BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Italian-Argentinian polo player Camila Rossi remembers the odd looks the boys gave her when she was in youth tournaments with them. American Erica Gandomcar doesn’t forget her failed attempts to convince the leaders of her country’s polo association that they should organize a world-class championship for women.
These women talked about the hurdles they faced to play a sport dominated by men, as they enlist with another 22 to test their horses outside Buenos Aires. Saturday is the opening day for the first women’s polo world championship.
Argentina, United States, England, Ireland, Brazil and Italy will face off at the Campo Argentino de Polo, which is considered a sacred place for the sport. Tickets are free, as part of the efforts to make women’s polo more popular.
“Polo has been dominated by men for a long time. And now women in general, all over the world, are being heard,” said Gandomcar, who is part of a committee of the United States’ polo association. “For years we tried to organize a women’s polo tournament. This is a dream come true.”
The six teams will be split into groups of three and they will all play against each other. The two first of each group will be in the semifinals, with the winners fighting for the title on April 16.
“The idea was born out of the growth of women’s polo in recent years. It is impressive how many women started playing,” said Horacio Areco, the Argentina president of the International Polo Federation. “
Women’s polo began in Argentina with a group of pioneers who started competing in men’s teams. In 2010, the country’s polo body established a special handicap for women so it could have a system to measure the level of their game. The maximum handicap of 10 is for professional players. Zero is for starters.
“Today everything is flowing. It was much more difficult,” said Rossi, an Argentine who will play for Italy. “I started at a club where I was the only woman among boys. A world championship helps the sport settle well in each country, be promoted and be fostered.”
In the city of Pilar, outside Buenos Aires, polo players were instructed about the rules of the tournament in English. Matches will be played in five parts, known as chukkers, of four minutes and 30 seconds.
Some of the horses involved in the championship cost more than $100,000.
English polo player Fran Townend, who uses crutches due to an traffic accident five years ago, calmly rode on a horse given to her in a draw. The two started roaming around to get familiar.
“It is very exciting to be picked to represent England in the first women’s polo world championship. As a disabled player, be recognized at the same level of other players,” Townend said. “The women’s game is not about power, it is about mental clarity to play.”