World meets Africa for a Jilly good time

Sunday Times


JILLY Cooper isn’t big in Japan. At least, not as big as Hiro Suzuki, who has played polo for Scotland, England and Japan, and in the US, India, Singapore, Costa Rica, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, and South Africa.

All of which could be the outline for the plot of a pile of purple prose about thoroughbred horseflesh and throbbing whorishness.

Had Suzuki read any Cooper?

“I’ve only read one of them: ‘Polo’, obviously,” he said from Japan.

On Saturday Suzuki will be at Val de Vie in the ample bosom of the Paarl-Franschhoek valley as a member of the World Invitational team that will play against an Africa Invitational side, all of them South African.

The match is part of the inaugural “ISPS Handa Art of Polo 2017 Invitational”, a grand marriage of sport and culture that will climax in a black-tie affair. So far, so Jilly.

But the cause is infinitely more virtuous than anything Ms Cooper could conjure.

ISPS? The International Sports Promotion Society, a non-profit organisation that was formed in Japan in 2006 to promote golf as a pursuit for the blind and the disabled.

Handa? That’s Dr Haruhisa Handa, founder of the ISPS, copiously awarded humanitarian, billionaire, author of some 220 books, opera singer, artist, poet, golf nut and polo enthusiast.

Now, he’s big in Japan. And Australia, where he is the patron of the Professional Golfers’ Association. And Cambodia, where he is, according to the ISPS website, an “adviser to the royal government with the rank of senior minister”. And a fair few other places.

Saturday’s shindig will, in the shimmering words of a press release, “offer various artistic performances, displays and exhibitions, followed by a high-goal polo tournament”.

Ah, not before time, the sport. Other than Suzuki, who has a two-goal handicap, the World Invitational team features two Brits, Ali Paterson and Callum Anderson, and an Argentine, Nacho Pieres, all of them lugging four-goal handicaps. Best no-one mentions the Falklands, or even the Malvinas.

The Africa Invitationals will line up as Jabulani Khanyile, a two-goal handicap player, and George Morgan, Mike Osborne and Rory Bryden, whose handicaps are, respectively, three, four and five.

Suzuki would seem to be the most travelled among them. How so?

“My father is Japanese, my mother is British and I was born and raised in the Philippines,” he said.

“Polo is a great game when it comes to travelling.”

Indeed. And travelled it has from its origins in ancient Persia. It reached its modern incarnation when the British picked it up while pretending to civilise already civilised India.

Besides being able to stay in the saddle even if the earth moves, what made a polo ace?

“Everything happens very quickly on the field and you have to have a mental picture of where everyone else is,” Suzuki said. “So you need to have good situational awareness and an appreciation of their relative speeds.”

Any significant injuries?

“I was knocked out once, by a team-mate. Mainly it’s just my ego that gets badly bruised.”

What of South Africa, where Suzuki played in 2012 and where polo draws the minked to the manure?

“The game is played (there) in a similar style to what I like – hard and fast.”

Oh, be still your beating Jilly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s