A new generation takes the reins at Nairobi’s polo club


“Get again on the horse that threw you,” goes the outdated adage, which was repeated to me endlessly by my brother-in-law — one among Argentina’s most expert horsemen — in my nation’s pampas after I was in my early teenagers and began to have a go at polo. On a current weekend, after two falls on the Nairobi Polo Membership, 10,000km from my hometown of Buenos Aires, the phrase spurred me once more.

I used to be swiftly again within the saddle, actually, after rolling off the horse whereas enjoying my first polo event in nearly three a long time. Quickly after, I additionally discovered myself on a podium holding an elephant-shaped ebony trophy after having received the round-robin group of the final cup of Nairobi’s polo season.

“You survived, and also you received — that’s fairly an accomplishment after such a very long time,” chuckled Raphael Nzomo, 57, the primary black Kenyan chairman of the Nairobi Polo Club — which was based in 1907 whereas the nation was beneath British colonial rule — and the one who inspired me to revive my makes an attempt on the sport.

Raphael Nzomo, chair of the Nairobi Polo Membership, together with his daughter Hiromi earlier than a match in January © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

Spectators watch a game
Spectators at a event . . . © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

A horse groom holds two horses by the reins
 . . . whereas a groom holds the horses © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

Nzomo, a profitable airline businessman, began enjoying about twenty years in the past. He has grow to be a number one determine amongst a gaggle of African polo-playing fans who, investing in homegrown expertise, have been pushing to make the game extra accessible and inclusive (although throughout the margins of requiring a few horses per recreation, one thing that isn’t low-cost).

“It was December 2004 after I performed my first event. Again then, I may barely journey and everyone was watching me saying ‘who is that this man? He can hit that ball, however he can’t journey to save lots of his life’. Anyway, the remaining is historical past,” Nzomo informed me, shortly earlier than his crew crushed mine on the pitch.

Right now, he isn’t solely one of many nation’s prime gamers, he additionally performs alongside his daughter and two sons, is breeding ponies within the nation, and has underpinned the rising recognition of the game. “I prefer to take credit score for altering the game right here. As a result of, all the time once you examine polo, it talks about polo being the sport of kings and princes and knights and I’m none of that. I’m only a hardworking adrenaline freak who was intrigued by the game and was not daunted,” he mentioned.

Polo players on horses compete for the ball
Andres Schipani (second from left) competes for the ball © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

A man changes the scoreboard to 2-0 during a game
Holding the rating on the Nairobi Polo Membership, the oldest polo membership in east Africa © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

An umpire with whistle and uniform
An umpire walks alongside the polo area throughout a event in January © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

Others adopted: the membership has now greater than 70 enjoying members, together with a dozen newcomers, amongst them a number of ladies, who’ve joined throughout his tenure. And, for the primary time in Kenya’s historical past, half of the gamers are black Kenyans.

“Once I joined, it was 99 per cent white. Now, it’s 50/50, and the indigenous Kenyans are taking up the management,” he added. After two stints as chairman, Nzomo is because of step down in April. However he’s sure one other Kenyan will take the reins: “There are a variety of Kenyans now enjoying.”

The Nairobi Polo Membership is the oldest polo membership in east Africa, with two full-size pitches, a properly refitted membership home, and stables for nearly 90 horses. Although it’d lack the posh model sponsorships loved by golf equipment similar to Palm Seashore or Cowdray Park, in recent times Nzomo has attracted a rising variety of supporters, together with East African Breweries, one among Kenya’s largest firms by market capitalisation, which makes the ever-present Tusker beer.

A woman in a white dress smokes an electronic cigarette while watching a game
Type and the social scene are as essential because the matches within the polo membership’s rising recognition © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions
A woman in a white dress poses for a photo with two of the polo horses
A spectator poses for a photograph with two of the polo membership’s horses. ‘It’s like a funnel — from spectating, persons are transitioning to play,’ membership member Michelle Morgan says © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

“Polo is all the time related to Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. I mentioned, ‘no, guys, simply come and drink beer’, we now have our very personal Tusker beer. Individuals like it and the crowds are rising. Some should not actually within the recreation, they simply need a good social, good music, gown fancy, that could be a new factor. However then, there are those who look and ask, ‘hey, can we additionally play this recreation?’ It’s hooking them,” Nzomo informed me. “We now have demonstrated that polo might be common, persons are coming to speak to us, intrigued by the sport, and saying, ‘It’s so nice to see you play along with your daughter, and along with your sons. How can we become involved? And that’s opening alternatives for polo in Kenya.”

People socialize on the sideline as players ride on the field
Socialising on the sidelines as gamers compete at a event © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

A polo team are awarded a trophy
Raphael Nzomo, daughter Hiromi (centre) and different members of their crew rejoice their success at a event earlier this 12 months © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

Younger spectators on the membership © Eduardo Soteras Jalil/Monetary Occasions

Michelle Morgan, 34, who joined the membership a 12 months in the past, agreed. “It’s like a funnel — from spectating, persons are transitioning to play,” she mentioned. That’s echoed by Hiromi, Nzomo’s 27-year-old daughter and a medical pupil: “There are much more born and bred Kenyans who’re entering into this sport, which is improbable. Polo is now embracing the broader group.”

Enjoyable apart, on a private stage, in between covering wars in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ukraine, polo is, as soon as once more, my grounding. The joyful emotions from my Argentine teenage years galloped again into my grownup Kenyan life. It’s not simply the adrenaline. It’s getting again on the saddle to journey and play. Though at my age I want a physiotherapist, not simply an adage, to recuperate from the falls.

Andres Schipani is the FT’s east and central Africa correspondent

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