Polo is an ancient Iranian sport that has now spread to all corners of the globe. The game is traditionally played in four to seven intervals, during which teams of four on horseback try to score against each other using a ball and mallet. One of Iran’s most renowned polo players, Amirali Zolfaghari, has played for the Iranian national team for many years. He was born in 1973 and has lived in Iran since. Outside the polo arena, he studied business while maintaining his passion for polo and animals.
Mr. Zolfaghari, thank you so much for giving Trends this exclusive interview despite your busy schedule, we are very grateful. Please introduce yourself and tell us about your history in the field of polo. What interested you in this sport?
I have been riding horses since childhood as both my father and grandfather participated in the sport of polo, with my father holding the nation’s highest handicap in this sport back in his day. I didn’t begin playing polo until I was in my twenties due to complications caused by the revolution. I have been a part of the national team for multiple terms. Polo is a special sport to me due to the interaction with animals and the emotional bond that is created between the horse and its rider. I have a great passion for animals and own multiple polo horses.
Could you tell us about the history of polo?
Polo began long ago in ancient Persia as means to train soldiers by having them participate in this rhythmic and athletic task. The famed Naqshe-Jahan Square used to be a polo field. Polo is also the world’s oldest known team sport. It found its way from Iran to India and from there spread throughout the world.
What is the best part of this sport for you?
The greatest part of this sport for me is the excitement and the adrenaline rush that I get; it is incomparable to anything else. While playing, I don’t think of anything but the game itself.
How does Iran compare to other countries in this sport?
It’s true that this sport originated in Iran but it lacks support and is not given the value that it deserves. Currently, Argentina is one of the world’s top countries in regards to polo due to the low price of horses and suitable terrain for the sport. It has also become a source of showing off for countries due to its wealthy sponsors. For example, Dubai invests a great deal in this sport and many international polo players play for Dubai’s teams in their off season.
How do you see the future of polo in Iran?
That is a very difficult question. Polo has a lot to do with the country’s financial climate. As the economic situation worsens, it becomes more difficult to care for horses and participate in the sport.
What are the current challenges and limitations of this sport?
Polo needs support. All over the world, this sport has patrons and sponsors and those are the people that help this sport grow by recruiting professionals to their teams. Polo requires adequate funds. A polo field is four times as large as a soccer field, therefore its maintenance can be quite costly. Polo horses also need at least two years of training which can also be quite costly. A polo horse can age from 5-17 but their golden age is 10; that is when they are still very vital and have become mature enough for this sport. Polo is a unique sport and you see unique people participating in it.
What is the biggest challenge of this sport for you personally?
My greatest challenge is to get people involved with this sport. Since this is an ancient sport of our country I take a lot of pride in it and hope to reinvigorate it. There are currently only about 200 polo players in Iran, a number which I hope to increase.
Is it possible to make this sport more accessible to the general population?
Due to its great atmosphere and nature-friendly and green environment, it should be fairly easy to attract people to this sport, especially spectators. It’s a wonderful place for people to bring their families. I’m sure that people will become interested in participating after seeing this sport played. However, the environment and the game need to be advertised.
Could you tell us one of your fondest memories from playing polo?
One of my greatest memories is from our game against Australia. I collided with one of my teammates early on in the game and broke both of my legs. However, due to the excitement, I did not realize it until the game was over and I had taken off my boots. This just goes to show how immersive of an experience polo is.
How has the coronavirus affected polo?
Due to athletic facilities being closed, it is not impossible to participate in this sport and it may cause some people who play to become disinterested and not return to this sport after this pandemic is over.
Polo is considered by many to be an exclusive and luxurious activity.
What are the requirements for participating in this sport?
I wouldn’t call polo a luxurious sport; I would call it unique. However, in order to participate, one requires a horse, which has a high maintenance cost and is not affordable for many people.
I personally love this sport and therefore pay the costs. I even try, if possible, to help others who do not have the means to get on a horse and try this wonderful sport.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to participate in this field?
Don’t be frightened by the costs. It is never too late to start and you don’t need to seek to become a champion; playing is a great experience on its own. My advice to those who have children is to get them involved with this sport. It will help them to grow and mature and will familiarize them with nature due to their constant interaction with a living creature. It can also help them become better and more distinctive individuals.