On 27 – 31 August 2014 the rare occurrence honouring Thailand’s much beloved but displaced elephants took place in Bangkok for the first time.
VR Sports Club, east of Bangkok, played host to the 13th annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, where the capital’s street elephants and a sophisticated set congregated on what was quite a damp, but nevertheless nice site; an oasis for 50 elephants that were lined up behind a fence for people to greet up close, in-between games.
Attendants in the tournament included local television stars, supermodels and professional polo players.
ScandAsia visited on the third day which spelled Ladies Day, attended by well known celebrities and socialites such as Sonya Couling, Cindy Bishop and Kathy Kingpayome. With an attractive prize to win many ladies had done their best in dressing up, wearing the most amazing headdresses. Though this also meant that high heels met mud, as it had apparently been raining too much in the area just before and during the start of the tournament. This would also affect the game of the day significantly.
No less than four Swedes were attending in various teams, including John Andersson and Richard Högberg, a former captain of Singapore Polo Club.
And then of course the Elephant Polo aficionados Christopher Stafford and Björn Richardsson (Johnnie Walker Blue Label team) who have been with the King’s Cup in Thailand since day one. Christopher is even accredited as the man who brought the game to Thailand in the first place.
Both Christopher and Björn worked for Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas in Hua Hin and then in Chiang Rai in the early days of the brand, when the elephant polo journey for Thailand started.
Christopher was also the master of ceremony of the tournament, and midday the attempt to play began in earnest, but soon came across obstacles. First, two of the elephants liked each other too much. Play was interrupted. Next, the pitch covered with a roof turned out to be too soft for the elephants.
It all, especially for first-time spectators, seemed rather confusing, but it was then explained, after some failed attempts, that understandably no risks are taken for the safety of the elephants and the players.
They were all only there thanks to the elephants, and for the benefit these, Christopher emphasized over the speaker system.
The welfare of the elephants participating in the polo tournament is paramount, with strict rules in place to ensure that the pachyderms are well cared for at all times. As for participating elephants only those who have been domestically bred and not captured from the wild or smuggled in from neighbouring countries are selected.
Ensuring their safety and the work connecting to the crucial, annual event is carried out by Anantara’s own elephant charity – the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF).
The annual event allows 50 young elephants to be taken off the streets for the two week period during the tournament, providing them with a native forest environment, the best food possible, as well as the only proper veterinary check and vitamins they receive all year.
The game switched over to penalty shoot-outs, as the way to move forward, apparently, since the outdoor grass pitch turned out also to be too slippery for the ordinary game to take place.
Clearly, flexibility is key, when it comes to carrying through an elephant tournament, and achieving a winner!
Meanwhile, the events of the afternoon also include a ‘High Tea-Off’ competition, and entertainment from a jazz band.
The evening before, a gala dinner auction at Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa had among top dignitaries, players, media and well known celebrities raised a generous sum of THB4.5 million for various elephant charity projects bringing a total sum raised to US$900,000 (BHT 28.7 million)
These include housing for the mahouts and families, shelters for the elephants and a mobile blood centrifuge and elephant ambulance for the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC).