Despite slowdown, polo is big business in Argentina

Mon Jan 5, 2009 7:49pm EST
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By Kevin Gray

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - As eight horses and riders galloped in pursuit of a wooden ball one recent afternoon, U.S. movie director Robert Duvall rubbed shoulders with Argentine former soccer star Gabriel Batistuta.

The celebrities were on hand to help promote a multimillion dollar project aimed at capitalizing on Argentina's position as the world's top destination for polo, a game that could be described as field hockey on horseback.

Argentina has dominated the sport for decades, but development really took off in the last few years after a currency crisis in 2001 and 2002 made it cheaper for foreign players to come here to play.

Now, the global financial crisis has thrown some of these projects into question as even the super-wealthy, who make up most of polo's players and spectators, tighten their belts.

Adolfo Cambiaso, widely recognized as the world's top player, is undeterred by the economic slowdown as he promotes the latest project with a game at his private ranch in November, attended by Duvall, Batistuta and other celebrities.

Cambiaso's plans call for ground to be broken later this year on a polo village in which each home will have its own polo field and stables, right next to his own ranch in the city of Canuelas, outside Buenos Aires.

"Here in Argentina it is easy to practice and play because we have the horses, the land, the players -- everything," said Cambiaso, who already has his own line of polo clothing.

Another project is the Culu Culu Polo Resort backed by about $80 million from Dubai-based hotel operator Jumeirah Group, which is set to open in the town of Lobos within the next two years.   Continued...

<p>Argentine polo player Luca Monteverde of La Dolfina hits the ball during the Argentina Open final match against Ellerstina in Buenos Aires, December 13, 2008. Argentina is the world's undisputed polo mecca, home to the game's best players and horses. Now the country is transforming that status into a full-blown business. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian</p>