MR PRESIDENT: High-goal player takes on new role

Eduardo Novillo Astrada surprised everyone when he announced his candidacy for president of the Argentine Polo Association, particularly because, at 8 goals, he is one of the best polo players on the planet and an active professional player.

After winning the election, his first measures touched both the high- and lowhandicap. He added a new, official 6-goal tournament to the calendar and brought the number of teams that will take part in the Triple Crown to 10.

Since he first mentioned his candidacy in the last days of 2016, his decision generated electricity. It was unusual in Argentine polo to hear a high handicap player, in the height of his career, decide to run for president of the Argentine Polo Association. In fact, it was one of the obstacles that some wanted to impose on him, arguing some obscure article of the statutes that prohibited the double function until the archives (that rarely betray) showed the images of Francisco Dorignac in the 1987 Palermo Open turning goals for Santa Ana and then, in the same year, as one of his first official actions as president of the AAP (his first term would extend until 1991), delivering the champion’s cup to the quartet of La Espadaña and simultaneously announcing his retirement.

Astrada’s mission was precisely to replace Frankie Dorignac, who, as head of the association, was in his second term, a 12-year period that began in 2005.

With the same vigor and strategic intelligence he shows in every movement he makes on the field while defending the colors of La Aguada, at age 44, Eduardo Novillo Astrada decided it was time to make a play in-depth.

“I present myself in the elections but I represent a list, an idea, a group of players, clubs and officers. That’s why we chose the name ‘La Unión del Polo’ (The Union of Polo). It is a varied group that can bring different visions in polo, because a Palermo player’s reality is not the same reality that the amateur, a low handicap player or a club deep in the country’s interior has,” explained Novillo Astrada at the beginning of year when he made his candidacy official with the support of the main high goalers, such as Adolfo Cambiaso, Facundo Pieres and Eduardo Heguy (who was previously mentioned as another possible candidate), in addition to significant support from provincial clubs, which he earned after many visits to various provinces.

As rarely happens, the campaigns of Novillo Astrada and Guillermo Álvarez Fourcade, former manager of the Jockey Club of Buenos Aires, exceeded the scope of polo and reached the national media.

On May 30, Novillo Astrada overcame Álvarez Fourcade 70-32. The defeated, in an honorable gesture, decided not to contest the election, but to instead allow The Union of Polo to fully introduce its candidates and have greater capacity of management in the two years that have been mandated as the term of the new president.

When his triumph was known, La Aguada’s No. 2 recognized the demands of the task that awaited him: “I see polo from the inside—nobody tells me what happens. My expectation is to achieve a resounding change and reinvent polo, putting it to the height of other sports. Polo has no roof. The expectation is very high and I know that being who I am, they will demand even more from me. I want everyone to feel that we will make the AAP open to all. Let them approach me with concerns. We are the only sport in which Argentina is the best in the world without arguments. We have to open polo’s door so there can be more people playing and enjoying our sport.”

Polo Players’ Edition: How will you serve as president in these two years of management?

Eduardo Novillo Astrada: I do not believe in a president with a major profile but instead, in working with teams focused on the areas of interest: interior polo, low- and medium-handicap polo, professional polo, women’s polo. When I was offered to take charge, I took a few days to study the format of the ATP (the governing body of men’s tennis) in tennis. At one point, the top three on the planet (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) were on the board. And then they had a member of the International Federation and two executives who were working on the day-to-day duties with their groups. The council meets at specific times and makes macro decisions so that later they develop specific teams. And the same goes for the PGA in golf.

PPE: Do you think players often do not get involved enough in political decisions?

ENA: We always wanted to participate. Perhaps there was a deficit in the way of communicating it. Now we must do it better to be able to add and change the way people see things. Polo is in a period of general crisis in which it needs to be reorganized to overcome the moment and come out strengthened.

PPE: After touring the country, how do you see polo?

ENA: It has to be federalized. We have to make the institutions of the provinces grow, so they can offer what they have. Help them from Buenos Aires with infrastructure, ideas and the effort of the most prestigious players, so they can organize tournaments, improve their infrastructure and attract new talents. We have forgotten a little about amateur polo and that is the base of the pyramid from where the stars begin and later shine in Palermo. That is why it is necessary that we order our country and set up a unified calendar that is fundamental for attracting players and patrons all year long to Argentina. We have already started organizing the last three months of 2017 and adding a new official tournament of up to 6 goals.

PPE: How has it been since you were elected president?

ENA: Busy, very much. I am stuck to the cellphone and computer more than I thought, but I am very happy because we are launching specific commissions to work in focus of interests. We are ordering the documentation that the previous administration left us, seeing the contracts to sign and preparing a complete situation report so that everyone is clear about the state in which we received the AAP. We are focused on cleaning up the finances of the AAP and we are looking to recover the sponsors that left because now we have a new project to offer for long term and with an international reach.

PPE: You are also concerned about the Triple Crown. What is the reason for increasing it to 10 participating teams?

ENA: What we always talk about with the participating players is that we have to bring more spectators to Palermo. Make the Open grow as a show and as a competition. You also have to think about before the games and after the games.

Make it a family program to go to Palermo to enjoy, let the tourists know that there is a unique spectacle in the world. That is why we have to think of other attractions to add to what happens on the field, which is the best polo that can be achieved across the planet.

The idea is not just mine. At the end of 2016, the players that disputed Palermo and the classification in the previous three years had voted in an internal poll and the idea to raise teams to 10 won by 90 percent.

PPE: What is your point of view on the criticisms generated by this measure?

ENA: I think it will serve to increase the high handicap because the best will continue being the best, but what we are doing is giving the chance to new players to add the experience and have more replacements for the long term. In these years, it is possible that we will not see this, but then it will be faster and not like it happens now, where we “old men” are playing so many years at the high level.

The great criticism of the last years was the difference between the powerful teams and the weaker teams, and with this there is more chance that the less powerful will grow.

The details have not yet been disclosed because we must define the amount of chukkers each game will have, the duration of the chukkers, if there will be a system of descents and promotions for the next season or if we will play a nightly match per week.

Fundamentally, this change was made thinking about the growth and future of the sport.

By Ernesto Rodríguez




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