"Sport of kings" looks to China's elite

Wed Feb 16, 2011 12:51am EST
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By Maxim Duncan

TIANJIN, China (Reuters Life!) - Asia's first ever snow polo tournament went into its second day on Wednesday at China's newest and largest polo club, with six top global teams promoting the luxury sport to the nation's new and growing ranks of wealthy.

Though an early form of polo was once popular with China's upper classes during the Tang dynasty more than a thousand years ago, the sport of kings died out almost entirely until a recent surge of interest in foreign sports seen as being high class.

The first generations of new wealthy spawned by China's economic reforms are likely to view golf, red wine and Ferrari as symbols of prestige, but many of the newer generation are looking for something more.

"We have so many international players from all over the world coming together in this area," Chevy Beh, a 23-year-old player on the Hong Kong team, told Reuters Television.

"I think that is a good way to promote polo in China." The "Snow Polo Challenge," which kicked off on Tuesday, is being held on a pitch covered with artificial snow in the Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, an industrial port city 90 minutes drive from Beijing.

Teams from England, Argentina, France, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong galloped through the powdery snow, watched by business executives, government officials and invited media.

With no home-grown team, mainland China is represented by the polo team from Hong Kong, the former British colony, where polo is played avidly.

"I don't think it's that common yet," said Qiu Yuanyuan, a business development officer from HSBC bank.   Continued...

<p>Pierre Henri (L) of France fights for the ball against John Fisher of Hong Kong during their match of Asia Snow Polo Tournament at Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin municipality February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic</p>