polo in Argentina - the history

Sometimes in sport, there are nations that defy the odds. This occurs when despite its relatively small size, a modest nation dominates a sport and creates a legacy that will forever stand in the annals of sporting time.

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Here in Europe, The Netherlands comes to mind in football and New Zealand has dominated world rugby union for decades. In South America this is undoubtedly Argentina; a nation that has become synonymous with churning out talent in a range of disciplines.

Despite regularly facing behemoth nations such as Brazil, Argentina is feared opposition in any sport it plays and this isn’t just at the obvious pastimes of football and rugby which come to mind for most.

Diverse European Origins

Due to the country’s diverse range of European origins and relatively mild climate when compared to other South American regions, Argentinians play an array of other sports with varying success. However, the region has a real passion for a quintessentially British pastime – polo. Due to the number of ex-patriate British in the region, classic sports such as Argentina polo and cricket have maintained significant popularity over the years and continue to develop today.

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The Origins of Polo

Polo, played professionally in 16 countries and formerly an Olympic sport, originates from ancient Persia and was invented around the 6th century BC. Emperor Shapur II championed the sport, having started to play polo when he was just six years old. It was then quickly adopted by neighbouring empires such as the Byzantine before spreading further across the globe.

Polo spread so far in fact, that it made it to Argentina, some 8,950 miles away and is played to this day both outdoor and in arenas. Polo is now a way of life in the country for its most passionate and committed players.

The History of Polo In Argentina

So, how did a sport played by middle eastern royalty thousands of years ago come to be such a popular hobby and even career in a country as far away as Argentina?

As with many sports now dominated by various countries across the world, polo was actually developed in Argentina by British settlers, having arrived in Buenos Aires and The Pampas plains in 1806 and integrating various British cultures.

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The region had found great popularity among foreign settlers due to its fertility and the fact that the Pampas cover more than 280,000 square miles of land in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Easily farmable and boasting some of the best weather on the globe, the attraction to the area was far from surprising.

The Beginnings of Argentina & Polo

David Shennan is widely credited with holding the first formal game of polo in Argentina, in 1875 at the Estancia El Negrete in the nation’s capital Buenos Aires. Polo was then played on a regular basis at the Hurlingham Club, which has gone on to become one of the most prestigious venues for world polo and the Argentine Polo Association was duly founded in 1922.

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The Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo, the most sought after domestic title, has been fought out every year since 1803 at Buenos Aires venue, the Campo Argentino de Polo. Domestic polo in Argentina is invigilated by the River Plate Polo Association, an entity that may be recognised by football fans as one of the most prestigious clubs in Argentinian soccer.

Argentinian Polo

The nation’s first success in the sport of polo came in the 1924 Olympic games where they won gold and the feat was repeated in 1936. Argentina has also won four World Polo Championships, the highest accolade any nation can hold in polo.

Such has been Argentina’s success in the sport of polo, that the three most prestigious events in the sport are hosted there; The Argentine Open, The Tortugas Open and the Hurlingham Open. These events really emphasise the all that Argentina polo has to offer.

Polo Handicap

In a system similar to golf, the international handicap variant of polo is where Argentina really excelsa. Created by Henry Lloyd Herbert, the first president of the United States Polo Association, the system allows players of varying abilities to compete.

Argentina has been the premier nation at international handicap polo since 1949 without interruption, with Argentinians making up the majority of the world’s elite – quite staggering statistics. This run of form, which has lasted for nearly seven decades, has led Argentina to considered by many to be the spiritual home of polo, not just in South America but across the globe.

Argentinian Polo Olympic Champions

After the spread of polo via Argentina’s many skillful gauchos, the aforementioned period of Olympic success came in the twenties and thirties. These players are inevitably revered as legends and will remain in global polo folklore forever more.

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1924 Paris Olympic Champions

  • Juan Miles
  • A. Pena
  • Arturo Kenny
  • Juan Nelson
  • G. Brooke Naylor
  • Enrique Padilla
1936 Berlin Olympic Champions
  • Andres Gazzotti
  • Luis Duggan
  • Diego Cavanagh
  • Manuel Andrada
  • Roberto Cavanagh
  • Enrique Alberdi

Notable Former Argentinian Polo Players
  • Adolfo Cambiaso
  • Gonzalo Pieres
  • Facundo Pierwa (brother of Gonzalo)
  • Novilla Astrado [& brother]
  • The Heguys
  • Tommy Iriarte

Notable Argentinian Polo Towns

  • Hurlingham
  • Venado Tuerto
  • Canada de Gomez
  • Flores
  • Quilmes

As purveyors of all things Argentinian, the story of this nation’s rich sporting heritage is one that is understandably very close to our hearts here at pampeano.

Polo is a sport which is steeped in this very heritage and in similar style, our high quality, hand-made polo equipment is made with exemplary levels of care and expertise; equipment that players both here in the UK and Argentina are proud to call their own.

You can find out more about the pampeano story right here on the site or by e-mailing our team of experts at customer.services@pampeano.co.uk to discuss anything premium leather or polo related.