February Newsletter

Feb 21 2018


The HPA will be making some rule changes for 2018 the details of which will be finalised by their Rules Committee in due course. These will be conveyed to members as soon as they’re received from the HPA. The basic changes are as follows:

  • A hit from just inside the boards if the ball goes out of play
  • The Blocking rule
  • Less time for hit in and penalties
  • Helmet Rule
  • Starting on Yellow flag

The basic outline of these can be found in a separate attachment herewith. These are unlikely to change and so can be introduced with immediate effect.


At a recent meeting of the SAPA Exco, it was decided to adopt the amended chukka format employed by Plett Polo Club in order to make the game more attractive to players and spectators. The format is also massively beneficial to pony welfare with very few horses “blown” at the conclusion of chukkas. It was resolved that this would apply across the board to all tournaments in 2018. Whilst there might be some confusion and uncertainty at first, clubs who have employed the format have had tremendous results and virtually no negative feedback. I suggest Clubs introduce this at club practice level as soon as your season opens to enable players to get used to the format and iron out any teething problems. I will be on hand at most tournaments to help with the implementation of the format. Mike Griffith has also offered to help where possible. Otherwise clubs can make use of players who have already experienced playing this format. This will be the only place where SAPA rules differ from those of the HPA in 2018.

The amended chukka format is as follows:

  • Chukkas to be shortened to 4:30 mins with the usual 30 seconds extra time after the first bell. Given the shortened chukka time, the 3-minute change time between chukkas must be strictly adhered to with the umpires instructed to blow the whistle after 2,5 minutes as a warning to the teams. Umpires were also instructed to bowl the ball in after three minutes had elapsed irrespective of whether the players were on the field or not. 
  • The number of chukkas will be increased from 4 to 6 per match. The actual playing time remains the same being equivalent to 4 chukkas of 7,5 minutes each. Those sections playing 5 x 7,5 minute chukkas can increase the number of chukkas under the new format to 7 chukkas. The old 6 chukka matches will now be increased to 8.
  • Matches are separated into two “halves” consisting of 3 chukkas in one direction and three the other.
  • The direction which a team was to commence playing is decided by the toss of a coin before the start of the match. The team continue to score in that direction until half time where upon teams change ends.
  • Each half is started with a line out in front of the main crowd (facing the spectators) irrespective of where play ended before half time. If a penalty occurs after the first bell within the last 30 seconds of the chukka before half time i.e. third, the penalty must be taken immediately with play continuing for the 30 seconds (or remainder thereof) unless the goal is scored where upon the chukka terminates. The reason for this being the second half i.e. fourth chukka starts with a line out on the centre line with the teams having changed ends. Penalties blown after the first bell in any other chukka get treated as normal.
  • Chukkas, other than the start of the first and fourth (after half time) are started with either a line out from where the play ended if the chukka ended with the ball in play, a hit in if the ball went over the back line when time was called, or a line out if the ball went out over the boards.
  • After each goal is scored, the defending team take a hit from the 60-yard line, with the attacking team having to keep a 30-yard radius distance from the ball. Very important – umpires must be instructed to place the ball and call “play” only once all 8 players are in position (provided no players deliberately waste time in getting back into position).

Positives to the format were as follows:

  • Line outs, where most injuries to horses and players occur, are reduced with the resultant increase in safety to horses and players.
  • Very few horses leave the field “blown” at the end of the chukka and are able to be repeated later in the game.
  • It is common for most injuries to horses to occur during the last two minutes of a 7-minute chukka. This format, in theory, eliminates this risk.
  • Playing three chukkas in one direction and three the other, makes it easy for spectators to understand the game.
  • Delays in getting back to the centre after goals are scored are eliminated making the game more spectator friendly.
  • Polo rules have changed very little over the past decades whilst the format brings a new dimension to polo making it more enjoyable to players and exciting for spectators to watch. Hopefully, this will attract players into the game.
  • Negatives – none that I know of.
  • All the participating players who have played this format, have without exception, enjoyed the changes and although this is a deviation from traditional HPA Rules, the SAPA Exco felt it was a positive innovation in the right direction.


Many of you may have heard that the HPA are enforcing the use of safety compliant helmets in their 2018 season. Players in England will not be allowed to take part in tournaments unless their helmets are compliant and meet the new safety standards.SAPA follow HPA Rules so strictly speaking if HPA introduce legislation regarding safety helmets we should too. Given the high cost of these helmets, SAPA Exco decided that it would be unfair to implement this with immediate effect and opted rather to phase the compliance helmets in over a three-year period. This will give players ample time to plan/budget for a new helmet. Players wishing to avail themselves to the change this season should inform this office to allow SAPA the opportunity to negotiate a bulk deal with suppliers.


