While it was part of the Olympics for a brief period in the early 1900s, Polo is no longer played at the Olympic summer games. Part of the reason for the removal from the schedule of events is due to the low number of countries that participated at the time, as well as the high cost of taking up the sport.
There are currently no plans to add polo back as an Olympic sport, even though there have been moves in that direction in recent years.
The History of Polo at the Summer Olympics
The history of polo at the Summer Olympic games is rather brief. Despite being the oldest team sport in the world, polo did not appear at the Olympics until 1900. It made four appearances after that, with the last being in Germany in 1936.
The number of entries from polo teams for the games was never all that high. In fact, in the first year of the event, teams were not classed by the country. They were mixed nationality teams (Great Britain and the United States took Gold), although later years saw proper national teams take part.
At most, each of the tournaments saw a maximum number of five teams take part, although the second appearance at the Olympics only had three which meant every team received a medal. At the time, these were some of the richest nations in the world.
While other sports at the Olympics attracted countless teams to their events, polo never really made massive strides. It wasn’t a sport that the rest of the world particularly cared about, and that probably didn’t sit well with the Olympics Committee who wanted to design events that brought the whole world together.
Even with the teams that were entering, there wasn’t really that much competition between them. Out of the five polo events that were run, Great Britain won two of them, obtained silver in three, and bronze in another (due to combined teams).
Argentina was the only other country to obtain Gold at the event, with the rest of the teams having to make do with silver or bronze. Mexico did make strides in the events, though. Out of two entries, they picked up two bronze medals.
Polo did take place as a demonstration event at an official Olympics event in 2018, but no medals were awarded. However, more countries did take part.
Reasons for Removal of Polo from the Olympic Program
There was not an official announcement for the removal of polo from the Olympic program. Due to the outbreak of World War II, the planned Olympic events in both Tokyo and London were canceled.
It is unknown as to whether polo was planned to be on the schedule for either of these events, although the likelihood of that happening is high.
When the Olympics returned to London in 1948, polo was not one of the planned events, and it has not returned since.
Part of the reason as to why polo no longer features at the Olympics is due to the high cost of getting into the sport. While polo is one of the oldest team sports in the world, it has always been the sole domain of the rich. Those that live in poverty find it exceedingly difficult to afford the costs of taking part in polo.
What you must remember is that a single polo team may get through fifty horses in a single match. The average a horse is used is between three and four minutes. Only the richest of countries can afford the upkeep of this number of horses.
The Olympics has always been designed to be an event that anybody can take part in, assuming they have the skill. The International Olympic Committee has always favored events that require very little in the way of equipment.
If you look at the current Summer Olympic Games event list, you will find that the vast majority of sports are ones that can be taken up no matter how much cash you have at your disposal.
Shortly after the end of World War II, polo became less popular overall. Even in countries where it was seen as a ‘largish’ sport, there were dwindling attendees to events. What was a niche sport became even more niche and, as a result, it is likely that IOC saw any financial value in having polo included at their events.
It is worth noting that there are currently over 100 countries that maintain national Polo teams and this demonstrates that access to the sport is becoming more and more viable.
Although, even then, the sport is still the sole domain of the richest in the countries that have national polo teams. It isn’t really a sport that is accessible to everybody.
When does Polo Officially Recognized By the International Olympic Committee?
In 1996, the International Olympic Committee finally recognized polo as a recognized sport. This was the first signal that the Olympic Committee may be planning to add it back to the official event list, although nothing has really happened since 1996. Bar one exception.
In the past, the Summer Olympic Games used to boast ‘demonstration sports’. The idea was to show off certain sports, often related to the host country, while at the same time not officially classing them as Olympic sports. This meant that no medals were awarded. This practice has long since died out, with the exception of the Summer Youth Olympics.
In 2018, polo made an appearance as the demonstration sport for the Summer Youth Olympics. No reason was given as to why this was the case. However, it is likely due to the increased popularity of the sport. It may also be a ‘test’ to see whether the event could work as an official Olympic sport later on.
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What is The Future of Polo at the Summer Olympics?
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Whilst it is unlikely that polo will return to the Summer Olympics in the near future, the fact that the IOC has officially recognized it as a sport, and the fact that it was allowed as a demonstration sport, does bode well for the future.
The Federation of International Polo applied for the sport to appear in Tokyo 2020, although the application was rejected. However, it was this application that triggered the recognition as a demonstration sport at the Summer Youth Olympics in 2018.
This indicates that the IOC is at least partially consideration the introduction of the sport in the big summer games. Although, understandably, this is going to be a rather slow process. Host countries do need time to prepare for the introduction of new sports, after all.
We believe that polo will once again appear in the Summer Olympics. It may be 4-5 Olympics away (20-years), but it will return. There are far more countries playing the sport than ever before. This means that when it inevitably returns to a major competition, there will be far more teams than in the past.
For now, the Federation of International Polo will continue to work with its 100 member countries to further the sport at the upper echelons of competition, and they will not stop until polo appears at the Olympics once more.