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Peter Wright
Peter WrightPeter Wright

Peter Wright

Changes in Polo

February 22, 2016
February 22, 2016
by Andrés Ugarte Larraín

The international polo season started with plenty of activity, but also with several requests for changes and new rules, that could potentially be implemented in the short term. 

Peter Wright, one of the leading polo referees, spoke with PoloLine in Dubai to discuss rules and changes that could potentially be applied in upcoming tournaments.  Wright shares why he thinks certain changes are essential.

Regarding the Argentine Open final, which he umpired in 2014, he stated: "It made my profile a lot bigger, for sure. I was known in Europe and around the world as an English umpire who umpired in England, the French Open and Sotogrande, but to go to Argentina as the first foreigner raised my profile enormously, specially after umpiring the final. People started realising Peter Wright was on the world stage, not only European stage. To cover the best polo in the world is a privilege and I was very lucky to get the final."

Do you think polo needs changes?

I think we need to change the ethos of polo, where at the moment winning comes first and having fun comes second. Not all of the patrons are having fun. There is so much money in the big organisations that patrons with less money are saying, 'we don't want to do this any more'. I heard about salary caps, limiting the horses, but I think there must be more from the heart of players to have fun first and win as a bonus."

Can there be a single global regulation, or at least for the three big seasons (US, UK and Argentina)?

I think the only way for the organisations have the same rules is if there is a global umpiring group that enforce those rules together. There's no point in English umpires umpiring in England with their organisations, the Argentines, and maybe a couple of foreigners. In Argentina they will see the same rules differently; the same goes in the US high goal. It will only work if there is a global group of maybe 10 or 12 umpires who are under the leadership of one organisation, not the HPA or the USPA or the AAP, but a separate umpire organisation. I cannot see how we can have unified rules when the interpretation of the same rules is different, as it is at the moment.

What do you think about the possibility of implementing a Sin Bin, like the one in rugby?

Polo is a passionate sport, but no more passionate than any other elite sport. And elite sports like rugby, for example, have a sin bin (where the player must leave the field for 10 minutes). When playing the final of the Heineken Cup, or the 4 Nations or 6 Nations, or at the World Cup, these guys are full of passion and want to win - but they still respect the game, the sport and the authorities. If they go crazy, they get sent to the sin bin. It's very difficult to do that in polo because one player makes up 25% of the team; it would make people think a bit more before swearing or shouting at referees or disputing calls to the grand stand, that's for sure. Perhaps if a team had to survive 2 minutes without a player it would make everyone around think before reacting.

How would you apply it?

It is one of those things that is going to be difficult because, as in all sports, each referee will see situations different. I think the sin bin should be for really dangerous fouls or extreme disrespect towards officials. The problem with the sin bin is that you need to have more people involved: where are they going to go, when does the time start - from the moment the player is sent to the sin bin or when they are given the card. No one really knows these details at the moment, but they have to be thought out very soon because, as far as I'm aware, this is going to be implemented in England.

In your opinion, which country has the best set of rules?

I like the Argentine system, with the technical foul where you can move the foul on the severity of what you think of the transgression. I like the fact that you can move it up to a 30 yard penalty from halfway. In England, and I think in the US as well, we have to move it up by each penalty mark, and then we start with the yellow cards - it's a very complicated system. The Argentine system is very clear cut. I think the Argentine system with the sin bin would probably be the best.

What should be the next step?

To get everyone together and on the same page, thinking about making polo better. If all the patrons and all the sponsors start saying, 'we don't want to be involved in the sport because it is a two horse race in Argentina, three horse race in the US or two horse race in the UK.' The sponsors will leave, the patrons will leave, and there will only be two teams left. So we have to get everyone wanting to play polo in the same way, with the same style, and everyone having fun. Everyone needs to make a living, but no one will if nobody is having fun and all the patrons leave.

To conclude, Peter Wright shares the following thought: "I think that the unification of the rules is important. We have to be playing the same style of polo around the world, that is the priority. It is difficult when there is patron polo or, as in Argentina, 4-man polo. But we see the same problems in polo in La Diamante, in La Dolfina, or in the Ellerstina Gold Cup, as we have in England in the 22-goal or here in Dubai. The problems they have in those tournaments are the same as they have in patron polo everywhere: It's getting away from the idea of winning at all costs and starting to make it a good sport for everyone to play, watch, and get involved with."