One of Thailand’s most anticipated events, the Anantara King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament took place from March 10th thru the 14th in Bangkok. Originally held at the royal seaside resort town of Hua Hin, the tournament moved to Bangkok in 2014. This year’s pitch was purposely built for the tournament along the Chao Phraya river, very near the Anantara’s famous Riverside Resort.
Ten teams were entered with players coming from around the world, including Miss Thailand, the New Zealand All Blacks rugby players and professional polo players who all created many memorable on (and off) pitch moments. The Anantara itself fielded two teams, the Anantara Arabian Knights from the UAE and the Anantara Hotels, Resorts, Spa a team which included Manish Jha, the General Manager of their Hua Hin resort.
Twenty ex-street elephants participated in this year’s tournament, during which time they received full veterinary checks from the Zoo-logical Parks Organisation of Thailand (under the patronage of HM the King of Thailand) and the Department of Livestock Development. In addition, all elephants were given essential vitamins, food and care which are not available to them during their normal daily lives.
The tournament began early the morning of the tenth with a traditional ceremony overseen by monks who placed sacred garlands over the necks of the stars of the event, the 20 street elephants, and then blessed them with a trickle of sacred water. Thailand’s last elephant spirit men the Kruba Yai, who possess spiritual guardianship over all elephants in the Kingdom, also presided over the rituals and assured polo players and spectators alike that the tournament would indeed be a resounding success.
The opening match saw reigning champions King Power easily beat host team Anantara with a resounding 10 – 6 win, but the match of the day was between Citibank and PWC’s mighty New Zealand All Blacks rugby players Robin Brooke, Olo Brown and Charlie Reichelmann.
There was impressive play on both sides, with the All Blacks kicking off the game with an early goal. Citi came back strong with solid teamwork and long passes up the field ensuring a flurry of goals, resulting in a six-all draw at half time. The experienced polo players Robert Mullis and Oliver Winter continued to showcase their domination on the pitch resulting in the final score of 11 – 6, with Citi beating the mighty PWC All Blacks.
Day two’s match of the day was between Audemars Piguet and the all lady team Casillero Del Diablo (CDD) featuring former Miss Thailand Areeya Sirisopa. Audemars Piguet’s professional horse polo players the Kalaan brothers, Uday and Angad showed their world champion skills matched with Cameron Humphries stellar defense early in the match scoring the first seven goals of the game.
Audemars Piguet’s strength early in the match continued into the second chukka and proved to be too strong for the CDD ladies with the final score of 10 – 6.
The big winners however were the 1,000 local school children that attended that day. Known as Chang Noi Day (Little Elephant Day), children from local schools all over Bangkok were invited to get up close with the elephants and learn more about their national animal. A range of educational walks, games and activities all teaching the benefits of elephant conservation and well-being were put on by the organizers.
Day three of the 14th King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament adopted a slightly more stylish approach to the competition as the ladies off field dressed to the nines for Ladies Day, also known as ‘Bangkok’s Ascot’.
The competition on the pitch was as fierce as ever with all 10 teams vying for a place in the semi-finals. King Power, Audemars Piguet, the Arabian Knights each won their matches and Johnnie Walker Blue Label versus Mekhong drew in their match together but it was the exhibition shoot off between the New Zealand All Blacks rugby legends Olo Brown, Robin Brooke and Charlie Riechelmann and the Miss Tiffany transgender team that drew the largest crowds. The All Black’s showed their sporting prowess by winning 2 – 0.
Although the Miss Tiffany ladies were not successful on the pitch, offside ‘Ladies Day’ saw a plethora of women who came dressed to impress in the hope of winning the grand prize of a trip to Paris which was awarded to the best dressed lady of the day. The day was attended by well-known celebrities such as Miss Thailand Areeya Sirisopa, Asia’s Next Top Model Host Cindy Bishop and socialist Joy Sopitpongsathorn.
The final match placed two stellar teams – Rueang Chang against King Power Duty Free – in a closely fought battle for the 14th King’s Cup Elephant Polo trophy. Rueang Chang captained by Ed Story along with Taweesak Keereekaew and Prakorn Saejaw and King Power captained by Tom Claytor with Nattapong Pratumlee and Satid Wongkraso went head to head in a thrilling final.
The first half was dominated by Rueang Chang but no goals were scored. Things heated up in the second chukka with King Power battling to regain their King’s Cup crown. Rueang Chang had looked good early on but in the second half King Power showed their prowess and their professional polo experience with Tom Claytor and Nattanpong Pratumlee scoring all the goals in the second half.
The tournament was introduced to Thailand in 2001 by Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas and has grown to become one of the biggest charitable events in the Kingdom, raising funds for projects that better the lives of Thailand’s elephant population. THB15 million has been raised this year taking the total raised to date to an impressive THB 47 million (US$1,300,000)
The money raised from the 2016 tournament will be donated to a variety of elephant related pro-jects including funding a new mobile clinic in Mae Teang, Chiang Mai Province which has the largest concentration of trekking camps in Thailand. Funds will also be donated to the Zoological Parks Organisation of Thailand to support projects to improve the year round lives of the 200 elephants and mahouts in Ban Ta Klang, in Surin Province where the ex-street elephants face on-going hardship.
Other significant benefits from the money raised by the tournament include: the ongoing Thai Elephant Therapy Project which has been underway since 2009 in conjunction with Chiang Mai University’s Department of Occupational Therapy, with future clinics to include children with Down’s syndrome and other conditions. A THB 500,000 gantry to help lame elephants stand, donated to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC); 4,000 trees planted in Hua Hin for elephant corridors to stop farmer/elephant conflicts; funding a conservation curriculum for schools to teach children the importance of conservation and protection of wild elephants in Thailand and funding Asia’s first workshop to show traditional elephant trainers and camp owners the benefits of Positive Reinforcement Training for captive elephants.