Who needs the World Cup?

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It’s pretty impossible to get away from the fact the World Cup is just round the corner. And if you’re not a football fan, the barrage of World Cup-related advertising makes you feel like tournament started some time last November.  

So, in a recent search for some balance in our sporting lives, Esquire managed to find the ultimate trump card,  guaranteed to silence any football bore: ”I scored the winning goal in an elephant polo match.”

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Until we actually arrived at the farthest tip of North Thailand, on the border of Burma and Laos, it was never mentioned that Esquire might actually be playing in the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Championship, held in the grounds of the sumptuous Anantara Golden Triangle hotel.

At 3.30am on the night before our first game, the captain of our team could be found slugging down a terrifying looking liquid that has been scooped out of a large glass jar with two dead cobras inside. Elephant polo players are a hardy breed because by next morning he was already out on the pitch commentating.

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This is not to imply that the sport isn’t taken seriously - it is, but it’s quite obvious that the players, who all know each other, are a dying breed of wealthy eccentrics with a taste for wobbly pops after a hard day's chukka.

The sport was invented by James Manclark, a man who among other dangerous pursuits was ditched in the freezing sea off Japan during a world record-breaking balloon attempt before heading to Ecuador in search of the legendary Tayos gold. Failing to find any treasure, he fancied a crack at tobogganing and while in St Moritz bumped into Jim Edwards, a pioneer of eco tourism.

During a long session of liquid refreshment the sport of elephant polo was born, helped by the fact that Jim owned a herd of elephants in Nepal (as you do). Unfortunately Jim passed away last year but his son Kristjan (above, lower left) is now running the world championships, to be held in Nepal this November.

When it comes to leftfield sports, elephant polo must surely be king. Cheese rolling, bog snorkelling and the Conker World Championships simply do not compare to being lowered from what looks like a medieval gallows on to the back a massive pachyderm to play three-a-side polo with an eight-foot bamboo stick.

The Mahout, who drives the elephant, does a lot of the work but we don't mind admitting the first half was the hardest and most uncomfortable seven minutes we’d ever experienced.

In the second half, our date with destiny arrived: the Verve Clicquot team suffer a stroke of bad luck as the intrepid newcomer from Esquire manages to fumble the ball in to the 'D', leaving it just two tantalising feet away from the goalline (see below). The sound of the defence moving in is like a minor earthquake but the ball is hammered home and the crowd go ballistic: "GOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL!"

Meanwhile back in the pitch-side bar, denizens of the Elephant Polo set congratulated themselves on raising $50,000 for the TETP-Thailand Elephant Therapy Project - and not a mention of the World Cup was made. Words and images by Martyn Goodacre

Goodacre_Playing_Elephant_Polo