In the early 1980’s, motivated by a desire to broaden the scope of international polo, as well as to restore the sport’s Olympic status, Marcos Uranga, then President of the Argentine Polo Association, proposed that an international organization be formed among the polo playing countries of the world. The initial meetings took place in Buenos Aires, and by April of 1982, the Federation of International Polo, quickly known as “FIP,” was created. FIP’s first President was Marcos Uranga .One of his primary objectives, he pointed out at the time, was: To bring polo players together to enhance polo.
Mr. Uranga still remains active in the organization today as its Founding President.
In early 1997, FIP elected its second President, Glen Holden a former U.S. Ambassador (to Jamaica) and one of FIP’s original founders. Amb. Holden remembers those early days well: We thought that the most important thing we could do for polo would be to make a common set of agreed-upon rules the world over, to encourage more understanding of the game among non-players, and to enlarge the opportunities for players. We also wanted to gain the recognition of the International Olympia Committee (IOC) and have polo reinstated to the Olympic Games.
It was known from the beginning that in order to gain the recognition of the IOC, Polo had to have international rules. There also had to be a common experience of the game in many countries and FIP had to be able to put on world-class tournaments.
To that end, Mr. Uranga spearheaded the movement for a World Championship and scheduled the first for April 1987 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Aware of the relative difficulty of fielding high-goal teams worldwide, the early FIP organizers wisely decided to limit competition to teams rated 10 to 14 goals. And, in an attempt to nullify the factor of the horses, they devised the then-revolutionary idea of split strings of horses – assigning matched strings of 28 horses to each team by the luck of the draw. “Never before in the history of the game have teams from around the world been able to travel to one location without their horses and feel confident that they will be able to play on quality mounts and have equality with other teams,” Uranga said at the time.
Within a few years of FIP’s organization, 19 countries had signed on, with 10 additional provisional members. The vehicle for recruiting new member countries evolved into a series of tournaments that became known as Ambassador’s Cups. These tournaments were also an ideal instrument for gaining a staff of volunteers who would provide the time and energy that the fledgling organization needed. “We knew that the best way to get polo players to come to meetings was to show them a good time, and a good tournament was the perfect way. We put on almost three a year, forty-two in thirteen years, to attract new member countries,” Holden remembers.
The first World Polo Championship was played in Buenos Aires in 1987. Five teams played — Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Spain. There were no surprises; Argentina defeated Mexico in the final and became the first of polo’s modern World Champions at 10 to 14-goal handicap.
In 1989, the second FIP World Championship was played in Berlin, at Maifeld, the very stadium that had been the site of polo’s last appearance in the Olympic Games. The sport had come full-circle, and it underlined the growing influence of FIP in the world polo community. Argentina, Australia, Chile, England, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States advanced to the playoffs. But this time there was a surprise: Argentina failed to make the finals. A talented U.S. team beat England by one goal for a 7-6 final score. The resulting publicity raised the visibility of FIP among U.S. polo players.
FIP World Championship III was played in Santiago, Chile, in 1992. Argentina made it “back to back” through the regionals, and knocked off team after team until they wound up in the finals. There they outscored the host country 12-7 for their second World Championship. The U.S. had to be content with fourth place behind England.
In 1995, the fourth World Championship was held in Saint Moritz, Switzerland . Brazil fought its way gamely through the early rounds to meet Argentina in the final. Now it was Brazil’s turn for triumph. They pulled out an exciting win 11-10 to assume the mantle of World Polo Champions.
Since 1993 MIchael Schultz-Tholen, then the FIP delegate to the International Olympic Committee, arranged numerous meetings with IOC representatives including the President of the International Olympic Committee Mr.Juan Antonio Samaranch. Finally at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, the General Assembly of the International Olympic Committee granted the status of an IOC Recognized Sport and accepted the Federation of International Polo as the worldwide governing body for the sport of polo. This decision was confirmed (“outright recognition”) two years later.
This official “outright recognition” means that FIP and the IOC will be working closely together to prepare the Federation and its members for participation in future Olympic Games.
In 1998, the fifth World Championship was held at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Santa Barbara, California. Mr. James Easton, a Member of the International Olympic Committee, presented Argentina, the winning team, with a history-making Olympic trophy. This was the first time in 62 years that the winning team of an international polo tournament was so honored.
The FIP World Championship VI held in Melbourne, Australia in 2001 featured eight national teams that qualified through a demanding and highly competitive zone playoff system, which included 24 country teams participating worldwide. Brazil narrowly defeated Australia by one goal (Brazil 10, Australia 9) in an exciting tournament that any of the eight finalists could have won.
In 2004, the Sixth World Championship was held in Chantilly , France. The tournament included eight teams. The qualifying rounds included 28 countries competing. All the games were very competitive. Brazil was not ready to give the title and defeated England in the final game (10 -9) in sudden death.
