This year, a relatively nascent sport gears up for its induction into the fold of sports which has undergone the rigour of commercialisation, a trend which has seen kabaddi and badminton overcome obscurity and enter the mainstream, wherein a large chunk is occupied by the nation’s lifeline – cricket!
The Cycle Polo Federation of India’s (CPFI) liaison with the Bradford Licensing Company will bring about the Cycle Polo League, built along the lines of the Premier League Format which has gained ground among the television companies ever since the unprecedented success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) which must be credited for bringing T20 cricket to the fore in India.
While the future of cycle polo in the country is promising, its eventful tryst with India dates to the era of the maharajas who were in love with the royal sport of Polo. The sport, however, suffered from a seasonal snag with the horses unable to cope with the increased heat during the summer and hence, the maharajas were compelled to stay away from their favourite sport for a large chunk of the year. The advent of cycle polo lent them a topical variant as now, the maharajas could bide their time riding these steeds of steel and engage in their dearest ball game while their ponies enjoyed a restful stint in their stables, recovering for the polo season ahead. The sport was quick to demonstrate its viability to the polo aficionados in India who were awed by its all-season nature.
From the erstwhile kingdoms of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Alwar, Baria and Patiala among others to the British army regiments, cycle polo gained a sizeable foothold in the vast Indian territory.
Post the perilous stoppage due to the two world wars, the sport was revived from scratch. A promising future could be foreseen when cycle polo underwent institutionalisation when the Cycle Polo Federation of India (CPFI) which came up in 1966 and conducted country-wide operations for the blossoming sport. The turn of the century saw India emerge as a powerhouse in cycle polo as it claimed the gold in the first four world championships, much like the realisation of a fanciful narrative.
With these laurels behind us, the prolongation of India’s legacy in cycle polo depends on a large extent to the way the sport is promoted among the youth of the country.
The Federation has to be given credit for effectively tapping into the grassroots. “We are now affiliated with the School Games Federation of India and the sport will be included in the National School Games.”, says Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod, President of the CPFI. “The sport has further been picked up by the defence services with maturing players being given jobs in the same which has been acting as a major catalyst in spurring youngsters to take up the sport.” The CPFI has further brought most of the Indian states into the fold of cycle polo with states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab and Bengal being the major players in the sport.
Taking the cue from the United States Polo Association which has familiarised the world with Polo and their national team through an associated apparel brand which goes by the name of the association and has a loyal customer base around the world. The CPFI recognises the multi-fold benefits that will accrue from brand licensing deals and have signed a contract to that effect with Franchise India for bringing out commercial goods which would popularise the game.
The sport saw a fashionable variant to its original self, being conceived in the onset of the 21st century by bike messengers in Seattle USA. The inventors, having some time to kill in between their deliveries came up with the idea of playing cycle polo on a hard court. Hence, tennis and basketball courts were subjected to encroachment by these enterprising bike messengers as they formulated the rules for the modern variant which would go by the name of bike polo.
The rules were modified for playing cycle polo in a more constricted setting than the 150 by 100 meters grass field in which it was usually played and hence, the number of players in the team was reduced to 3 instead of the usual 4. A typical match lasts for around 30-40 minutes, although there are no ‘chukkas’ or interludes as there are in the original form of cycle polo. While India has proved its mettle in the traditional form of cycle polo, the hard-court format is yet to gain its ground.
Mr Dundlod cites the dearth of open green fields as the reason behind the hard-court format gaining ground in some countries. “Besides, the CPFI has made sure that the rules of cycle polo as stated by the International Bicycle Polo Federation aren’t changed. Hence, in India we are keen to keep to the original rules and format which has been working well for the diffusion of the sport,” says Mr Dundlod.
In the past, the possibility of organising cycle polo matches along with horseback polo tournaments has been ruminated upon, so as to treat polo aficionados to an all-season offshoot of horseback polo which uses bicycles. Jaipur, Jodhpur and Noida have been treated to such events. The CPFI looks forward to the coordination of more polo clubs hosting horseback polo events for organising events that are inclusive of cycle polo matches.
The Federation has also been organising separate championships for the sport with the nationals being an annual fixture wherein players compete in all three categories, Senior, Junior and Sub-Junior along with other tournaments such as the Federation Cup which is held at the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club.
Today, the sport is spreading to previously untapped locations, in India and the world over. An induction into the Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games would be the next pit-stop for the sport. Closer home, the speed and vigour which one can associate with cycle polo seems to be catching up with the youth, perhaps because it uses cycles and makes for a wholesome experience. The Federation rues the negligible media coverage, as also the government’s ignorance of this embryonic sport which has brought many laurels to the country. Mr Dundlod rightfully asserts the need for the government to promote lesser known sports and push for their inclusion into international multi-sporting events as they could be serious medal prospects for the country. Hopefully, the dawn of the cycle polo league could demonstrate the sport’s utility to the government and the people at large.