New polo rules set to ‘threaten the economy of Midhurst’

C111194-3 Mid Gold Cup  Photo Louise Adams

Finalists Zacara and Les Lions play for the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup in the 2011 British Open Championship being played at the Cowdray Park Polo Club. SUS-140304-173104003
C111194-3 Mid Gold Cup Photo Louise Adams Finalists Zacara and Les Lions play for the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup in the 2011 British Open Championship being played at the Cowdray Park Polo Club. SUS-140304-173104003

New immigration proposals for polo teams are set to have a devastating effect on the economy of the Midhurst area, the sport’s top administrator said.

David Woodd, chief executive of the Hurlingham Polo Association, the sport’s governing body, told the Observer the Home Office proposals would threaten the livelihoods, not just of polo teams but other businesses including vets, restaurants, house and stable lettings, hotels, car hire firms and shops.

He said Cowdray Park was one of the biggest polo centres in the country, making a substantial contribution to the area’s economy: “Midhurst and polo are a bit like Newmarket and racing, if you removed the racing from Newmarket it would disappear into oblivion.” The proposals would ‘hugely impact the economy of the area’ he said.

Mr Woodd is now having talks with Home Office officials to try to resolve the issue.

It blew up when officials visited 15 leading polo teams who had brought in foreign workers and suspended their licences to employ non-European Economic Area players and grooms

They allegedly found not all those from overseas met the criteria of being internationally established polo players. In the case of grooms, they discovered some were being used in ancillary businesses rather than purely looking after horses.

They were all protesting, said Mr Woodd but the new rules amounted to the biggest crisis the sport had faced: “They have said we have got to tighten up and bring ourselves into alignment with other sports.”

About 100 players and 800 grooms came to Britain last season - the majority from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.

The Home Office wants polo to operate like other sports such as football. Their employment in the UK must ‘make a significant contribution to the development of the sport at the highest level in the UK’. Grooms would only be able to come to Britain if they were part of an entourage or team and working with an overseas player.

“The overseas grooms are only here for the summer months and are not displacing resident labour,” said Mr Woodd.

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