By Mehboob Aly Gulbasti
When it comes to appreciating the efforts of our polo players, there should be no doubt that we admire them for their efforts. Our players get nothing on tournament tours; they don’t get any significant facility from the government or the sports department. They have not received any financial support during the tours in the past. Yet, these handful of determined men continue to fight for keeping polo alive in the Hunza region. Their love for polo, and their motherland (Hunza) is beyond doubt. We should, all, pay tribute to the individuals who have kept horses, are feeding them throughout the year and meeting all their expenses, including those incurred while going for tournaments. They are putting in their blood and sweat to keep polo alive in Hunza.
In the past, the Hunza polo team was a force to reckon with, but for the last several decades, we have not been able to win a single match. Let alone winning a tournament, we have failed to participate as a region/district in major regional tournaments.
It is easy to blame the players and the horses for the loss of matches, but there are many reasons behind the gradual decline. The behavior of the local government towards this unique sports tops the list of reasons one can think of.
The team, unsupported by the government, or the civil society, participates in the tournaments without preparation. They fail to perform, because the horses are raised in a different context. The field’s topography is different. There are also issues with the selection of polo players.
The local government, especially elected member, Shah Salim and Governer GB Mir Ghazanfar, have not been able to help the players in any significant manner. There’s no proper sports board at Hunza level to manage various issues, and promote the team. The players have time and again not been given funds to take their horses to Gilgit or elsewhere in GB for training and tournaments. The fall of polo in Hunza seems to be complete. The horses are there, but the charm of the game has faded away. If not for the polo enthusiasts living in Chipursan Valley, the game may have completely been shunned in Hunza.
We may have started playing football and cricket and all other games, but Polo is still in the King of Games, and the Game of Kings. It is an important part of our culture and heritage, and we should be worried about its decline.
The way forward is to devise a strategy, collect resources, incentivize the players, and encourage them to train properly and participate in tournaments. The players need support of donors and sponsors, and the government to keep the game alive, and to concentrate on it more, while also providing for their families. These players, who invest a lot in keeping the horses and participating in tournaments, are custodians of our heritage, and they need our support.
If we keep ignoring the sports, then we may very well throw it out of our culture. But, doing that would definitely be a cultural disaster.