Interview with Sébastien Le Page, President of POLO PARK ZURICH

Published on: October 26, 2021

Filled Under: NEWS, Info

Views: 474

Source: poloplus10

He is the president of Polo Park Zurich and one of the most colorful minds on the scene. At the end of the 2021 season, POLO+10 met Sébastien Le Page and talked to him about his very personal season review, plans for 2022, highlights, low points and his philosophy of life.

“I just can`t get enough of the polo life!”
Sébastien Le Page, President of POLO PARK ZURICH

What is your summary for the 2020 polo season?
It was another successful season for Polo Park Zurich, despite the poor summer weather and the spectre of Covid. On a local level, we were able to run all nine scheduled tournaments, play over 800 chukkas, organize the Swiss Medium-Goal Championship and the 22nd International Ladies Cup, and increase our membership at all levels, both low and medium-goal. New organizations have joined us, many of our players have progressed, the polo level has increased, and we have welcomed many new horses. We reached 170 playing members this year, half of whom are women, and currently host more than 200 horses. The kids polo is also flourishing. We have had the joy of hosting the Swiss national team twice at our tournaments and many players from abroad have joined us regularly. The atmosphere of friendship and sportsmanship was excellent as always and we had a lot of fun!

That sounds like a successful season all around.
And it goes even further: Internationally, we were namely also very proud that the two teams from La Irenita brilliantly represented the colors of Polo Park Zurich at the Argentine Open. We are also very fortunate that we won both the Rider Cup and the Open de France Ladies in Chantilly. So, all in all, it was a great season. As for me personally, I only won one tournament during that time, even though I had wonderful horses and made good progress in my polo. So there is still some room for improvement!

What are your plans for the upcoming season?
So far, we have planned ten tournaments at Polo Park Zurich, including the Swiss Championships (with medium or low goal ratio from -2 to +8 goals). We will organize the 23rd international Ladies Cup and we intend to defend our title at the Rider Cup in Chantilly. We will play the Gold Cup in Gstaad. At the Argentine Open we will again compete with two teams, this year with a Ladies and a La Irenita team. We are also in the process of developing more events around polo, as well as events that have nothing to do with polo at all, but for which we still use the club as a facility. This year, we hired a special event manager for this purpose, and I expect a lot from her. This will allow us to open the door to polo to people who previously knew nothing about the sport or its lifestyle, hopefully making it more mainstream. We have also signed many new sponsorships, some of which are multi-year, so we are well supported by both our sponsors and our members. Personally, I have a feeling we will be playing more than 900 chukkas this coming season. Let‘s see how the weather cooperates!

Please also tell us about your plans in Argentina for the rest of 2021 and 2022.
Morgan and I are flying to Argentina in mid-November to our farm in Lobos. Unfortunately, the uncertainty around Covid and the travel restrictions from afar make it impossible for us to organize the traditional San Eugenio women‘s tournament. Therefore, we will have to forgo it again this year. Instead, we will focus on training in Lobos and of course supporting our teams at the Argentine Open! La Irenita II has yet to qualify but the La Irenita Ladies already are, so we will definitely be there in Palermo! Separately, Morgan will be training for the Gaucho Derby, arguably the toughest horse race in the world, in which she will compete in early March. So we will probably stay in Argentina for two to three months, if the situation around Covid allows it.

Can you also tell us about your sponsorship activities?
We sponsor two teams in the Open. First La Irenita II with Facu and Tomas Fernandez Llorente, Min Podesta and Flaco Garcia Grossi. They still have to pass the qualification, but I have high hopes for this team. Secondly, La Irenita Ladies is also there with Milagros Sanchez, Hope Arellano, Izzy Parsons and Fatima Balzano. They are already qualified and I hope they will present us brilliant polo as well! Then we are also sponsoring the Snow Polo World Cup in St. Moritz, although we won‘t be fielding a team there this year. We also sponsor the Swiss national polo team. On the other side we have many new interesting sponsors, including very good support from for example „Perrier-Jouët“ or „Clinique La Prairie“, but also some newcomers in polo, like the „SwissOne Smart Index Crypto Fund“. We are also in the process of building sponsorship relationships with new companies that become aware of Polo Park Zurich through our success. I will hopefully be able to tell you more about this shortly! Watch this space!

