By Bridget McArdle McKinney
Glorious, historic and romantic Deauville was the setting for the Final event of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, polo. Whilst not one of the official competition sports, no horse event in Deauville would be complete without showcasing polo, for which Deauville is so well known.
We were delighted to be able to come and participate in this event which combines my favourite sport with the opportunity to visit this famous village by the sea, with its Boardwalk, Casino, markets, 'moules marinières' and, of course, the Calvados.
Although Deauville has long been associated with horse racing, polo and yearling auctions, Deauville’s charm has attracted writers, painters, photographers and many others artists, such as Coco Chanel, who opened one of her first boutiques there, the already famous couturier, Paul Poiret, a number of painters like Dufy, Fujita, Van Dongen, writers, poets, and caricaturists like Apollinaire, Sacha Guitry, Colette, and Sem. This obsession for Deauville continued throughout the Roaring Twenties. After the Second World War, Deauville regained its allure, becoming once again the only place to be for the summer season for the world’s social elite. Its hotels, racecourses, tennis courts, polo grounds and pigeon-shooting were all fully booked for the season.
The atmosphere here feels a little wild and a little romantic and it was here in Deauville that the famous French film director Claude Lelouch set his passion-filled movie, “A Man and a Woman’, which was released in 1966 and won nearly 50 international awards drawing generations of serious cineasts to Deauville culminating in the creation of the renowned American Film Festival in 1975 which attracts the Hollywood A-list celebrities each year.
Whilst you can feel the romance in the air, the greater passion in Deauville is reserved for horses. It is said that the man who built the resort, the Duke of Morny, prioritised the construction of the racecourse over that of the church. Polo arrived in Deauville in 1892 and in 1907 Baron Robert de Rothschild, Capitaine Joubert and the Duc de Guiche founded the Polo de Deauville. Deauville polo was put on the world map in 1950 with the launch of the Polo Gold Cup, the brain-child of hotelier François André. The Deauville International Polo Club now hosts the Coupe d'Or, recognized as a World Polo Tour Cup event ranked among the world's top polo tournaments, in August every year. The Lucien Barrière Deauville Polo Cup competition brings together some of the greatest players in the world.
In addition to polo, Deauville's two racecourses and Pôle International du Cheval equestrian centre host races seven months of the year, auctions of thoroughbreds and trotters, a training centre, horse-jumping and dressage competitions, a traditional-carriage competition, paddock-polo and horse ball tournaments. You can attend one of these events or, better yet, take a gallop along the Normandy beaches with the sea breeze and wind in your hair.
Today we watched the two Games’ polo exhibitions, a mixed junior match and a professional game pitting "Team France vs. the Rest of the World" with four players of the French National Team vs four of the best foreign polo players in the world. After the polo, we were treated to a special rendezvous with one of the official Games’ Mascots, Norman, who is ‘a model champion always in good mood’ according to his own PR! The organisation, spirit, crowds, players and quality and level of play was truly impressive and both teams should be proud.
Leaving the beautiful grounds of the Deauville International Polo Club after the matches we wondered, could the inclusion of exhibition polo in the 2014 Games signal a movement toward acceptance of polo as an Olympic sport? There are many around the world who are rooting for polo to be brought back into the Olympic family.
According to an article by Catherine Austen for the ‘Financial Times’: “The first modern Olympic equestrian medals were not awarded to dressage riders, eventers or even show jumpers. They were presented to polo players, on June 2nd 1900, when a joint British/US team took gold. Those Olympic Games, in Paris, were the first to include horse sports, and polo was part of another four Olympics. When the Olympics resumed after the second world war in London in 1948, polo was absent, and has been ever since.”
Those against inclusion cite cost, logistics, access to training, fairness, and plain old red tape as obstacles to bringing polo back as an Olympic sport. One never knows, but one can dream that someday we will see Polo Olympians. But for now, today, we’ve had splendid polo at the Games in divine Deauville.
Sources include: Deauville Tourisme, 2014 Alltech WEG, Financial Times June 15th 2013.
Photo 1: spectators reading HORSE TIMES
Photo 2: now these are polo ponies!
Photo 3: stomping the divots
Photo 4: fast-paced action
Photo 5: blue is the French team; red is the Rest of the World
Photos 8 & 7: © Sandrine Boyer and Comité d'Organisation Normandie