With its long-standing equestrian traditions, Morocco is a prime location for the democratisation of polo.
When Moroccans hear the word 'polo' many of them probably think of a favourite Ralph Lauren shirt. Those slightly more familiar with the sport are often under the impression that this is a hobby for the wealthy, although, in reality, this is far from the truth: you are unlikely to see any Ferraris parked beside the polo field. In fact, the country's long equestrian heritage means that polo is just one of the horse sports to enjoy a particular resonance with its population.
Polo itself is a relative newcomer to the North African kingdom, having begun here only in the early 20th century, in Tanger. In 1923, the city was established as an international zone by foreign colonial powers (Great Britain, France and Spain, joined by Italy, Portugal, Belgium in 1928, and Netherlands a year later) and became a destination for many European and American diplomats, sportsmen, writors and businessmen. It was this foreign influence that introduced polo traditions into the country.
The sport suited Morocco, already famous fo rits pleasant climate, horses, riders and tradition of 'fantasia', which made the sport accessible to Moroccans. Fantasia equestrian performances (see picture), still popular today in the tourist trade, are inspired by the historical wartime attacks of Berber and desert knights in Morocco. Today, they are considered both a cultural art and a form of martial arts.
In the recent years, Morocco's polo community has sought to revive the equestrian tradition that has long been enjoyed in the kingdom. One of its most prominent events, the King Mohammed VI International Polo Trophy, was established by the Moroccan Royal Guard in 2006 and hosted again in 2009.
The tournament, which pits four international teams, including that of the host country, in competition against each other, is now among the major polo tournaments worldwide. Over the years, Morocco has entered several teams that have participated in this and many other events with a good deal of success.
King Mohammed VI has given a great boost to this sport by encouraging and promoting equestrian sports. In the process, His Majesty has upgraded polo clubs and ensured a high level of competition, even internationally.
In 2006, Morocco became the first Arab and African member of FIP.
Thanks to Morocco's equestrian traditions and existing support from the palace, polo is being democratised for the non-elite and made accessible to youngster and adults alike.
Morocco is looking to develop a polo community like England's, in a sociable, relaxing atmosphere, allowing everyone to practise a sport that is not a symbol of social climbing but the realisation of a passion practiced among ordinary people.
Polo can only enhance Morocco as a tourist destination for the international polo fraternity, and put the country on the world tournament map.
The author is a researcher in sports management at the ISCAE Business School in Casablanca