The game of Polo, like the saying goes, is a game for kings. It is one of the world’s oldest known team sports, with the first official game of Polo played in the state of Manipur, India. Yet the concept of the game and its variants date back from the 6th century BC to the first century.
Polo is mostly played by men and it took a woman, Sue Sally Hale, the first-rated female polo player, who disguised herself as a man for 20 years, to break into the ranks.
In Nigeria, the sport is gradually catching the fancy of women. Neku Atawodi-Edun, is a polo player, equine sports scientist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and investor. She is notable for being one of the few black female polo players in the world, and the first to play professionally. She is currently the highest ranked female player in West Africa.
The SunSports on Saturday caught up with Esun at the 2020 GTBank-sponsored Lagos International Tournament, held at the Lagos Polo Club, Ikoyi, during the final game of the Majekodunmi Cup. She spoke on her sojourn into polo, playing professionally and what she is doing to bring more women to embrace the sport. Happy reading!
When did you start playing Polo?
It was in the year 2012, when I was a teenager in Kaduna.
What inspired you to Polo instead of any other sport?
When I was in Kaduna, I used to visit the Polo Club because my dad was in the military. I just love the game because it’s amazing to see people working with the horses and working with teammates. My love for polo once faltered, but I braced up to play more. When I got to the UK, I studied horses in the University of Brighton, so when I graduated, I went into international business and I also continued with the game.
As a lady, what are the challenges?
The challenges are much. One just has to find good horses to train with, like when I was traveling from the UK to come and play here, we struggled to get good horses. We struggled to get organised and I also found out Lagos traffic was herculean.
The week before I played my game in this tournament, I faced some challenges in my team because two of our players were stuck in traffic on the Falomo Bridge. Here, I found the biggest road block and to organise them is really tough. I noticed there are so many local horses and I think we have to develop them, so that people can go into it easier without flying to Argentina or other American countries to buy a horse. Here, in Nigeria, I realised there is no opportunity for women to play the game unlike where I came from, and I’m hoping to work with the Polo Association to change the game for the benefit of women.
I love to see so many female players bringing more ideas from other parts of the world to come and play here. For new girls coming into this, it can be a little bit discouraging because so many guys are around, so we need more female players.
What are you doing to raise a new generation of female polo players?
I have actually discussed modalities while I was in Argentina, now, I want to focus on that here in Nigeria. I will be working one-on-one with lady players by teaching them to ride, but what I really want to do is to subsidise entry fee for women, to encourage other guys to lure women into the game by assuring them a discount when they have a lady on their team to play with. Then, they will actually go out and look for women playing in their team. I’m also speaking with the President, Lagos Polo Club, Mr. Ayodeji Akinwunmi.
Do you intend to take this campaign to the schools?
Yes! Actually, I was invited by Saint Saviour School to speak with kids. I talked to the teachers about it and they all welcome the idea. I noticed there are a lot of parents who don’t care about the gender of their children, they are looking for activities to put their male and female children into, and Lagos Polo riding school isn’t a bad option.
How many big tournaments have you played, so far?
Well, I don’t know, but there are lots. But this year, I did play in the Argentine Open. I played in Spain, South Africa, in the UK, but the biggest one happens to be the one I played in Argentina. Because I was the first black woman to play in the open and that was an amazing experience for me.
How does that make you feel, being the first black female to play in such tournament?
It makes me feel proud and also a little bit sad because I would like to see more diversity in the sport that I love so much. I want a situation that will encourage more people to get into the game of Polo.
Let me take you down memory lane, what was your performance like in your first Polo game?
The first Polo game I played, I was like 16 years old back then. I remember I was awarded the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. I gave my dad the trophy in appreciation and it coincided with Father’s Day.
How does it feel being the most handicap player in the women category in West Africa?
I feel happy and I want to keep improving. People see us as average because we come from in this part of the world. I hate being an average person, so I like to keep improving to be the best in Africa.
As a family woman, how do you combine playing Polo and taking care of the family?
I’m blessed to be married to a polo playing family. My brother in-law plays Polo, my father in-law plays Polo. I’m blessed to be married to a family that understands the nature of my job.
How many horses do you have in your stable?
My father in-law has some horses, but I’ve got four here and five in Europe.