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Indian Navy debut at Manipur Polo International

According to Captain AP Singh, who is also leading the Indian Navy team in this tournament, the Chief of Indian Navy, Admiral Hari Kumar and  Chief of Personnel, Vice-Admiral Dinesh Tripathi are “instrumental in getting the team here”.

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Imphal: The Indian Navy team is participating for the first time in Manipur Polo International as part of an outreach programme to get to know and interact with the Northeast, its people, culture and tradition.

According to Captain AP Singh, who is also leading the Indian Navy team in this tournament, the Chief of Indian Navy, Admiral Hari Kumar and  Chief of Personnel, Vice-Admiral Dinesh Tripathi are “instrumental in getting the team here”.

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The Indian Navy polo team came into being through the personal initiative of the then Naval Chief Admiral Sushil Kumar some 12 years back. He got the horses, got polo players posted in places where there are horses. At present the Indian Navy has a pool of around 12 polo players who play in tournaments across the country.

Captain AP Singh, 46 years of age is from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. Even though he started riding a horse rather late in life (at the ripe age of 25 years) and took up polo even later, he is now hooked to the game for good. To him polo is the only game where man and animal are in sync with one another, the game teaches one to be compassionate towards animals.

Captain AP Singh is much taken in by the polo heritage of Manipur and the warmth of the people. As for the Manipuri pony, he finds them very brave and quick fleeted. As for the team, Captain AP Singh feels it has a good combination of experience and young blood, will give its best and fight it out.

The second member of the team is Commander Ashwani Panchal, 40 years of age, from Delhi. Taking up riding after joining NDA in 2006, and eventually polo, Commander Panchal has played in Jodhpur, Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai and Hyderabad. He was a member of the Navy team which reached the final of  the Raja Rao Hanud tournament in 2022.

A 1-goaler in 2014, now 0-goal player at present, Commander Panchal, feels polo is a unique game, the fast pace at which it is played, the adrenalin ruse are some things which sets polo apart from other games.  To him polo provides the most apt stimulus for the traits required in the armed forces.

As for the Navy team, Commander Panchal credits Captain AP Singh and retired Commander Akhil Sirohi for the growth of the players, for the constant encouragement and for binding the team together. He believes the team will put up a good show in the tournament.

Lt Commander Kulvinder Rathee, 32 years, from Sonipat, Haryana is the third member of the team. A multi-talented sportsperson, Rathee, besides polo, is also a footballer, cross country runner, triathlon athlete and a ship’s driver.

A -1 handicap player, Kulvinder Rathee has played tournaments in Delhi, Jaipur and Bangalore. Besides the speed, what Kulvinder finds very interesting in polo is the constant communication between the horse and the player.  To play the game, according to him, one has to be physically very fit and mentally sharp. The game also teaches leadership and fighting skills, as per Kulvinder.

On the Manipuri pony, Kulvinder feels they are very sturdy, intelligent, knows what is required of them and has fighting genes in their DNA. As for the tournament, he promised to put in the best effort 

The youngest member of the team, Lt Arun Kumar, just 24 years of age is from Rewai, Haryana. Starting to ride at the age of 6 years, Arun has been taking part in show jumping, dressage since his cadet days in Army championships and local horse shows in Delhi, Jaipur and Meerut. He got his riding genes from his father, Subedar Ravinder Singh who was with the President’s bodyguards.

Arun picked up the game just a year back in January 2021 but the polo bug seems to have bitten him for sure. As he says, “though I would like to continue with show jumping and dressage, I will concentrate on polo as I don’t get the same thrill which polo gives me from other sports”.

For Arun, polo is a manly, deadly game, gives you the feel of a warrior. Through polo one gets to know the people, the country and develop team spirit.

Arun had heard about the original mount of polo, the Manipur pony and he was so eager to see them that he wanted to first visit the stable before going to his hotel room. He finds them very handy, intelligent and human friendly. He thinks the local polo players must have taken good care of them as they love to stay with the players even after the game.

The last member of the team is Chief Petty Officer, Altaf Khan, 40 years who hails from Nagaur in Rajasthan. Altaf’s inspiration has been his maternal uncle Mangu Khan who was a polo player with the 61 cavalary team. Mangu Khan not only taught Alfat the nuances of the game but also inculcated in him the spirit of the game.

Altaf has played in numerous tournaments in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Bangalore since 2001 but took a break from 2013 to 2019 as he was posted in a ship. He is at present a 0-goal player after starting at -2 goal. Altaf says he will continue playing polo even after retirement from the Navy.

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