From the Star of Buffalo Protecting Child - Antonio Graceffo
Biggest, Weirdest, Slowest, and Most Expensive Game in Thailand
by most have-nots, of which I am one, is that the rich are bored, and
that they invent unusual sports to entertain themselves, such as croquet,
yachting, and sailing. Cricket is perhaps the greatest example of what
happens when you have too much money, and nothing to occupy your free
time. A single game could last for three days, and end in a tie score.
Any person of normal means would fall asleep in the interim.
Polo has all of the markings of a rich mans game. The horses cost
hundreds of thousands of dollars. The players must be clad, head-to-toe,
in an outfit, which costs as much as most normal people earn in a year,
but which can only be worn while playing. You tend to get strange looks
if you show up at the food court at your local mall, sporting a leather
riding-whip, and wearing a helmet and knee-high jackboots. If not for
the skin tight ridding britches, which clearly accentuate if you are circumcised
or not, you could be the wayward soldier of some invading army. Instead,
you just look like a leather-boy, who got lost on the way to the Pride
Most people could afford the purchase of a horse and uniform, if they
raided their retirement fund, and if they convinced their children to
quit school, and go to work in a poorly-lit garment factory in Indonesia.
But, the expenses, which keep the sport exclusive only begin there. Next,
you have to actually play polo.
Since my one bedroom flat is too small for polo, I found that I would
have to join a polo club, which costs thousands of dollars per year. Next,
since you dont just want to play in your hometown, you have to join
the polo touring circuit. This entails paying entrance fees to the games,
and purchasing plane tickets, not only for yourself, but for your steed
as well. And finally, the tournaments, tremendous events, played over
a period of days, tend not to be sponsored by low-budget guesthouses.
Instead, they are hosted by luxury resorts, which cost big money.
My first experience with polo was with the granddaddy of all opulence,
elephant polo. And yes, before you ask, elephant polo is played on the
back of an elephant. The price tags associated with elephant polo are
massive as the elephants themselves. The only thing small about elephant
polo is the circuit on which it is played. It includes only three countries,
Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.
This years Kings Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, in Huahin,
Thailand, was sponsored by the Anantara Hotel and Chivas. Thanks to the
sponsors, all of the players, and some lucky members of the press were
housed in deluxe accommodations, and kept well plied with Whisky. The
teams were heavily represented by Britain and Commonwealth Countries,
with the exceptions of the all Thai ladyboy team, the Screwless Tuskers,
and the Mercedes, who were all German.
Each team is composed
of four members. No more than three members may play at a time, leaving
one player in reserve. The game is divided into two chuckas, or halves,
each lasting seven minutes, with a fifteen minute break in between.
The playing field is similar to a football pitch, with one goal post
at either end. Just as in regular polo, the objective is to drive a
small ball into the goal of the opponent, scoring one point. To drive
the ball, the players use a mallet, which given the size of the elephants,
is considerably larger than the one used in horse polo, generally 2.5
The elephants are
driven by Mahouts, one of Thailands ethnic minorities, whose job,
for centuries immemorial, has been to handle elephants. The mahouts
were small men, who perched, barefooted, on the neck of the elephant,
steering the mighty beast with a combination of secret words and physical
gestures. The Mahouts used a metal hook to get the attention of the
willful, if lazy, creatures, who apparently were less enthusiastic about
elephant polo than the players were. The mahouts also kicked the backs
of the elephants ears to signal left and right hand turns. Since,
I am told, an elephants skin is several centimeters thick, one
would have to believe that they hear, rather than feel the blows. Horse
polo is one of the fastest and most exciting games in the world. But
the fans of elephant polo, once they get over the initial excitement
of seeing the elephants, will then be faced with one of the slowest
games ever played. Elephants dont gallop. And, they dont
turn on a dime. The players have no control over the beasts. So, much
of the skill of horse polo is missing. The one skill that remains quite
similar, however, is striking. Elephant polo players must be as adept
at swinging a mallet as their horse polo cousins. But, owing to their
obscene length, the bamboo handled mallets tend to bend if swung too
hard. Bending shortens the mallet and results in the player missing
Another problem, unique to elephant polo, is that the ball will often
become lost, under the elephants. At those most exciting moments, when
all four players press in, close together, all swinging their extra
long mallets, risking life and limb for the team, the ball suddenly
disappears under one of the mammoth pachyderms. And as an ironic twist
of fate, the spectators can all clearly see which elephant the ball
is under, whereas the players cannot. As a player you begin hearing
cries from all points of the stadium. Its on the left!
followed by, No, my left, not your left. Often, even if
a player manages to make the most brilliant shot of the day, a swing
that would surly take the ball home, it is accidentally blocked by the
impassable legs of an elephant, often from that players own team. Sometimes
an elephant will step on the ball, burying it, impossibly, in the ground.
In this instance, play must be suspended, and a restart called. And
of course, any sport which involves elephants will also involve elephant
dung. According to the officials at the polo grounds, an elephant consumes
80 kg of food per day. With six team elephants, and one referee elephant
on the field, that gives the potential for 560 kg of excrement to be
released, at will, by the elephants, often when the players are pressed
close together, in a scrum for the ball. Only the rich would require
you to wear white pants in a game where there was any chance at all
of being shat upon by an elephant.
Writer in the Ring
Mike Atkins in Thailand
spent all week strapped on the back of a 3 ton elephant, competing
in Hua Hins Kings Cup elephant polo tournament, American
writer Antonio Graceffo stepped away from the paddock to take part
in an exhibition boxing match in the seaside towns Grand Sports
Stadium to raise awareness for the elephants cause. The Kings
Cup tournament, now in its fourth year, was competed by fourteen
teams drawn from around the globe to raise money for the Lampang
Elephant Conservation Centre (LECC) in Northern Thailand.
With the initial
forecast of raising 1.5 million baht for the project looking likely
to be exceeded, and a fantastic weeks entertainment had by all
involved, the tournament has been a resounding success. Graceffo, who
boxes part-time and has even starred in a recent Cambodian kung-fu flick
strapped on his gloves in front of a packed crowd and gave a rousing
performance. In a closely fought three-round contest, Antonio was unlucky
to come out on the wrong side of a tight decision, but was happy to
have accomplished his mission of letting people know about the ECCs
Sometimes charity hurts, laughed Graceffo. If I were
Bob Hope I wouldnt have to do this - but I cant sing or
The next morning though, it was back to the elephant polo ground to
try and help his team of fellow journalists, sponsored by UK travel
agency Kuoni, get through the next round.
If you see this film with Antonio in it, let us know!
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