The recent Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi saw just a token representation from Pakistan. Nothing was expected from the sole representative Mohammad Karim, who finished 79th in his event, the Giant Slalom.
The sports officials and some parts of the media consoled the nation with the nonsensical comment, “Our man finished ahead of the Indian participant inthe same event.” Around the same time, a Pakistani was excelling, also on snow, somewhere else. The event was the St Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow.
Hissam Hyder, the highest ranked Pakistani polo player, appeared for the team Cartier in this most prestigious snow polo tournament of the world in the popular Swiss resort town of St Moritz, one of the only three cities to have hosted the Winter Olympics on two occasions. Hissam, at the young age of 31, has a handicap of six — no one in Asia and only two in Europe (seven) are handicapped higher.
A fulltime professional, his polo takes him to all corners of the world, but most of the time he is in action on the grounds of Argentina and England, the two strongholds of the sport. It was the first time that the boy with the looks of a Hollywood hero was invited to the St Moritz event, the place where the sport was introduced, in 1985.
Talking of differences in the game played on grass and on snow, Hissam said, “Snow polo is played on a flat area of compacted snow or at some places on a frozen lake. The playing area is a bit smaller and unlike the conventional polo grounds, the field is surrounded by fencing which keeps the ball in play.”
The modifications extend further. “The horses have special studded shoes so as to have better traction. Then, the ball is bigger but lighter with a bright red colour to accommodate the conditions.
“All this makes the game faster and more enjoyable for spectators who get a closer view. For us players, technique wise, the essence is timing.”
Polo, called the sport of kings, lures big sponsors but the St Moritz Snow Polo Word Cup perhaps beats every other tournament as far as the patronage is concerned. Just look at the names of the four teams which figured in this year’s edition: Cartier, Ralph Lauren, BMW and Deutche Bank. Hardly surprising since St Moritz, also called Top of the World, is a popular winter holiday destination with the rich and famous of the world.
The snow polo is the social highlight of the winter season in St Moritz; set in the dramatic Alpine setting at 1,800 metres above sea level — the competition itself takes place on a frozen lake in the centre of the town. All this means world renowned polo players from Argentina, Australia, the UK and New Zealand besides our Lahore boy Hissam rode horses for the four competing teams this year.
He describes, “Atmosphere was superb with VIP tents and hospitality boxes. The crowds enthusiastically cheered fine moments in every game.”
Hissam was evasive when asked about the financial terms of his contract. However, considering all the aspects related to this high profile show, mentioned above, we can assume that it must be a lucrative sum.
Coming to the action itself, he tells, “In the four-day tourney, the four teams first played each other in a single league followed by the final between the top two sides. My team Cartier won all the three league games. Heavy snow meant play was not possible in one of our ties and it had to be decided on a penalty shoot-out. All the four players shot at the goal six times: twice each from 30, 40 and 60 yards.”
More drama was in store for the final against Ralph Lauren. Played in front of a big crowd, it was an exciting, but a low-scoring game due to snow, ending 1-1 after the scheduled four chukkers.
The final entered extra time. In the second extra chukker, Hissam, with the Pakistani flag displayed on his polo jeans (as always) scored the golden goal.
There was further glory for Hissam — he was also declared the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament.
So Pakistan can take pride in having at least one outstanding performer in winter sports.
With his exploits on the grassy polo fields in various parts of the globe, Hissam is a truly world class sportsman — a rare Pakistani breed these days.