After serving as President for eight years Ambassador Glen Holden stepped down and the FIP General Assembly elected its third President Patrick Guerrand-Hermes of France.
Following the resignation of President Patrick Guerrand-Hermes, James J. Ashton was appointed interim FIP President on Monday 23rd November 2009 in Buenos Aires, Argentina at an informal meeting . Within the FIP community, it was generally accepted that James Ashton would be confirmed as FIP President at FIP’s next annual General Assembly.
Interim FIP President James Ashton, 69, died following a polo accident in Bangkok on Sunday 14th February, 2010, sending shock waves through the world polo community and through the FIP community in particular.
The respect which James Ashton enjoyed as an international polo administrator began with FIP’s 6th 14-goal World Cup championship, contested in Melbourne in 2001 under his direction as President of the Australian Polo Council. The quality of horses loaned by the Australian polo community coupled with his decision to expand the contest from six to eight teams, brought praise from senior FIP officials of the Melbourne tournament as arguably the best since its inception in 1984.
In recognition of Ashton’s achievement, without consultation and in his absence from the FIP General Assembly which followed, he was elected FIP treasurer, serving successively under presidents Glen Holden and Patrick Guerrand Hermes.
After James Ashton’s death, Eduardo J Huergo of Argentina was named Interim President of the Federation of International Polo (FIP)
Huergo’s appointment as Interim President and his expected election as President on April 19, 2010 was part of the FIP’s on-going reorganization following the resignation of France’s Patrick Guerrand-Hermès the previous November. James Ashton of Australia was named Interim President, but was killed in a polo accident in February. American Tom Biddle, as senior vice-president, took over temporarily until Huergo was appointed by the Council of Administration in March.
One week after Huergo took the helm of the global body on March 9, 2010 the Council of Administration convened a meeting of the FIP’s General Assembly for April 19 in Wellington, Florida, USA where Huergo stood for election as President of the federation.
Huergo, 71, is a veteran member of the FIP’s Council of Administration, having served on that body for most years since 1987. He also served four terms as vice-president of the Asociación Argentina de Polo (AAP) between 1987 and 1997 and is currently a member of the AAP’s International Committee.
Born in Buenos Aires, Huergo took up polo at age 15 at Tortugas Country Club outside the Argentine capital and played until back problems forced his retirement several years ago. During his playing career he attained a handicap of five goals.
The Argentine got his first high-goal international experience, playing for Evelyn de Rothschild’s Centaurs, who reached the final of the 1964 British Open Championship (Gold Cup). Over the years he also played in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, France and the USA, in Florida and California.
The 30th FIP General Assembly meeting which took place December 6th, 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina unanimously elected Dr. Richard T. Caleel to take over the reins from the popular outgoing FIP President Eduardo Huergo from Argentina.
Dr. Richard Caleel, the patriarch of a long time polo playing family relocated to the West Coast with his family part time some years ago and recently opened a FIP office in Santa Barbara, California USA.
As a polo player and long time United States Polo Association member and International Committee Chairman, the sport has taken Dr. Caleel to polo events worldwide. FIP, recognizing his considerable expertise as a talented business man with refined organizational skills that can cross many borders, tapped into this experience by selecting him to represent their organization with a mission to promote polo throughout the world. He served a two year term until December 4, 2014.
Nicholas J.A. Colquhoun-Denvers, Esq. was elected as President of the Federation of International Polo at the General Assembly held in Buenos Aires, December 4, 2014 succeeding Dr Richard Caleel.
Educated in Malaya and then at Christ Church Grammar School in Perth, Western Australia, Nicholas Colquhoun-Denvers has a wide and varied experience of polo organizations. He ran Army Polo in Hong Kong in the mid 1970s and is a past Chairman of the Hurlingham Polo Association (2009-2012) and also as an HPA Steward for over 16 years, he continues in his post as Chairman of Ham Polo Club in London, a position he has held for over 20 years.
The son of a Senior Australian Diplomat, Nicholas served as an officer with the British Army in the UK, Germany and Hong Kong as well as playing in over 17 countries around the world in his 40 year playing career. He is proud to be a low goal player who held a 1 goal handicap for some 17 years and at 66 years of age still plays regularly during the summer season in the UK.
Recent quotes from the press on his FIP Presidency: “It’s a great challenge – but then I have always enjoyed a challenge!” As the IOC recognized Federation of National Associations I hope we can all work together to promote our sport as well as encourage and assist the cause of young players worldwide. We also need to help promote polo in new parts of the world and as well as supporting the smaller established countries who do not get much International Match experience”
– What are the biggest challenges facing the Federation? “Firstly, we need to ensure that our Federation’s administration is run in an efficient and professional manner consistent with its place in the polo community. We need to listen to our Members and to take their requirements into consideration and work with them on any changes which may benefit the Federation and its member nations. We need encourage lower handicap tournaments in certain parts of the world so that the nation members who cannot achieve either the 8 or 14 goal level can still participate in international tournaments and enjoy the benefits of FIP. We also need to work closely with the larger polo nations to encourage them to give more support to the emerging polo nations by helping FIP to provide training for umpires, coaches and players. But most of all we need to bring the FIP polo family back together again.”
