By Rabii Benadada, researcher in sports management at the ISCAE Business School in Casablanca
From 22. Nov to 29. Nov 2017, the 11. Manipur International Polo Tournament took place. Besides the Indian Polo Association (known as the India A) team, the local team of the MHRPA (known as India B), Morocco, England, USA, and Argentina were all represented. Certainly the local team were favourites even though they had lost the finals in the previous two years, last year’s winners being Australia. While the US Team whose manager Ed Armstrong has been supporting the event and once again brought a talented and young team including the just turned eighteen Brennan Welles (2 goals) and whose mother Kelly Welles runs a polo school in Maryland, along with Captain Jorge Vasquez (2), Nate Berube (2), Nick Johnson (3), Kegan Walsh (3), Team England had Captain George Shelton (1), Ben Eeley (2) Phil Seller (2) and Robin Ormerod (2)
Team Morocco featured Bady Kebir, Hicham Zine, Rachid Haddouche and Phillippe Darroux each of one goal except Phillipe, who was scratch. India A included an Indian Army team comprising Maj.Narendra Singh (0) Corporals Ram Singh (1) and Vijay Singh (2) and Col T Waraich ( 2) with IJ Singh being reserve at scratch and playing the exhibition for India A. The home team from Manipur (India B) captained by Pradeep Kumar, followed by Jogendra Meitei,L Atangba, P. Ojit and S.Bimol. George Dill of the United States Polo Association who was present throughout commented on the local lads being at least 3 to 4 goals each! Post tournament, Nicholas Scortichini commented to IJ that since the home team had beaten a 10 goal Argentine team, they were at least 10 goals plus in total handicap.
Argentina was the hot ticket item .The league matches between the stalwarts namely India B (Manipur) , USA and Argentina and also England were fascinating to watch. Morocco was the 1st Arabic and African nation to raise a flag in the oldest polo ground in the world and the best fighting spirit team in the tournament. The Moroccan Team inspite being the lowest handicapped team (3 goals) and being allowed entry as an exception since this was a 10 goal+ tournament, played with tremendous heart. Rachid Haddouche was exceptional. Along with Hicham Zine and Bady Kebir and even Phillipe Darroux, Rachid showed sheer grit and determination and even brilliance. If one did not look at the scoreboard and merely at the play, one would not have found the Moroccan team falling short really! The team was also certainly the most elegantly dressed in the evenings! And they all had a tremendous laugh and gave an encore when watching the televised replays and cheered Phillippe Darroux for scoring one of the two goals in one match! Rachid told IJ who was impressed at the effort made constantly in every game, that “this is how we play”.
While the American team which played brilliantly throughout, lost on overall points inspite of levelling their game with Manipur (India B) which showed the talent they possessed, in the semi finals, the high drama was there for all to see at the final match between Argentina and Manipur (India B). The emotion had been building up. When Manipur (India B) scored the winning goal just as the last chukka was ending, the emotional Manipur team captain leading the victory lap, took his horse at full gallop (the hardy ponies can actually play repeat chukkas) and dropping his reins, twisted his body sidewise to the crowd, bowed his head in homage and folded his hands in the Indian Namaskar, all at the same time (!), to the adulating home crowd. His number one shouted out to the crowd, pointing to the Indian flag on his chest. It was a highly emotional moment for the crowd.