Saudi Arabia makes history with AlUla Desert Polo match

The Winter at Tantora festival will feature a special polo event that is played on sand rather than the usual grass. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 04 February 2020

Saudi Arabia makes history with AlUla Desert Polo match

  • It is the first event of its kind to be played on sand, and first organized by the Saudi Polo Federation

JEDDAH: A very special equestrian event this week will break new ground not only for Saudi Arabia but for global sport.

AlUla Desert Polo is the first official polo event to be played on a field of sand, rather than the more usual grass. It is also the first match organized in association with the Saudi Polo Federation, which was formed in July 2018.

However, as federation chairman Amr Zedan explained, the inspiration for the event, which will take place from Jan. 16 to 18 as part of the Winter at Tantora festival, comes from a very different environment.

“It’s inspired by the snow polo event in St. Moritz,” he said. “AlUla Desert Polo is a unique event in both Saudi and global terms.”

Zedan, who has played polo around the world for 20 years, established the Zedan Polo Team in 2005. However, this week’s event is particularly special to him, as he hopes it will help to promote the sport in the Kingdom, encourage young people to give it a go and provide a solid foundation for its future growth in the country, which is something he is passionate about.

“From my perspective, the highlight of AlUla Desert Polo is the power that sport has to instigate positive change in society,” he said.

Zedan believes the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative to develop and diversify the country’s economy and society has helped to make great strides in the development of many sports, including polo.

“Saudi Arabia has a great pool of untapped talent in all sporting arenas,” he said, adding that a growing number of Saudi equestrians have excelled in international competitions around the world.

“We know that many young Saudis love horses and we want to give them a chance to become involved in what is an exciting and rewarding sport. This event brings the world’s best.”

First played as long ago as the 6th century BC, according to some historians, polo is one of the oldest equestrian sports in the world. Two teams of four players on horseback use mallets with long handles to attempt to hit a wooden ball into the opposition’s goal. The desert sands of AlUla not only provide a different type of terrain on which to play, but the ancient, historic location is an unusually stunning venue.

“Polo has never been played against such a unique, spectacular and unspoiled backdrop before,” said Zedan. “AlUla is an ancient, UNESCO World Heritage site, with very strong links to the horse heritage that runs throughout Saudi Arabia. It will be an outstanding event, one that the people who play in it and watch it will never forget.”

The safety and welfare of the horses is paramount, given the unusual venue and surface. Zedan said that experts have been brought in to prepare a playing surface that is suitable and safe for the animals, without damaging the unspoiled landscape of AlUla’s sandstone outcrops.

“This game has given me so much pleasure over the years and I feel great satisfaction in being able to now share this passion with the people of Saudi Arabia,” he added. “In addition, I am from the Madinah Al-Munawara region, of which AlUla is a part, so this event is something of a homecoming for me.”

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

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LIVE: Saudi Cup - historic day of racing gets underway in Riyadh

Updated 9 min 3 sec ago

LIVE: Saudi Cup - historic day of racing gets underway in Riyadh

  • Follow all the day's action with Arab News

RIYADH: The day is finally here, the long-awaited Saudi Cup day of top-class racing gets underway at the King Abdul Aziz Racetrack on Saturday in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.

The day consists of eight races with a total purse of $29.2 million.

Prize money for the main event and final race of the day, the Saudi Cup, will be a record-breaking $20 million, with the winner taking home $10 million and the rest of the field sharing the rest.

Follow Arab News' coverage below...(all times GMT)

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11:10 - A fantastic video from the Saudi Cup official Twitter page shows jockey Yutake Take on board his mount in one of the Jockeys Challenge races on Friday!

10:45 - Here's your race card for today's racing (including the breaks for prayer) - the action starts at 4:00pm KSA time (1:00pm GMT) and the big one is scheduled to start at 8:40pm local time (5:40pm GMT)...

10:30 - As we wait for the fans to file in ahead of the first race of the day at 4:00pm Saudi time, check out a gallery by Arab News' Basheer Alzain Saleh and Huda Bashatah of yesterday's Kingdom Day...

GALLERY: Kingdom Day meeting, Saudi Cup in Riyadh

09:50 - Yesterday saw a host of male and female jockeys get a feel for the tracks at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack in the Jockeys Challenge races (read a report here) - but it was also a chance for the fans to get a feel for all the activities available away from the racing for the whole family at the track...

09:30 - We've got the latest turf track update - and the official Saudi Cup feed are saying today's going is Good to Firm on that immaculate-looking stretch of grass. It's an exciting day for Saudi racing fans as some fantastic horses will be running on the turf and dirt tracks today...

09:15 - Don't forget, you can read Arab News' coverage of the formation of the event and the build-up to today's historic race - as well as an account of yesterday's action on Kingdom Day - in our dedicated spotlight here...

09:00 - The gates have opened and we're officially kicking off the day's coverage!