Origin of Polo
The origins of Polo are lost in the mists of antiquity. History records that the ancient Persians knew the sport as “Chaughan” and played it as far back as 2500 years ago. The Chinese also lay claim to a polo tradition dating back several thousand years. Be that as it may, in all probability these ancient civilizations picked up the sport from the Central Asian nomads whose home was the saddle and whose writ ran from the Great Wall of China in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west.
Certainly, the game of polo reflects all the qualities that made the Mongol hordes the greatest nation of horsemen in the ancient world – great equestrian skills coupled with a clear eye and stout heart remain the prerequisites of a polo player till today.
Radiating outwards from the steppes of Central Asia, the game eventually spread as far as Japan, China, Tibet and India. Over the ages, the aristocratic game developed to promote equestrian and military skills. It was ranked next to battle itself, as the ultimate test of the prowess of princes and warriors.Read more
Patronized by kings and the horsed cavalry
Patronized by kings and the horsed cavalry, it was played by the likes of Darius, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great. It is said that when Alexander took over from his father in 336BC. The Persian emperors Darius III, sent him a polo ball and stick with the message that he should confine himself to the sport, and leave the business of war to those better adapted to it. The young Alexander thanked the Emperor for the present and replied that the gift was indeed symbolic, as he represented the stick and the ball as the earth which he intended, to conquer.
If Alexander’s skill at polo was anything akin to his skill in the arts of war – for he had soon defeated the mighty Darius – then he must indeed rank as one of the earliest known high-goal players!
While the Persians and later the Mughals, knew the game as “Chaughan”, meaning mallet, variants of the game tested the horsemanship and courage of the participants under the name of “Da-Kyu” in Japan, “Khis Kouhou” on the Russian steppes and “Djirid” in Turkey. The origins of the modern name for the sport can however be traced to Tibet, where it was known as “Pulu”, meaning ball and which in its anglicized from is known to the world as Polo.
In India, polo was widely played in medieval times, this is evidenced from the fact that Sultan Qutubuddin Aibak, founder of the slave dynasty and builder of one of Delhi’s most famous landmarks, the Qutub Minar, died of a fatal accident, impaled on the ornate horn of his saddle after a fall on the polo field in Lahore. However, it was Babar, the found of the Mughal dynasty, who established the popularity of the polo in India in the fifteenth century.
The origins of the modern name for the sport can however be traced to Tibet, where it was known as “Pulu”
British tea planters in India witnessed the game in the early 1800’s in Manipur but it was not until the 1850’s that the British Cavalry drew up the earliest rules. In 1862, the first polo club in the world was formed by British tea planters at Silchar, west of Manipur. Calcutta Polo Club, the oldest existing polo club, was founded. In 1868, the Malta Polo Club was founded by British army and naval officers stopping off there on their way home from India.
In 1869, Edward “Chicken” Hartopp, 10th Hussars, read an account of the game in The Field, while stationed at Aldershot, and, with brother officers, organized the first game – known then as “hockey on horseback.” The 1st Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards were quick to follow suit on grounds at Hounslow and in Richmond Park; and then on a small ground near Earl’s Court known as Lillie Bridge. In 1872, the first polo club in England was Monmouthshire, founded by Capt. Francis “Tip” Herbert. All Ireland Polo Club was also founded in 1872 by Horace Rochfort of Clogrenane.
It did not take long for the sport to catch on around the world. The first official match in Argentina took place on the 3rd of September 1875, where the game had been taken by English and Irish engineers and ranchers.
Lt. Col. Thomas St. Quintin, 10th Hussars, introduced the game to Australia in 1876 – he was the “Father of Australian Polo” and two of his brothers stayed on there as ranchers and helped the game to develop. In the same year, polo was introduced to the U.S.A. by James Gordon Bennett Jr, a noted American publisher; balloonist, and adventurer, who had seen the game at Hurlingham while on a visit to England,was captivated by the sport and brought it to New York in 1876 where it caught on immediately.
Over the next 50 years, polo achieved extraordinary popularity in the United States, and was the first to introduce handicaps in 1888. By the 1930’s polo was in the midst of a Golden Age – it was an Olympic sport and crowds in excess of 30,000 regularly attended international matches at Meadow Brook Polo Club on Long Island. The galloping game produced athletes who would doubtless have achieved greatness in any sport: Cecil Smith, the Texas cowboy, who held a perfect 10-goal rating for a still-record 25 years; Devereux Melbourne, instrumental in formulating modern styles of play; and Tommy Hitchcock, war hero, and the best of the best in international competition for two decades.
Today, upwards of 84 countries play polo. It was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1936 and has now been recognized again by the International Olympic Committee.