By Sebastián Meresman
The Argentine Polo Association (AAP) bears the “responsibility” of being the “NBA of polo”, a sport that is being played “more than it has ever been played”, which employs tens of thousands of people and which serves to “promote tourism,” as explained to EFE by the vice president of the AAP, Carlos Menéndez Behety.
“For tourism, polo is extremely significant. It is probably the most valuable tourism considering per capita income. That helps bring investments. It is not that they only come to see polo, they come to invest, to buy, to consume. It is a high impact tourism ”, assured the manager.
The governing body of the country’s polo received in November 2021, from the Secretary of Tourism Promotion of Argentina, the license “Country Brand”, which aims to “position and develop key areas of the economy at a national and international level” . For Menéndez Behety, the AAP received this recognition because polo is “a showcase” for Argentina and allows “bringing in investments.”
The pole as a generator of jobs
According to the numbers of the Association, in Argentina there are around 6,500 polo players, of which 3,500 are federated.
“We calculate that around each polo there are about ten sources of work that are generated. What we envision are the direct employees related to the horse industry, but then there is an indirect industry ”, he specified.
Among the direct jobs generated by polo, Menéndez Behety mentioned, among others, caretakers, trainers, veterinarians, blacksmiths and saddlers.
“Behind a polo match there is a very large industry that represents the work of many people. And it is something very technical, very sophisticated, which is seen as unskilled labor and is probably one of the most qualified labor in the world, “he said.
In addition, the vast majority of the elements necessary for sports are manufactured, totally or partially, in the country.
“The tacos are bamboo poles that come from abroad, but all the processing and so forth is produced in Argentina. I would tell you that the leather industry, saddlery and others, the bulk of it, is a national industry, ”said Menéndez Behety.
From the AAP they see with satisfaction and joy how polo grows steadily. “More polo is being played than has ever been played. Not only in Argentina, it is reacting and pulling in the rest of the world and Argentina has the role of being the governing body of polo, in some way we are leading the agenda ”, he said.
“We aspire to compare ourselves with Wimbledon and Formula 1. In terms of income it is still a very long road, it is one more niche sport, but it is a sport that has to grow much more,” he said.
The business of women’s polo
For Menendez Behety, the growth of women’s polo can be a great source of income.
“The women’s pole is the vertical that is growing the fastest, the one that we see that has the most possibilities to grow and we also see that it is the one that has the most possibility of being global faster,” he analyzed.
“In the case of women, it is a much more competitive global platform from the beginning, so in this context we see that it has been growing a lot. It is a platform that we see that is exploiting and is going to grow radically in the coming years in Argentina and in the world ”, he assured.
The polo NBA and the challenge of empowering the industry
Argentina is the country with the best polo players and where the most important tournaments in the world are played. For this reason, the AAP tries to “help” the rest of the associations so that the pole “grows” and “develops”.
“We have the role, we are in a certain way the NBA, we simply have the challenge as leaders of being at the level and being professionals to position a sport in the world in which we are the best,” he considered.
“We see it as something natural and as a responsibility. This is about building wealth and trying to expand the size of the industry. We are the NBA, but we are not in the United States. It is a sport that needs a repositioning process. It is very biased towards something very elitist, something very small and the truth is that it is an extreme sport ”, he said.
Menéndez Behety remarked that the determinations made by the AAP, such as changes in the rules, are rapidly replicated “all over the planet.”
“We want there to be more fun. At the end of the day it is an entertainment and show business industry. Yes, you are the NBA but you are in Argentina and that is a challenge. You have to catch up. We have been looking askance at what institutions of this level do, the NBA, the PGA, all the professional institutions that administer the sports industry, ”said the vice president.
In 2021, the AAP created the “Polo University”, a virtual platform to train those who are or want to be part of this industry.
“Just like when you go skiing at a ski center there is a ski school, polo had no schools. We needed people to teach how to play, to bring you closer, and to be able to qualify these trades that are not visualized. We wanted to start generating knowledge and accumulate it to be able to export it and improve the quality of the industry ”, he concluded.