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Polo, Power And Panache

Published 10 years ago
By Forbes Africa

It was just like the old days in South Africa. Marching, police and protest. This was not a protest against an oppressive regime; this was a free people unwilling to pay for new roads.

Investment, economy, Protests, employment, South Africa, National Union of Mineworkers, April 2012

It was a dull, cloudy day over Lagos. On the ground it was dazzling speed and skill as the Lagos Polo Tournament—the sporting event of the year in Nigeria—thundered to its climax. For two weeks, the finest players in this polo-mad country have vied for the glittering prizes of this rich tournament that costs a million dollars merely to sponsor.

They’ve been playing at the Lagos Polo Club, in the exclusive Ikoyi district, where British Army cavalry officers laid down the turf in 1904. As the years go by, it is getting more and more expensive to assemble a winning team. It will cost you around $40,000 for a good polo pony and many thousands more to import top professionals from polo playing nations like Argentina. This is a game that carries status and most of Nigeria’s tycoons have a polo club or team.

Better luck next time: Prince Albert Esiri, the Captain of Ashbert Raiders collects the runner up trophy

The final, on March 4, was between teams led by two of the richest men in Nigeria. Entrepreneur, Prince Albert Esiri, who was ranked  one of the top 10 polo patrons in the world by the Financial Times, led his Ashbert Raiders against the Lagos Ironclad Mandarin team—led by Obafemi Otudeko, the chairman of Bharti Airtel in Nigeria. Both teams are veterans of the big occasion and have also played at the British Open and the Royal Windsor Cup.

The Ashbert Raiders were the favorites as they had a two-goal start, through the handicap system, plus Argentinian professionals, Bruno Cipponeri and Hugo Caesar. The favorites raced into a 4-0 lead with power and panache, by the end of the first Chukka, as Cipponeri scored two penalties. It should have sealed the game, but it didn’t.

Ashbert Raiders (in blue-and-white) tussle with Ironclad Mandarin in the final

The feisty Ironclad team fought back to level at 5-5 before scoring the decisive goal, late in the fourth Chukka, to secure a memorable 6-5 victory. A packed grandstand cheered as organizers handed trophies and medals to the victors Kwame Musa and Bashir Dantata of Ironclad.

The elite of Nigeria then retreated to marquees pegged out on the polo grounds and the party began. Behind the scenes, players took off their helmets and knee guards before slipping into more comfortable clothes.

The softly spoken oil and gas tycoon, Prince Albert Esiri, said proudly: “For me really it is to have had a chance to play with my son, because he has been wanting us to play together. He wasn’t very keen about polo and he only took up polo two three years ago which is quite late…” Someone in the background said that the game is certainly growing in Nigeria, but conversation was lost when the music went up and the party started. Celebrations went on into the night. In 108 years, Lagos Polo Club has seen f

Champagne on the sidelines at the Lagos Polo Club

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Related Topics: #April 2012, #Lagos, #Nigeria, #Playground, #Polo, #Tournament, #Wealth.