What is the biggest challenge in the coming polo season?
The biggest problem we are facing at the moment is the fact that we have almost reached the maximum number of horses we can accommodate at the Polo Park Zurich or in the surrounding area. It really pains me to have to say this – but I think that in the coming season we will have no choice but to keep a waiting list. However, not for completely new beginners, but for new potential members who bring their own horses. We simply don’t have the space for horses on top. But to be honest, it’s a good problem to have, rather than the opposite!

What are you most looking forward to in the Polo Season 2022 – and why?
In this respect, my role is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, as the owner of Polo Park Zurich, I have to keep my members happy and make sure they like to come back. On the other hand, I‘m also a player and the head of the Los Lobos organization, and I want to win tournaments. However, the two don‘t always go hand in hand. This season, when we got so many new members, I focused more on making sure they enjoy polo. So I helped them with my own horses, sometimes to the detriment of my own polo and to the detriment of my own polo pros. But for this coming season, I want to be selfish again for a season, because I intend to have a 1-goal handicap by the end of the season. For this I have the right horses and the right organization. I will therefore focus strongly on this dream! Of course, I will also put my focus on the Swiss Championships and put a lot of energy into winning the Gold Cup in Gstaad. I am also considering playing a few weeks in France next year. I‘m already in talks with sponsors, so we‘ll see what happens there. But a 1-goal handicap by the end of the season is what I am really hoping for!

Your wife Morgan is the president of the Swiss Polo Association. How do you complement each other in work?
The funny thing is that Morgan‘s election as president of the Swiss Polo Association – the first woman in the history of polo to hold the office of president of an active polo association anywhere in the world – was my idea. But she also told me from the very beginning that she would only do it if I didn‘t interfere with her work! So we do not complement each other at all. She almost never asks me for advice, at most once in my role as owner of a polo club in Switzerland, but not as husband or even as former vice president of the SPA. But I am a busy man and I trust her completely anyway, so it kind of suits me!

Is it true that you have discovered your passion for polo through your wife?
No, Morgan and I started polo on exactly the same day in 2011 – when we attended the taster course at the Polo Park Zurich with Francisco Podesta. We got both immediately hooked.

Not only both of you are active players but also your son. How do you describe the energy in such a Polo-loving family?
With Armand it took a little longer, because he was originally afraid of horses. Now, of course, he‘s long since playing better than we are! The energy in the family is very good, because playing together with his loved ones or against them is one of the best aspects of the sport. And of course, a polo-loving family means that all the ancillary aspects of the lifestyle are understood by everyone: the respect for the horses, the grooms, the asados, the mate-drinking, the endless discussions about handicaps, about horses, the hours spent at the polo club. All this makes sense in our family. The only tensions arise when we sometimes have to decide who sits on which horse for a match. But fortunately we have always solved that well in the end so far!

Polo has played a very important role in your life for ten years now. Can you tell us about a particularly great moment during this time?
This question is almost impossible to answer because so many memories come to mind: the day I bought the Polo Club, the Grand Opening of the new clubhouse and stables, or winning the Swiss Medium Goal Championships. The Golden Goal at the Deauville Silver Cup and the face of Pancho Bensadon. The lunch with Facu, Nico, Polito and Gonzalito Pieres. The infamous evening in Chantilly with Pablo MacDonough. The game three against four with Min Podesta, which I lost only by a golden goal. Juan Martin Nero, who addressed me by my name even though we had never met before. Scoring a goal with a neck-shot and hearing Martin Podesta shout behind me: „THIS is polo!“. Playing with the Maharajah of Jaipur in Germany.

“In a way, polo is even more important to me than my family.”
Sébastien Le Page, President of POLO PARK ZURICH

And the list goes on and on?
Don‘t say I didn‘t warn you! (laughs) Seeing my son play polo even though he‘s afraid of horses. Seeing Morgan win the Open de France with the Vénot sisters. Laughing to tears together with Jorge MacDonough in London. Meeting Adolfo Cambiaso. The purchase of San Eugenio. The January 1 chukkas where three generations of Le Page played three generations of Podesta and the tears of Min Podesta who had never seen his grandfather on a horse (and Oscar scored the first goal!). The first time I ever signed an autograph as a polo player. But to be completely honest – and maybe it sounds a bit cliché, but I swear it‘s true: The best moments I‘ve had playing polo are all the evenings around the campfire playing truco, talking about polo, laughing with each other, drinking wine and just enjoying the atmosphere and the friendship.

