High Court battle against immigration rules which '˜threaten the economy of Midhurst'

Top polo officials are in the High Court today (Wednesday, January 25) fighting immigration proposals which they claim could have a devastating effect on the economy of the Midhurst area.

Wednesday, 25th January 2017, 11:13 am
Updated Wednesday, 25th January 2017, 11:18 am
Some 20,000 people converge every year on Midhurst for the world class Gold Cup polo final

It is feared the new rules are set to threaten the future of the sport and David Woodd, chief executive of the Hurlingham Polo Association, the sport’s governing body has been battling them since last November.

His deputy Oliver Hughes told the Observer: “We didn’t get the decision we were expecting before Christmas on immigration criteria so now we are applying in the High Court for ‘interim relief’ which would mean, if we are successful, the 2017 polo season can be carried out under 2016 rules while we negotiate with the Home Office for 2018.”

He said the ‘interim relief’ could save the 2017 season while negotiations for the future were continued.

“Our arguments are that we have not been consulted or given sufficient time to adapt and the welfare of horses is being jeopardised.”

The crisis blew up when Home Office officials visited 15 leading polo teams last year, who had brought in foreign workers and suspended their licences to employ non European Economic Area players and groom.

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.

The Home Office wants polo to operate like other sports such as football. Players and grooms employed 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.

In November Mr Woodd told the Observer the new rules threatened the livelihoods, not just of polo teams but other businesses including vets, restaurants, house and stable letting, hotels, car hire firms and shops.

Cowdray Park, he said 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.”

Polo patron Nick Clarke whose high goal polo team has its home at Milland has said the new rules could lead him to take his team to Spain.

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