The issue of South African professional and semi professional players being over handicapped locally making it difficult for them to be competitive abroad has cropped up on numerous occasions. As a solution, it has been suggested that SAPA introduce a dual handicap system for professional and semi professional players.
This would enable them to compete competitively abroad off a lower handicap whilst playing off their “South African” rating in all domestic tournaments. By way of an example, Tom de Bruin is rated 7 goals in South Africa due to his superior horse power and professional experience. When competing against other professionals (either local or overseas) Tom, by his own admission, struggles to hold 7 goals given he is no longer a full time professional. To enable him to be competitive he could be rated off 6 goals whilst playing abroad (or in Plett where there are an abundance of professionals) but would continue to play off his 7 rating in local tournaments.
HPA have a similar system whereby certain professional players are rated a goal lower when playing in the 22 goal as opposed to when competing in their domestic tournaments.
This begs the question -  how to manage such a model. Players wishing to avail themselves to the system will have to apply in writing to the SAPA Handicapping Committee with motivating reasons. If the Handicappers agree to the player’s request, his/her listed handicap will be changed on the website to reflect his/her “pro” handicap but with an asterisk adjacent to it. This on the understanding that the player participates in all domestic tournaments (outside of Plett) off his/her “South African” handicap i.e.one goal higher. Using Tom as an example again, the website would reflect 6 goals with an asterisk meaning he would compete off 7 in all local domestic tournaments.
The system would be open to all professional and semi professional players as well as those wishing to participate in Plett (the Plett cases would continue to be handled as they have in the past). All requests would be handled/judged on merit by the SAPA Handicappers and wouldn’t apply to players embarking on an amateur private social tour.


The South African Polo Association received an invitation from the AAP to their Argentine Polo Program in October this year. The details of this are outlined in the accompanying attachments but are summarized briefly as follows:

  • The next Olympic Youth Games will take place in BA during October (BAYOG)
  • Polo has been declared an exhibition sport by the IOC
  • The program will offer young polo players a chance to have training in polo skills by competent coaches
  • The program is intended for boys and girls born between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2003
  • Attendees will be evaluated and categorized upon arrival to understand their level of play
  • Attendees will have the unparalleled experience of visiting the Olympic Village and share a day with the athletes of BAYOG 2018
  • Attendees will be permanently accompanied by professional chaperones who will also supervise the program.
  • The program will start on 4 October and conclude on 12 October with the AAP’s service/responsibility ending on airport check in of attendees. A point to note here is the dates don’t fall into local school holidays.
  • The service includes all internal transfers, accommodation (with breakfast + two meals per day) horses and technical equipment during practices and matches
  • Attendees must take all their own polo kit i.e. boots, helmet, knee pads, goggles polo mallets whips and gloves/elbow pads
  • Registration into the program will close on 15 March 2018
  • The total cost of the program (excluding return flights to BA) is US$10 000 with 50% deposit paid upon registration
  • This is a chance in a life time for aspiring young polo players

Parents interested in sending their children to participate in this scheme are welcome to contact this office where upon we will provide you with the relevant contact details.


Due to the lack of qualified umpires in the province, exacerbated by the high number of low goal players with little knowledge of umpiring, the Highveld Executive introduced a system whereby all its affiliated players were allocated a rating of “Rated” or “Non-Rated”. The initial ratings were conducted by the Club captains in conjunction with the Chief Umpire.
Only rated umpires are used to umpire at tournaments and are paid R200 per chukka after their mandatory umpire duty (traditionally all players are required to do an umpire duty at tournaments). Funding to cover the payments for rated umpires is derived from a R500 levy imposed on the entry fees of non-rated players – these players are not required to do any umpiring duties at all.
The initiative is not a money-making effort and is designed that the income derived from the umpire’s levy is sufficient to meet payments to rated officials. It does improve the quality of umpiring in all matches especially those played at the lower levels i.e. zero, two and even four goal. It also serves to encourage non-rated players to learn the rules and attempt to become rated umpires.
In order to become rated, prospective umpires must pass the HPA umpires test and then gain umpiring experience during club chukkas under the supervision of their club captain. Once the club captain is satisfied they know the rules sufficiently and have a proficiency to umpire at low levels they are screened by a Committee and graded to “Rated” or otherwise.
Whilst the system is not perfect and imposes a considerable administration burden on office bearers, there is no doubt that the quality of umpiring, mostly in the lower levels, has improved dramatically greatly reducing levels of dissatisfaction amongst the players at tournaments.
I am of the opinion that other provinces should introduce a similar format. Depending on club entry fees the figures can be adjusted accordingly provide there is still enough incentive for rated umpires to officiate more than one match per weekend.
Should Clubs wish to have their tournament details and results included in the newsletters please feel free to send the relevant information to this office.

As usual, any comments or suggestions are welcome.
Managing Director – South African Polo Association