No hors­ing around

The so­cial scene at an elite La­gos polo club is as much of a show as the game on the pitch.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

ELITE, stylish and ex­trav­a­gant, the so­cial scene at the an­nual La­gos polo tour­na­ment is as much of a show as the game on the pitch.

Big name politi­cians and busi­ness­men hob­nob with tribal kings and queens, while im­ported pro­fes­sional play­ers from Ar­gentina, Syria and South Africa up the stakes on the field.

The La­gos Polo Club, a green gem in the heart of Ikoyi, one of the up­scale neigh­bour­hoods of Nige­ria's com­mer­cial hub La­gos, has long been a wa­ter­ing hole for the coun­try's elite.

When the La­gos Bon­hams face the Kano Akasma un­der the blaz­ing sun, a small crowd of young women wear­ing or­nate fas­ci­na­tors watch from the edge of the lawn, sip­ping from flutes of lux­ury cham­pagne, one of the spon­sors of the event.

The tour­na­ment is “go­ing to be the best tour­na­ment ever,” said Ayo Olashoju, cap­tain of the La­gos Polo Club.

The field has been fully ren­o­vated, ex­plained Olashoju, while the for­eign pro­fes­sion­als, dubbed “hired as­sas­sins”, have been con­tracted by lo­cal teams for ex­tra strength.

“This is my ninth year in Nige­ria,” said San­ti­ago “Chino” Estrada, a fa­mous Ar­gen­tinian pro­fes­sional player. “It's im­prov­ing ev­ery year.”

La­gos is “be­com­ing a re­ally nice club to come and play” even if the hot and hu­mid cli­mate is not ideal for horses, he said, pulling his leather rid­ing boots over his white pants be­fore head­ing out to play.

Bri­tish colonis­ers brought the sport to Nige­ria at the turn of the 20th cen­tury, later con­vert­ing a mil­i­tary airstrip into the polo club, ac­cord­ing to La­gos Polo Club pres­i­dent Ade Laoye.

Far from be­com­ing a colo­nial relic, over the years the polo club has grown to be­come the favoured meet­ing place of the most in­flu­en­tial politi­cians and busi­ness­man.

Do­dan bar­racks, head­quar­ters of the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor who as­sumed power in 1966, are con­ve­niently lo­cated next door.

Many heads of state played there, in­clud­ing avid polo player Gen­eral Yakubu Gowon, who ruled for a decade un­til 1975.

To­day the club has 240 mem­bers – a who's who of Nige­rian so­ci­ety.

Those spot­ted in the crowd in­cluded the son of Bola Tin­ubu, for­mer gov­er­nor of La­gos and one of the most pow­er­ful politi­cians in the coun­try, mem­bers of the Dan­tata fam­ily dy­nasty from the north, and rel­a­tives of the rich­est man in Africa, Aliko Dan­gote.

They will take in the polo over two weeks of com­pe­ti­tion, in­ter­spersed with fash­ion shows, art ex­hi­bi­tions and, of course, hat con­tests.

Busi­ness­man Mur­tala Dankaka, cap­tain of Kano Akasma, Nige­ria's largest city in the north, only started play­ing polo three years ago, though he has been rid­ing horses since child­hood.

“There are about 15 teams from Kano. We have a club and there are pri­vate polo farms as well,” said Dankaka.

Horses fea­ture promi­nently in the coun­try's pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim north, where emirs and em­i­nent per­son­al­i­ties are more of­ten than not ac­com­plished eques­tri­ans. “The emirs, up north, were al­ways great horse­men. And they en­joyed rid­ing horses and en­cour­aged their sons to ride horses. And that's why there's a big fol­low­ing in the North,” said Laoye.

The “dur­bar”, a fes­ti­val where horse rid­ers dressed in bil­low­ing robes and colour­ful tur­bans pay homage to the emir, is also one of the great cul­tural at­trac­tions of Kano. To­day, the cities of Kano, Katsina and Kaduna have ma­jor polo clubs, along with many pri­vate polo grounds, in­clud­ing lux­u­ri­ous hide­aways like the Fifth Chukker in Kaduna.

In to­tal, Nige­ria has be­tween 35 and 40 clubs, es­ti­mates Laoye, who says he wants to make the sport “more ac­ces­si­ble”. Still, cost is an is­sue, Edozie On­wuli, an im­mi­gra­tion agent who plays, said: “If you buy a pony – the lo­cal word for horse – which comes from Chad, Niger and Su­dan, it costs be­tween RM5,965 and RM29,8 28 ,” but for a pure Su­danese the price can go to RM59,657, he said.

Mean­while, an Ar­gen­tinian horse, con­sid­ered the must- have in La­gos,“can go up to RM210,000”, he ex­claimed.

“That's a whole lot of money.” – AFP Re­laxnews

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