On 9 – 12 March 2017 it is once again time for one of the year’s happy highlights – where the bonds between people, and between people and elephants are celebrated during the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament.
And for Scandinavian residents and visitors to Thailand this unusual and audience-friendly tournament has an extra appeal in that Swedish players dominate one the competing teams.
In fact there is no elephant polo tournament in Thailand without the Swedish elephant polo aficionados Björn Richardsson and Christopher Stafford, who are once again back to compete and contribute to another successful tournament. And for the fifteenth edition they have brought in a special Swedish enforcement to their team who know knows a fair bit about team-based sports, namely a former professional footballer. Anders Limpar, once an Arsenal and Everton, as well as national team, player, joins their Johnnie Walker Blue Label for the exciting games in Bangkok! The remaining players in their team are: Robin Lourvanij and Stewart Easton.
Four days of captivating elephant polo matches, combined with other event programme attractions, will see 10 teams from all over the world, including Miss Thailand, New Zealand All Black rugby players and professional polo players, battle it out for the coveted King’s Cup and raise even more money for Thailand’s domestic and wild elephant populations.
The Swede’s Johnnie Walker Blue Label team finished in 7th in the 2016 tournament and this year aims at the semi finals, Christopher Stafford, tells ScandAsia. Christopher is also busy as Master of Ceremony throughout the competition,
New teams are also joining in 2017, including the renowned Argentinian player Agustin Kronhaus.
Anantara Hotels & Resorts (which has two adjacent hotels by Chao Phraya River in Bangkok) offers the ultimate riverside setting for this fun and unique tournament, and during a period when Bangkok basks in excellent, sunny weather. A field next to Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort and Avani Riverside Bangkok is the site for the competition and celebrations, where good friends re-unite and the love of elephants flourish.
The grounds offered excellent conditions for the elephants in 2016 so the tournament continues with the same arrangements in 2017
But bigger crowds are expected, as the word is now out since the previous year’s successful arrangement.
“Anantara is doing a big marketing campaign so there will probably be a larger audience than last year,” Christopher anticipates.
The King’s Cup Elephant Polo is a public event and a draw for global media and many V.I.P’s, culminating with the finals in the Sunday late afternoon on 12 March.
On two occasions during the four days the Fruit Buffet highlight takes place for the elephants. Otherwise, on the programme, the Grand Opening Parade kicks off the proceedings in the morning on 9 March, with an invitees-only Charity auction gala dinner in the evening. During the second day school ‘educational and fun’ visits take place throughout day.
On Saturday 11 March the tournament matches begins in the afternoon and continues until 10.00 pm, with festival atmosphere including entertainment and music until late. Saturday also sees the ‘Grand historic elephant parade’, followed by a fashion show by Monlada, and the ‘Best dressed lady award’.
The tournament culminates on Sunday 12 March, starting off with 10.00 am Sunday morning jazz. The King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament grand final is scheduled for 4.00 pm.
Honouring Thailand’s much beloved but displaced elephants, those selected to participate are only those who have been domestically bred and not captured from the wild or smuggled in from neighbouring countries.
Christopher and Björn have been with the King’s Cup in Thailand since day one, playing an instrumental role in bringing this sport to Thailand. Christopher is even accredited as the man who brought the game to Thailand in the first place. The sport was invented in Nepal some forty years ago.
The Thailand tournament includes players from Nepal every year.
“In my view those men that have been doing this for 30 years are the real deal,” Christopher said in a previous interview. “Without them elephant polo would not be what it has become today, because they have given it certain character. That is quite important, there’s a very nice social life between all of us who have been part of this from the beginning; it has grown into a society. I think we would not have managed to keep this going without that. It is not anything snobbish. It has grown into a very strong friendship between the players. So it’s been a joy.”
“There are much less elephants in Bangkok nowadays, which is really good and the whole idea with doing this,” he also concluded with great satisfaction.
Every year the Swedes travel to Nepal play and attend an annual meeting. The World Elephant Polo Association is based there. This association ensures that the tournaments are conducted in the safest way possible for elephants, players and mahouts (the elephant keepers).
Today it has grown into one of Thailand’s most prominent events for tourism promotion and a very essential, core project for Anantara’s CSR efforts on the annual calendar. The event proudly received the Silver Award for Sports CSR Initiative of the Year in the Asia 2016 SPIA Sports Industry Awards.
The event is carried out by Anantara’s own elephant charity – the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF).
Set up to improve the plight of Thailand’s elephants GTAEF has been diversified to include welfare projects that incorporate broader philanthropic and cultural objectives. GTAEF is very much helped by the annual elephant polo tournament with its charity gala dinner.
Keen on becoming a player? The event in Bangkok will offer an excellent opportunity to study the sport in detail. Usually, individuals joining this “society” are sons and daughters, or friends from within networks of the various players.
But anyone interested in joining the game can come forward and contact Björn and Christopher, who are in the Thailand committee that composes the teams before the tournament in Thailand. This is based on each player’s previous experience in order for the teams to be even. And those uneven are given a handicap.
“What’s fun with the game is that no team is stronger than the others.”
In the case of a self-appointed team that is too good it would be given a lot of goals to achieve.