When did the enthusiasm for polo really grab you for the first time? Can you remember the moment and the feeling?
The first day, the first lesson, the first hit with the ball – and I was immediately hooked. I was hooked! I remember that my friend Cédric Schweri had made T-shirts in his former club that said: „If you‘ve got the virus, we a-polo-gize“. And that‘s exactly what it is. Not only do Morgan and Armand see it that way and are that way, but my parents are now following polo as well. So the virus is spreading. Let‘s make it a pandemic!

Not only do you enjoy being on the Polo field – you also love everything around this sport. Why?
I played rugby for 25 years and this sport is famous for the atmosphere outside the pitch. I think the tougher the sport, the more respect the players have for each other. I‘ve always loved that camaraderie in rugby; the third half, the mutual respect. And I‘ve found the same thing in polo. I can‘t understand people who come to a game, play, and then quickly leave to do other things. I have to bask in the wonderful atmosphere long after the game is over. I remember Francisco Podesta telling me once two years ago: Seb, you organize too many asados in the club, the grooms need to sleep sometimes too, you know! But I just love that camaraderie, the banter, the fun, the conversations about horses, handicaps, the jokes. And I love playing Truco, of course! But it‘s also more than that. It also has to do with meeting people, discovering Argentina and also many other places in the world. I just can‘t get enough of this polo life: Whether it‘s meeting kings or arguing with my gauchos on my farm. I just love it!

What is so fascinating about this sport? Why is it the most important thing in your life – after your family?
Actually, in a way, polo is even more important than my family. I’m aware that this is one of the most dangerous team sports in the world, so the risk of death or permanent injury is real and possible. If I wanted to put family first, I would tell my wife and son not to play. It‘s too dangerous! But I‘ve made my peace with it. In the clubhouse at Polo Park Zurich, I put up a poster with a drawing of polo players that says, „Anything will kill you, so choose something you enjoy.“ And that‘s what polo is all about. It‘s fun! It‘s a team sport, polo is fast and furious, there are animals involved, it‘s glamorous! The lifestyle is wonderful, it‘s interacting with others, and it‘s a chess game, physically and mentally. And of course, in addition, it has become my main business.

Why is there a prejudice in many people’s minds that Polo is an extremely elitist sport?
I guess it‘s because British monarchs have been playing polo for decades and many know the sport from that context. So it‘s automatically associated with the monarchy and therefore with elitism. When I invite people to watch some chukkas, they still very often ask me how they should dress. My answer is always the same: „Come like me, in shorts and flip-flops“.

16 years ago, you had to digest a severe blow of fate when your first wife died at the age of 33. How did you manage to regain your strength, positivity, optimism and your hunger for life?
Well, that‘s a question I could fill a whole book with the answer to! But in short, I was lucky to be surrounded by a loving family and a great son, even though he was only three years old at the time. I was working for the Glencore group of companies at the time, and everyone there was absolutely fantastic, too. But that doesn‘t mean it‘s all over today, if you want me to be frank. And I‘m sure all the people who know me well can fully confirm that. But I‘m ok! With Armand and Morgan by my side, I live a very happy life today.

Are you a fighter and a survivor?
Not at all. I am exactly the opposite. I‘m lazy, get scared easily, get depressed and anguished. I stress myself out too much and therefore stress others out too. I am good at making excuses and I try to make things easy for myself. Sometimes I suffer from impostor syndrome. But I am a thinker and I am empathetic. I am generally lucky, I am a success person and I trust people. That compensates for my negative traits quite well. And when I get a little down again because things aren‘t going the way I want them to, Armand is almost always there right away to tell me, „Dad, slow down, turn around and look at what you‘ve already accomplished.“ This helps me a lot in moments of doubt. I wonder if he is not basically more mature than I am!

How do you describe your philosophy of life?
My life changed completely at the age of 17 when I read Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This book by Nietzsche is about a master and his disciple. The disciple asks, „Master, what should I do to be happy?“. And the master answers, „Be happy!“. And that has been my philosophy of life ever since.

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