52"-long mallets, the ones used in cycle polo are shorter. Anything between 32" to 36" goes. The ball too is not the same.
"Initially cycle polo players used a horse polo ball, but that was dangerous. Now, we use a special ball manufactured by Cosco, which is slightly bigger than a tennis ball and is orange in colour," said Dundlod.
It's not easy, given that the player has to balance both the cycle and the mallet, and avoid crashing into the other cyclists around him. But that's what excites Uchil about this game. "It sounds extreme. Nice!"
Nagpur-resident Milind Patle, 35, who was part of the winning team in the 2001 World Championship, said, "The most difficult thing about this game is making back shots and ones to the right, while riding the cycle." "But we play so fast that the ball is less on the ground, and more in the air," added Patle, who was part of the national team for three consecutive years.
Before becoming an umpire for national and international cycle polo games, 19- year-old Hajira Begum, was par of the Chhattisgarh senior women's team. The Hyderabad-resident began learning the sport in school under the PV Krishna, also a member of the Federation. "The most important thing about this game is getting your balance right. There should be a good understanding between members of the team," she said.
Juhu-resident Suresh, herself an athlete, is curious about where to play the sport. "Very few parks in the city allow cycles," she said. Uchil agrees. "The game needs good infrastructure. It's dangerous to play something like this on the street."
Want to paly the game?
The Cycle Polo Federation of India (www.cyclepolo.com) has a list of rules.
In Mumbai, the Mumbai Upanagar Cycle Polo Association holds classes for students of Chembur High School. Sharad Vavre, who is the secretary of the association coaches them. Call him at 9820112724. The Thane Zilla Cycle Polo Association secretary is Vilas Wagh. Reach him on 9869584099. In Delhi, head to the Army Polo and Riding Club in Manekshaw Marg, Delhi Cantt. (011- 25699444; armypoloclub@ gmail.com) You want to pick up the game yourself? Call Jaipur-resident Ashok Sharma, who makes mallets on 9351451756. A stick costs Rs 300 to 350 and shipping charges are extra. If you can't find the special Cosco polo ball use a tennis ball.