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On the expansive green turf of the Singapore Polo Club, hedge fund managers, bankers and socialites in the Asian city state will mingle on Saturday, champagne flutes in hand, as riders thunder past to mark British Polo Day
Part throwback to Singapore’s colonial days as an equatorial outpost of Britain, part glitzy marketing exercise for the “game of kings” in fast-growing Asia, the event is pulling crowds in only its second year.
Polo is resurgent in Singapore, as the city state’s low tax rates, almost crime-free streets and blingy nightlife scene transform it into Asia’s newest playground for the rich.
Foreigners moving to Singapore, as well as a growing number of homegrown millionaires, are taking to the sport in record numbers – an unexpected spectacle in a place more known as a thrusting financial centre run with an authoritarian streak.
“Polo’s definitely on the up in Singapore and [the city state’s] a very prestigious and precious part of the game’s global heritage,” says Edward Olver, founder of British Polo Day and a former adjutant of the Household Cavalry, the British monarch’s royal guard.
Membership at the Singapore club, founded in 1886 and one of the oldest in Asia, has swollen to 1,600, up from only 100 two decades ago. Members own 126 horses, a 63 per cent increase on the level in 2010.
Polo is just one example of the tiny city state’s rising wealth. It has the second-highest number of millionaire’s per capita in the world, after Monaco. About one in every 30 Singaporeans is a US dollar millionaire, according to WealthInsight, a research company.
Saturday’s event, including a fashion show, is one of 12 similar events that are taking place in cities around the world throughout the year, and is sponsored by British companies.
Iqbal Jumabhoy, president of the Singapore club, says: “We are now able to attract more people to be involved and that is partly to do with the re-rating of Singapore as an international city. This has attracted a very diverse group of people to live and work here, which along with the affluence gets them involved in more varied pursuits.”
The club has started to attract top players from abroad, such as Nacho Figueras, an Argentine player – and the face of Polo Ralph Lauren’s advertising campaigns – who played in Singapore for the first time in 2010
Singapore is also helping to grow polo throughout Asia. Some of the club’s members have helped launch the first clubs in China – where there are now at least five. Mr Jumabhoy says an Indonesian club recently sponsored an event in Singapore “to drum up interest” in its domestic game.
Television has helped spread the message, too. This year, tournaments played in Singapore will be broadcast 12 times on regional channels, four times more frequently than last year.
Yet Singapore is determined to avoid some of the flashy commercialisation that has overtaken the sport elsewhere, players say.
Satinder Garcha, a luxury hotels and property developer whose father was captain of India’s national polo team, is a member of the Singapore club. He says that, unlike many other clubs around the world, Singapore does not rely on privately-funded polo teams to provide the action and is still run as a traditional club, where members get allocated horses – owned by the club – on a handicap basis.
“Polo has become so commercialised, but in Singapore it’s kind of unique because it’s still kept the flavour of a true members’ club. Here it’s more egalitarian and it hasn’t been tainted by all the wealth coming in. It’s an oasis.”