Duro Ikhazuagbe
Lagos recorded another first last weekend when the Elegushi beach waterfront in Lekki hosted the first Africa Beach Polo event.

The four-chukka exhibition match between Team Africa and Team World was a precursor to the scheduled African Beach Polo League Tournament billed to kick off in May.

Team World made up of players like Thomas Hope +3 (Argentina), Tim Ward +2 (UK), and Nigeria’s female player, Neku Atawodi, who substituted for Malcolm Borwick (UK) took on Team Africa with Pierre Henri Ngoumou (France) as lead predator. Pierre is a +5 handicap player. He had good company with Sadiq Dantata (+1) and Adeyemo (Yemo) Alakija.

Though a non-competitive match, both teams played with flair of a Majekodunmi Cup final.

Of course, Team World had the advantage of a goal lead at the kick off due to the superior handicaps of the Pierre led Team Africa. That edge was cancelled outright in the first chukka with Yemo doing a solo drive from the right flank to flick into the goal post a loose ball. Pierre and Atawodi tried a couple of drives to increase the tally but that initial chukka ended one-all.

On return from break for the second chukka, the tempo of the exhibition match soared with Team Africa firing two more quick goals to increase its lead to 3-1. But Team World remained calm, contesting every ball, mallet for mallet. It eventually paid off for a second goal. Tim was gifted a through pass after a 10-yard hit by Yemo was deflected to him by the surging wind from the Atlantic.

The second chukka ended 4-2 with Team Africa leading the scoreboard.
The only female player on parade who incidentally is the force behind the beach polo tournament, Neku Atawodi, got on the score sheet just at the restart of the game in the third chukka. Her goal was greeted with a massive applause from the stands.

The final chukka was just a rehash of the second but the goals just didn’t come. Yemo however capped an excellent evening with a marvelous goal that left the polo aficionados looking forward to the May 7 date when the league proper would kick off at the same venue.

Speaking at the end of the game, Atawodi was full of excitement with the manner fans responded to the project.

“I feel glad that the Africa Beach Polo has finally taken off with this exhibition match. It was not easy due to the logistics involved like having to bring top players from across the globe to be part of the show,” gushed the University of Brighton graduate of equestrian sport.

She however admitted that getting more sponsors remain her biggest drive now that the tournament proper is less than two months away.

President of the Lagos Polo Club, Ade Laoye told THISDAY that the coming of the beach polo was good for polo players in the country as it was going to fill the void when the regular polo season goes on break.

“I am here to lend my support to the project. I am equally happy that this beach polo league is going to fill the void when our regular polo season goes on break,” the LPC chief enthused.

Yemo Alakija while reviewing the exhibition game admitted that it was a little tougher playing on the beach sand. “It is tougher than playing on grass as we do it at Ikoyi Polo Club but I feel excited playing it here.”

Some of Nigeria’s celebrities at the game include President of Lagos Polo Club, Ade Laoye, Polo enthusiasts from the American Consulate in Lagos, Eku Edewor, Wale Davies, Ladipoe, Bizzle, DJ Obi, Wana Sambo, CNN’s Keturah King and Boj who ran commentaries of the event.

With champagne and other choice drinks on the house, guests were serenaded by live violinist, Godwin Strings, while a graffiti artist, Osa Seven, did live painting of players on ponies as the game was being played. The national anthem was performed by Nigerian Idol runner up Beebee Bassey.

The African Beach Polo League will continue at the end of May with seven national teams already confirmed to be part of the extravaganza.
The exhibition game and the league proper is to be televised to all 54 countries in Africa by partner of the tournament, SuperSport.