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The real Game of Thrones

Philippine polo has been around for more than a century, and it’s here to stay


“So what got you into polo?” I asked  Stu Tomlinson.

“See, I grew up in New Zealand,” he answered as he adjusted the red cap on his head. “Rock climbing, golf, tennis, rugby, snow skiing, mountain biking: These were my sports growing up.”

The country manager of a multinational company then went on to narrate how he ran into some guys who played polo when he moved to Malaysia who asked him if he could ride a horse.

“I said I think so,” he chuckled.

It’s been four years, and he’s been playing the sport ever since, getting better and better by the day. He is now one of the more feared competitors of polo in the country, the passion in his eyes unmistakeable. To him, nothing compares to this hybrid sport of soccer and horseback riding. It’s like rugby on steroids with mallets and royalty. And while he started at the ripe age of 48, he doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon. Maybe it’s the power of the animal or the adrenaline rush or the camaraderie. Whatever it is, he swears the game can be addicting, more so because his wife, the statuesque Cindy, and his two kids Louis and Bryn have now made it a family affair, as they’ve come to love the sport together. As expats in an unfamiliar country, polo has created an opportunity for them to be a part of a community, one that traces its roots to a rich tradition.


Polo traces its origin in what was known as the kingdom of Persia. From its beginnings as a sport of Byzantine and Constantinople fame, it has become known as a competition famously played by royalties and the affluent all over the world. In the early 1900s, during the early years of the American occupation in the Philippines, the sport finally found its way to the Philippines through Governor-General William Cameron Forbes, known as the father of Philippine polo. It was first held on the shores of Roxas Boulevard during the game’s early years here, but has since moved to its current home to the Manila Polo Club.

FAMILY AFFAIR William Cameron Forbes swears polo can be addicting and his family, his wife Cindy and their sons Louis and Bryn, have come to love the sport.

FAMILY AFFAIR William Cameron Forbes swears polo can be addicting and his family, his wife Cindy and their sons Louis and Bryn, have come to love the sport.

The game is known to be played by those who belong to the most prominent of families. It is not cheap to play the game, after all, as the cost to maintain the horses and the venue can be overwhelming. But more than being a showcase of one’s ability to flaunt one’s wealth through the slick-looking horses and expensive shirts, it is a testament of fortitude to play a gruelling game and an ability to stick to a commitment in and out of the playing field. The game is insanely dangerous, ranking as the second most dangerous sport to play next only to F1 racing, and playing the game takes guts and a resignation to the fact that you most likely will get hurt. Each seven-minute chapter, the game’s own version of basketball quarters, is a seven-minute chance that an opponent’s 50-inch, 150-gram mallet might send you to the hospital with a broken nose. This is the danger that men like Stu brave, and during polo season, brave men like him are rewarded with silver cups of victory.



The first quarter of the year is known as polo season at the Manila Polo Club. There are several tournaments that happen every weekend during this stretch, like the Past Presidents’ Cup that opens the season or the Enrique Zobel Memorial Cup where Philippine delegates go up against polo competitors from Brunei. But one of the most prestigious ones is the William Cameron Forbes Cup, named in honor of the former governor-general, which has been in existence for more than 100 years now. The tournament serves as a validation of tradition, and representatives from the US expat community and the US embassy see to it that they are able to attend the annual event.

“More than this cup being my first date in the Philippines with my wife,” said Michael Klecheski, deputy chief of Mission of the US Embassy, who was on hand to enjoy the games, “this cup is about encapsulating the tradition of the close ties between the Philippines and the United States.”

Two matches were held on Jan. 17 in this year’s edition of the tournament. A “low goal” match of four chapters saw the Violet team led by Coco Garcia and Anthony Filamor trash the Black team, 11-7, while the main event of six chapters saw an exciting win by the Green team in sudden death, through the heroics of Alfie Araneta and “The Green Machine” Iñigo Zobel, over the “high goal” Black team with a score of 11-10. It was an exciting Sunday afternoon indeed, one that captured the competitive spirit of polo in the Philippines, and one that showed the lasting power of the sport in the country—from a hundred years back, to a hundred years more.