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Unexpected: Polo in Haiti

"Animals Garden," by Salomon Jean Belony.  An alternate title could be "Polo Ponies off to Play."  Could be, right?

“Animals Garden,” by Salomon Jean Belony. An alternate title could be “Polo Ponies off to Play.” Could be, right?

Every once in a while, Haiti makes the news for something that is completely unexpected. Today it came to me in the form of a recent article by Carine Fabius in The Huffington Post entitled, “Playing Polo in Haiti.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carine-fabius/playing-polo-in-haiti_b_6419634.html ) And not just playing; the Haitians are winning hardware, having brought home titles from the likes of the San Francisco International Polo Classic in the U.S., the China Open Polo Tournament in Shanghai, China, and the International Master’s Cup in Pilar, Argentina.

Apparently, global participation in the sport is on a meteoric rise, according to the polo-dedicated periodical, “Sideline,” so why not in Haiti? Haitian Polo Team Captain AND President Michel Martely’s recent appointee as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Claude Alix Bertrand is spear-heading the effort revitalize the sport in Haiti. It had reportedly enjoyed some popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, but lost ground to football (soccer) in the ensuing decades. Bertrand is hoping to change all of that by leading the Haitian national polo team and winning big. So far, so good on that score.

He also hopes to make polo more accessible to Haiti’s (generally underprivileged) youth. He proposes to do that by helping to develop a world-class polo resort. The five-star 8,000 acre vision for Cote de Fer on Haiti’s southeast coast includes a polo grounds and school, golf courses, a marina for sailing, and a track for Formula One racing.The resort project is favored by some impressive financial backers includ Audi Sportscar Experience, Duty Free America and Digicel; it also has a healthy working relationship with the Ministry of Tourism in Haiti. (This was the same office that brought ice skating to Port-au-Prince in 2014. See blog http://www.itscactus.com/blog/2013/08/30/port-au-prince-the-chill-factor/ ) “Haitian youth will have access to polo like never before, says Bertrand, “because they will not be required to have club memberships to learn and play. All they’ll have to do is pay for their lessons, which will include instruction, gear,

This cenotaur would be SOME polo player!  "Man and Horse" by Edward Dieudonne.

This centaur would be SOME polo player! “Man and Horse” by Edward Dieudonne.

horses, and time on the practice grounds.”

In a Bay Area news telecast in October, Bertrand told the interviewer that a single polo lesson in San Francisco costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $120. Now, I am sure there is a certain price adjustment to be made from the Bay Area to southeastern Haiti, but in a country where the minimum daily wage is right around $5 and forty percent or the workforce is not employed at all, that seems like a bit of a financial stretch.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. Bertrand should certainly be applauded for bringing pride and success home to Haiti. His sport is a great one, combining outdoor exercise, spirit of teamwork, competition and camaraderie, and working with animals. All positives, to be sure. Why not polo in Haiti? Maybe it will work, who knows?  It’s just a little unexpected.

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

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