Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In Which We Examine The Exotic Sport of Camel Polo

Ok - so ... How Fun is This?? Welcome to the 8th or 9th edition of...

"Cool Stuff You Get To Do in Mongolia"

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go out and enjoy an action-packed game of polo.  On camels. That's right ..camels! Wow !!  So, here is my take on the day, the game, the rules and, of course, the outfits!  And no, for all of you smart alecks out there - that is not me on the camel in the picture above - but it could have been!

Camel polo, well, actually polo of any sort,  is not a game I've ever seen before, but it is tons of fun!  Very action packed with tons of 'scrums' around the ball , 
...and serious on on one competition for control of the ball!
And speaking of "ball control"...check out this very talented camel! His nose people...look at his nose!  Oh, and the people also got in on the display of some pretty impressive talents...although I didn't see any of them carrying the ball on their nose!

But I did see some seriously gravity defying lean-outs to take a shot!  These camels were running at full gallop ( do camels "gallop"?) and it was amazing to see these guys on the big lean preparing for their shot!
Of course, like all games, it has rules...some of which I was even able to figure out...I think.
It appears that if at the end of regulation time ( whatever that is!) if the game is tied, a shoot out takes place.  The teams choose their best shooters and, just like the NHL, and it is one-on-one with the best shooters vs the goalie.  Yes, I did say goalie - of course they have to have a goalie....of sorts!
Although, I have to say I don't really know who is the goalie per se - is it the jockey leaning over  in the goal, goalie mallet ready to rock.... or the camel standing there placidly blocking 80 percent of the goal?  You decide!

and..yes, these camels are heading toward the goal at full tilt.  This has to be a bit unnerving for the goalie ..and perhaps for his stalwart steed!
But when he stopped the shot, this particular goal tender and his camel appeared pretty pleased with themselves!
Like any sport, Camel Polo has its own set of officials...which may or may not be close to what I think I have figured out.  So here goes - the man in the lovely red dell?  I think he is the linesman...and mallet guard. And yes, the game was going full flight while he was walking across the pitch ( field? paddock? course? piste? ... not really sure..!)!

And here he is again - with the official ball drop after it had skittered out of bounds.
There, lurking in the background of the shot is the referee - although I have to admit , I couldn't figure out what the "fouls" were that he was calling... but nobody booed him so I guess he was doing a good job.  Either that or Mongolian sports fans are more polite than Canadian ones!
This, of course, is the official goal judge. I can tell because of his very official badge, his very shrill whistle and the fact that he is willing ( and able!) to stand in front of the defending goalie ( goalies?) and eyeball the oncoming shooter.
This, I think,  is the water boy.  Well...in this case I guess not much water is being consumed as the primary athletes here happen to be camels, but he was responsible for 'sweeping the ice' by which I mean running out amongst the thundering camels and collecting the broken mallets - of which, I must say, there were quite a few!
Or maybe this is the "water boy"?  Actually, I think there is no corresponding role in hockey ( always my frame of reference when trying to figure out rules in new and bizarre sports!  Hey, I'm Canadian - what else would you expect??)  for this little guy's job - walking the camels to cool them off.  I guess he would be a "page" ... officially?? Now if you polo enthusiasts ( enthusiast??) out there have the official title for this job, please pass it on! I'd love to know! Whatever his title, he was very cute!
Of course, no sporting event would be complete without the fans!  I have to say, these were the most beautifully dressed sports fans I've seen in a while! 
The bleachers in the back row were a little different for this match as well!  This fellow couldn't see over the gathered spectators so after a little conversation with one of the local camel jockeys, he hopped up for a better view!  And yes, that is Chinggis Khaan on the largest equestrian statue in the world there in the background.  Only fitting that he was there to be the final judge as to who the rightful winner of the competition would be!
Cleverly ( or not so cleverly!) hidden in the crowd were the scouts from the other teams checking out their competition!  I looked like a round-robin competition of some sort - started Saturday morning and when I left at about 5:00 Sunday evening it was still going strong!
This was a pretty big deal, and spectators of all ages came out for it...
...not many got a seat though!  Isn't she beautiful??
Of course, there was the requisite opportunity for the modern nomads to take a ride... I loved this guy in a suit up on camel back...texting.
There was also the opportunity to ride horses while there, but I cheated and snuck away to our ger to ride my horse.  Lovely ride, by the way.
But I couldn't leave before getting my picture with one of the camel jockeys - the other guys were giving him a hard time because we had on matching hats... I don't know - I think we both look very dashing!

Watching Dad compete..

First seriously cool beard I have seen here in Mongolia.  Really - that's why this guy is here in my blog... I love this beard!

And last, but not least, like any good sporting competition, Camel polo has its winners and losers.  It was lovely to see how happy they were with their win and how much they enjoyed being able to play in front of a crowd.  These guys all came up from Omni Gov...the South Gobi desert .. to play.  Those of us lucky enough to be out there for the day are very grateful they made the trip and very much hope this is an annual event!  Maybe next year it will be me up on that camel...maybe...