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BARBADOS - polo tourism

Date August 21, 2005
by Tony Best

POLO means different things to different people.

For instance, it was once described as "hockey on horseback". To others, it was the "game of kings"; while many Americans see it as a sport for the suburban elite who have a passion for horses and for a weekend of "clean fun".

Whatever the description, historians say polo has been around for at least 3 000 years, making it one of the world's oldest sports. Its ancient origins are traced to Persia, now Iran; and the modern game had its beginnings in the Punjab, India; and it took a group of British military officers to copy it and transport it to England.

Indeed, British officers, traders, farmers and others have been credited with taking polo to dozens of nations, places where the Union Jack once fluttered in the breeze as the standard-bearer of British imperial power.

So it was with Barbados, where, according to United States publicists of the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA), the game has been in existence for over 100 years, "pioneered by the British army officers of the late 19th Century". In essence, it shares a history with cricket, in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean.

Today, it is played in more than 70 countries.

Little wonder, then, that the BTA is using the sport's popularity among a certain section of the United States travel market to promote the island among polo enthusiasts.

"Polo in Barbados has always attracted a lot of attention on the international circuit," was the way Rob McChlery, the BTA's Senior Business Development Manager for the north-eastern region of the United States put it. "And the development of polo fields gives us an added advantage, making Barbados the polo destination of choice."

With polo fields, first at Holder's in St James and more recently at Waterhall, also in

St James, and Clifton and Lion's Castle in St Thomas, Barbados is promoting itself as having "unparalleled polo facilities".

And to help get the word out that Barbados is "an ideal training destination" for the polo set, a Barbados polo team led by Captain Kent Cole, and including Philip Tempro, Richard Deane, Harry Manning and Luis Venezi saddled up and competed in the International Polo Challenge at the Oakbrook Polo Club, just outside of Chicago, and in the Newport International series in Rhode Island.

For the record, Barbados won its first game in Chicago and drew the second. In Rhode Island where an estimated 1 500 spectators watched Barbados and a select United States team compete, the Bajans went down to defeat at the hands of the Newport polo club.

While it wasn't the first time that polo players from Barbados competed on United States soil, it was the inaugural effort by the Tourism Authority to use the sport in that way to attract visitors to the country.

"We see this as just one part of the overall marketing campaign around Barbados as a destination that appeals to various segments of the travel market," said Ryan Blackette, Business Development Manager based in New York.

"Polo is played by tens of thousands of people across the United States and Barbados can offer many of them an interesting holiday experience while they enjoy their favorite sport."

Although the Bajan polo team didn't appear in New York, the BTA participated in a glamorous event in the Hamptons, an exclusive community in New York to which celebrities and the rich flock in the summer and on weekends.

Bajan hit singer Rihanna and president of Def-Jam Jay-Z, were among those at the Barbados tent. Michael Stoute, head of Polo Team Barbados, and Jessica Odle, Barbados' Consul-General in New York, also participated.

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