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Polo Comes Home To Caspian, As Azerbaijan Hosts 5th World Cup

By Nargiz Mammadli September 11, 2017

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The four team representing the US, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, and Monaco have made their way to the largest city in the South Caucasus, Baku to compete in the fifth CBC Sport Arena Polo World Cup. / World Polo

Azerbaijan hosted the fifth CBC Sport Arena Polo World Cup in Baku from September 8 – 10, where teams from the United States, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, and Monaco competed in one of the world’s oldest sports games.

Melissa Ganzi, an American professional polo player was joined by her teammates Juan Bollini and Tito Gaudenzi, who were playing for Improtex Motors. Switzerland was represented by the members of EVVIVA Polo Club, which included Zhanna Bandurko, Martin Estrada, Raya Sidorenko and Santiago de Estrada.

Rommy Gianni and Chris Hyde from Monaco are competed this year, along with Giles Greenwood, from the Monte Carlo Polo Team. Their main rivals are Azerbaijan’s Elchin Jamalli, Rashad Hasanov, Ali Rzayev, Amil Namazov and Tarlan Gurbanaliyev, the winners of the first FIP Arena Polo European Championship that was held in Baku in 2015.

Now in its fifth year, the event was organized by Azerbaijan’s Equestrian Federation together with Reto Gaudenzi, one of the pioneers of modern polo playing in the country. The three-day event took place at the Elite Horse & Polo Club, located almost 25 kilometers from the center of Baku.

In 2013, the first CBC Sport Arena Polo World Cup took place in Baku, featuring match between an international team and Azerbaijani players of the sport’s ancestor.

Azerbaijan is a regional home to polo’s original form, called chovgan, which dates between the sixth century BC and first century AD and was played in the Persian empire. Much like today, the sport was a luxury, as it was played on horseback, making it a costly endeavor. The aristocracy traditionally played the game using Karabakh horses, once bred in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region and still found in Azerbaijan. Today these horses are considered a national symbol and are trained for chovgan’s modern-day equivalent, polo.

With an interest in reviving the ancient game, Azerbaijan has made efforts to keep its legacy alive. In 2006, the Festival of National Horse Games has been held in Sheki, a region not far from Azerbaijan’s border with Russia. At the request of Azerbaijan, in 2013 UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage included chovgan in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.