How did you develop a passion for horses and polo?
I was brought up in the countryside in Switzerland around lots of horses and other animals. From a very young age, I’ve always had a deep passion for horses and polo. I started riding when I was very young and learnt to play polo at an older age with friends.
What brought you to Dubai?
I was holidaying in the UAE in 2001 when I met my husband here and I ended up making this my home.
What inspired you to set up the Beach Polo Cup in Dubai?
Back in 2004, my husband Sam and I were sitting in a friend’s majlis and we thought we need to do something fun, something different in Dubai. I’m Swiss and we play polo on snow in St Moritz, so we came up with an idea, ‘why don’t we play polo on the beach’? We knew polo was growing in popularity in the UAE thanks to the region’s love of horses; however, we could not have foreseen just how quickly beach polo would spread across the world. Following the launch of the sport in the UAE in 2004, it has grown in popularity and now has a global following, with similar tournaments now played in 38 cities across the world.
In September 2014, Beach Polo Cup Dubai received the official patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, and the 2018 tournament will be held under his patronage for the fourth consecutive year. When you launch a brand-new sport and event as we did, getting sponsorship can be difficult in the early years until you have established a solid reputation for the event. We have been fortunate enough to be supported by companies and partners who come back year after year.
How does beach polo differ from field polo?
We play on a smaller field, nearly three times smaller than a regular grass polo field, and with three instead of four players per team. It’s more engaging to watch, there’s more adrenalin flowing through the players and ponies, and all in all, it’s a spectacular version of the sport.
Traditionally a male-dominated sport, have you seen an increase in women playing polo here?
We’re seeing more women in the region interested in polo. We have our first female player in the tournament this year, Austrian Dr Sabine Shaffer. There’s a small — but steadily growing — network of female polo players in the UAE and I hope that we encourage more women to try the sport. Hopefully, in the coming years, we’ll have an all-female team in the Beach Polo Cup Dubai.
How can more people get involved in the sport?
Arena polo is a great way for people to start enjoying watching polo as it brings spectators closer to the action. Polo clubs have opened up across the region and at the Desert Palm Polo Club, founded by Ali Albwardy, more and more people are seeking polo lessons and taking up the sport.
This sport is a great way to bridge cultures. Out on the polo field, it’s just skills, teamwork and the love of the game that matters.
How has the Beach Polo Cup grown over the years?
This will be our ninth year hosting the Beach Polo Cup Dubai and it’s getting bigger every year. The sport’s reputation is growing internationally, which then attracts more people to come and watch the tournament in Dubai, the home of beach polo. It’s a late afternoon/evening event so we recommend only bringing children over the age of five.
What are your favourite places to play the sport?
Other than the UAE, it would be Argentina. It’s the home of polo.
Is the game still viewed in the UAE as a posh sport exclusively for the jetsetting life?
Polo does have a reputation as being just for wealthy, middle-class men but we are doing a lot to change that perception with the Beach Polo Cup Dubai. We target a younger, more sociable crowd to bring the sport to a new audience. Beach polo is a more entertaining, fun version of polo. As well as the polo matches, guests will be treated to spectacular entertainment, including a half-time show with horse acts and dressage thanks to Team Z7, and on the final day, The Greatest Show. We also host an after-party on each day of the tournament in the VIP Majlis Zone — which all guests are invited to come and enjoy — where everyone dances well into the night.
What advice would you give those who’d like to pursue a career in polo?
You need to be an excellent horse rider, so focus on this first, and then take polo lessons at club academies. They are always looking for enthusiastic riders to take up the sport!
The tournament is on today from 4.30pm at Skydive Dubai.