Why the Julius Baer Beach Polo Cup Dubai 2013 will be the biggest yet
‘I don’t think I look as good as David Beckham, but my wife is much better-looking that Victoria,’ laughs Sam Katiela, when asked how he feels about the pair being referred to as ‘the Posh and Becks of beach polo’. The origins of the nickname are unfamiliar to him, but the reason behind it is not. Sam and his wife Gaby were responsible for setting up the first beach polo match in Dubai back in 2004 – and the sport has since gone global, making them, in his words, a ‘kind of power couple of beach polo’. On Thursday April 18, the fast-paced game returns to the UAE for the first time in six years for a three-day tournament.
‘We invented beach polo here nine years ago – it was the first time ever it was played officially anywhere in the world,’ he explains, noting that since then the game has been played in nearly 30 cities around the world. ‘They’re even playing it in Chicago, where they don’t have a sea – just a huge lake.’ But it’s the homecoming of the game to the UAE that he is most excited about, which he claims will be the biggest beach polo event in the world – though he’s quick to add he doesn’t mean crowd size, but in the scale of investment. He and his ‘friends and family’ are pouring almost Dhs15 million into the event, which will be held at the city’s Mina A’Salam hotel.
On Friday 19 and Saturday 20 (Thursday 18 is an invitation-only players’ night), four teams will be pitched against one another on the sand – one from Switzerland, another from Saudi Arabia and two from the UAE. The field is far smaller than a traditional polo arena, at just 150 metres by 50 metres, while each team will have only three players. ‘You can feel the power of the horses, the speed, you can hear the shouts.’ The reason spectators are usually kept so far back from play is due to the highly dangerous nature of the sport, which Sam explains is not so much of an issue in this particular variation. ‘The good thing is we’re not playing with a really hard polo ball. We’re playing with a much lighter ball, so if it goes into the crowd, as it did last time the game was played here, nobody gets hurt.’
There will be two separate stands for spectators: the 700 person-capacity majlis zone for the guests of the organiser and event sponsors, and the shams zone, an 800-capacity area for the general public, with food and beverage stands provided by the Jumeirah hotel and MMI. In an unusual twist, however, tickets for the shams zone will not be put on sale – instead, the first 300 Dubai-based Facebook users to ‘like’ the event’s page will be offered free tickets. ‘We want it to be for everybody, and that’s why we’re not charging an entry fee,’ Sam explains. ‘But we have to do it by invitation only, because we need to control the crowds’.
As well as all the action on the field over the weekend, there will be a variety of other activities taking place, including a charity auction of model polo ponies painted by children, with proceeds going to Dubai Cares, plus plenty of music and entertainment. ‘It’s going to be full of action and spirit – wherever you sit, you will feel the heat and power of the game.’ Given that Dubai is the home of this exciting and incredibly fast-growing sport, where better to watch it than right here in the city? Friday April 19 and Saturday April 20, 2.30pm-midnight. Mina A’Salam, Umm Suqeim (04 340 8589). Apply for tickets at www.facebook.com/beachpolocup.
Upcoming beach tournaments
Spectating not your style? Get involved with one of these sand-based events…