ALULA: After a two-year hiatus, desert polo made its triumphant return to Al-Fursan Village Stadium in AlUla on Friday. The two-day Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo Tournament marks the grand finale of the Winter at Tantora Festival.
The sport is steeped in Arab culture and tradition and its origins can be traced back to the 5th century B.C. in the region and, so it was fitting that after the extended break caused by the pandemic the event returned for its second season against the majestic backdrop of Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Organized by Royal Commission for AlUla and the Saudi Polo Federation, the tournament featured 12 players in four teams made up of invited guests and international professionals, with two matches played on Friday and two on Saturday.
The Saudi players included Prince Salman Bin Sultan bin Salman, Prince Abdul Rahman bin Faisal, Prince Salman bin Mansour and Prince Sultan bin Khaled Al-Faisal. They were joined by international professionals including promising young Palestinian player Noor Abu Khadra, Pablo Mac Donough, David “Pelon” Stirling, Juan Martin Nero and Adolfo Cambiaso.
If, as is often suggested, polo is the “sport of kings,” Melissa Ganzi is perhaps its queen. After beating breast cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic, she makes history this weekend by becoming the first international woman to compete in a polo match in Saudi Arabia.
“I could not be more honored to be included in this historic event and to be making history and to be, hopefully, setting an example for other women to play polo — hopefully Saudi women and just women in general, especially young women,” Ganzi told Arab News.
She said the sport helped her recovery from cancer and strengthened her bonds with her family.
“I had breast cancer during the pandemic,” she said. “I finished radiation therapy at the end of December 2020 and I was able to play polo in February, a few months later, so I was really happy to have polo in my life and to get back to playing.
“And only now that I’m feeling better, a year later, do I realize how hard it was to play polo at that time. I’m thankful to my family and to polo.”
In addition to the sporting action during the tournament, which is being live-streamed, the entertainment includes horse shows and music from female Bahraini DJ Kayan.