Jumbo game ahead
Trumpeting a majestic start to a new attraction in the tourist industry,
Sri Lanka hosts the world's first ever elephant beach polo contest
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
Charging into battle in ancient times or sedately
carrying the casket with the Sacred Tooth Relic in modern times are the
images we Sri Lankans have of that animal close to our hearts, the elephant. Have
you ever imagined this majestic beast chasing a ball?
That's just what they did down Weligama way early this year to the amazement
of passers-by and the wide-eyed cheers of schoolchildren, some of whom
had never seen an elephant in their lives. And the name of the game was
elephant polo played on the picturesque beaches of Weligama for the first
time in Sri Lankan history.
The idea of starting this game here where the elephant is loved and
revered, germinated at a dinner party in September last year, on the beautiful,
tiny island of Taprobane, wading distance from the Weligama shore. The
home of Count de Mauny in the early part of the last century, the dinner
party was hosted by the present owner of Taprobane, British businessman,
He was short of two guests to make up the numbers at his elegant dinner
table and invited a Nepalese honeymooning couple, who were holidaying in
his hotel in Galle. They spoke of elephant polo played back home, the only
country where it was played at that time.
"The moment I heard it I was well and truly hooked," says Geoffrey.
And his attraction to the trumpet call is evident by the odds and ends
scattered about his Colombo home down Ward Place. Wax elephants, brass
elephants in different shapes and sizes and also in uncommon poses litter
the room where he checks them out for design, for he is an exporter of
Last December, he took a trip to Nepal to see first-hand this game of
elephant polo and his fascination grew. Thereafter it was getting the nitty
gritty sorted out, for he already had a field in mind — the scenic stretch
of beach opposite his island of Taprobane.
He made a special trip to the famous Calcutta Polo Club in India. "When
I requested them to make me giant mallets or polo sticks, about 80 to 100
inches long, they thought I was insane," laughs Geoffrey.
He found all the other equipment, polo balls and gloves in a sports
store on Galle Road in Colombo. There was a stock of old polo balls, 24
in all, 20 years old and he bought them all.
The field was ready, but what of the players? With the help of local
friends he got in touch with the Elephant Owners' Association, which readily
agreed to send 10 elephants for the game. And the game got off in February
last, with six teams taking part, including a Nepali team, a local Taprobane
team and two ladies' teams. But the most popular contest was the all-Sri
Lankan match, where the mahouts competed with each other for a prize of
Rs. 50,000 awarded by Geoffrey.
Six elephants were on the field at one given time. At half-time the
teams swapped elephants so that both sides got the best and worst elephants
and it levelled out.
The rules of the game, which is similar to horse polo, with a few changes,
create vivid images — the elephant is not allowed to sit in front of the
goal; the elephant is not allowed to pick up the ball with its trunk and
there are two players on an elephant rather than one.
"Elephants are very intelligent and picked up the rules quickly as did
the mahouts who thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The mahouts had a very good
eye for the ball," says Geoffrey. The game ended with the mallets and balls
being distributed among the players.
And in-between games, to the delight of the onlookers, the elephants
and players took refreshing dips in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
That was not all. In early September, Geoffrey took part in the King's
Cup tournament in Thailand, the first to be held in that elephant country.
In a thrilling encounter with the Australians, he and his team under the
'Sri Lanka' banner carried off the Anantara Gold Cup bronze medal on September
16. "It was one of the few things the Aussies have lost," he chuckles.
But Geoffrey, like a child with a new toy, cannot stop talking about
the Sri Lankan polo tourney, which he had masterminded and hosted.
"The contest was a big success and the elephants were so swift-footed.
The locals loved it. This was the world's only elephant beach polo. It
was more photogenic than the stilt fishermen of the south."
Jumbo game ahead
A big elephant polo tournament on February 27, next year, is Geoffrey's
next goal, with more local teams taking part. "I want to take it on to
a grander scale. Make it even a bigger event and have a mini-perahera or
an elephant festival," he says explaining that people in the south don't
have their own perahera with the exception of Kataragama in the deep south.
In his view it could also give a boost to the flagging tourist industry.
And it's not just fun and games he's thinking of, but also generating
some funds to help a needy school in the area and the elephant orphanage
Geoffrey's bigger dream is for Sri Lanka to host an international elephant
polo tournament in a few years, maybe on Galle Face Green.
(Those interested in seeking more information on next year's elephant
polo tournament could e-mail: email@example.com)