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Polo on Ice

At the St. Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow, on the shores of Lake St. Moritz in Switzerland, glimpses of British imperial tradition blend with the ostentation of the international jet set to create a quite unusual spectacle that brands itself as 'the world's most prestigious winter polo tournament.' Now in it's 30th year, it sees four teams representing four different expressions of luxury: Team Cartier (jewellery), Team Ralph Lauren (fashion), Team Deutsche Bank (money) and Team BMW (cars). 'I don't think it's possible to get drunk here in St. Moritz - it must be because of the altitude' says Hissam Ali Hyder (31), one of Pakistan's most successful polo players who is on Team Cartier, as he toasts with a glass of champagne. He grew up playing polo on the family farm and learned to ride a horse at age 6. Aged 19 he moved to the United Kingdom and continued to play professionally there. St. Moritz is a popular destination for the well heeled and one of the most expensive ski resorts in the world. It is here that two friends, Gianni Berry and Reto Gaudenzi, got the idea of bringing together their two passions, polo and winter games, to create this glitzy event in 1984. 'It was madness!' Berry recalls. The idea of playing polo in winter, on snow, hadn't occurred to anyone before. With family connections amongst the towns hoteliers, however, they were able to get enough local businesspeople on board to create this event, combining the legendary sport with the glamour of St. Moritz.

Polo was first played in Persia around the 6th century BC, initially designed as a game for cavalry units. In time, it became the national sport of Persia and from there spread to across Asia and to northern India where it is still played and cherished today. In the 1860s British Army officers brought the game to Great Britain from where it fanned out across Europe once the rules of the modern game had been set down. Toward the end of the 19th century English settlers in Argentina popularised their past time there and a cross bread between South American and British horses became one of the most popular animals for the sport. Argentina today remains the global leader boasting the highest number of world class players and hosting the World Polo Championship in October 2011 which it won convincingly.

Andrea Gjestvang attended the 30th anniversary tournament in St. Moritz, taking in the excitement on the field and the opulence around it. 'We play the world's most spectacular sport in the world's most spectacular place!', as the speaker opening the event assures the assembled crowd.
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