She is the first woman in the world to head an active polo association: Morgan Van Overbroek, president of the Swiss Polo Association, talks about women in Polo, organizing tournaments in times of Corona and what she loves most about the sport.
Dear Morgan, you are currently in Argentina. Was the journey very complicated for you in times of Corona?
Morgan Van Overbroek: I was lucky that some of my friends had already traveled to the country a few weeks before and so they were able to give me some good advice. I applied for the visa via the Argentine Polo Association. For me, thanks to my nomination as the head of SPA and as the organizer of a Ladies Cup at my Argentinian farm, it was processed very quickly: I had my visa after only two weeks while others had to wait much longer. We feel very privileged to be here.
Did you need a lot of other papers and how long did you have to stay home for quarantine?
Morgan Van Overbroek: I only needed the visa and the printout of documents which I had filled out online before my departure. Argentina requires a two-week quarantine. That might sound challenging at first – but since our farm is around 900 hectares, my husband Sébastien and I, have ample space to stretch our legs. We play polo, visit our cows, watch the wheat harvest and I thoroughly enjoy doing lots of garden work.
For the first time, a Swiss polo club is sponsoring two teams in the Open in Palermo. How did that happen?
Morgan Van Overbroek: I think it’s a world premiere for a polo club to sponsor two teams in the Open. Our motivation for this is easily explained: We have been friends with Pablo and Matias Mac Donough for years. We were also close to their father Jorge until he passed in 2018. Min Podesta, playing for La Irenita 1, signed his first professional contract with us and we work with his entire family in Argentina and Switzerland. We also know most of the players of the 2 teams, so when they asked us for support, we didn’t have to think twice.
Was the Open in Palermo very different to previous editions because of the strong impact of Covid-19?
Morgan Van Overbroek: A lot has changed. No public audience was allowed until the semi-finals which of course creates a completely different ambiance. In the end, max. 1000 people were allowed for the semi-finals and the final – which of course is not much. But the best polo in the world was played and this is most important. We only can cross our fingers that with the availability of vaccines, the situation will improve in 2021. It felt very exclusive to be there.
You are the first woman in the world to head a polo association. Why did it take so long to make that happen?
Morgan Van Overbroek: I think it just never happened before because nobody really thought about this option. Neither did I! My husband came up with the idea. The SPA needed someone who actively plays polo him-/herself and who is able to invest enough time and energy into this job. And I tell you: This position is challenging! You have to represent the association and be the point of contact for club members and club presidents. It demands a lot of diplomacy to ensure that everyone around the table is heard and respected, ensure that polo continues to grow in Switzerland and make it shine outside of our borders.
How long did you think about the offer?
Morgan Van Overbroek: I made up my mind to say yes within a few days. The job sounded very interesting to me and I’ve always loved taking on new challenges in my life. I just needed to be sure it would not overlap my other businesses.
Why are more and more women discovering polo nowadays?
Morgan Van Overbroek: Many girls and women have a fascination for horses. But the love for these animals is only one aspect. Polo is gathering all the family together, add friends on top and your days are fulfilled with happiness and joy. Women are playing polo since about 2500 years, just like men. The recent developments of Ladies Cups and the empowerment of professional ladies players have changed the face of female polo. It is the only sport in the world where a woman can play more often than a man; starting as Junior players and then continuing to play Ladies and Mixed tournaments. Ladies are also very focused on marketing, offer excellent visibility to the sponsors and have most definitely claimed their place under the spotlight with their hard work.
Is it true that the Polo Park Zurich was a pioneer in this area?
Morgan Van Overbroek: Yes, a Ladies Cup has been organized there since 1999, while most of the ladies tournaments have only been organized since less then eight years.
It’s a fact that Covid-19 will affect our lives and also the world of Polo in 2021 too. How do you deal with the situation?
Morgan Van Overbroek: In March 2020, the numbers of infections in Switzerland was very high. By June, there was a clear improvement and many Swiss polo clubs could start their season. However, the tournaments had to take place in a much shorter period. Flexibility was the key of that polo season. Unfortunately, some of the largest Swiss tournaments had to be postponed or cancelled as foreign guests and players could not fly in and sponsors could not invite their customers to the events. We had a safe window during the summer and we used it wisely to play polo as much as we could.
What is the biggest challenge?
Morgan Van Overbroek: All clubs and tournament organizers need to stay very vigilant regarding the government directives. We had to manage a season with constant changes in terms of number of guests allowed to attend the events, travel authorizations, etc. I am glad the 2020 polo season is over; we are already preparing 2021 with a lot of care. Unfortunately, our winter jewel, Snow Polo St. Moritz had to be postponed to 2022. Let’s hope the vaccine will help us in the spring.
How many members do all Polo Clubs in Switzerland currently have?
Morgan Van Overbroek: There are 217 players registered in the Swiss Polo Association. These are only members playing SPA tournaments. Clubs have more players – including children – who play local tournaments or are still beginners.
Your husband Sébastien Le Page is President of Polo Park Zürich. How do you complement each other in your work?
Morgan Van Overbroek: I still remember vividly when he told me that being the new owners of Polo Park Zürich will not change our lives. Well, he was pretty wrong about that, as we can see (laughs). The construction of the new clubhouse and stables was a very challenging project. Consecutively, we needed to build our working team, with Francisco Podesta happily staying on as polo manager. As the club is growing, our team follows the same path. We are the fourth biggest European club in terms of members and tournaments played and we want to keep it as simple, as familial and as professional as possible. Sébastien has the vision of an investor. He thinks about long-term strategies while I am stronger in marketing- and communication fields. But what connects us in any case: We both follow our guts and on the field, we are the best opponents.
Additional question: How many Polo ponies or horses do you currently own ? And do you have a personal favorite?
Morgan Van Overbroek: We have 28 polo ponies at the moment. I have changed almost my complete string of horses over the past 2 years. At the end of this season, our pro Martin Podesta, gave me his best mare, Cleopatra, as she will have less pressure with me. I am blessed to have my ponies. Each one is special to me in terms of character, abilities, and it is therefore impossible to have a favorite. I try to spend as much time as I can with my horses, so if you don’t know where to find me, check the stables.
What do you love most about Polo?
Morgan Van Overbroek: I’ve tried many different sports in my life – and that’s why I can say for sure that polo is simply the ultimate sport.
Morgan Van Overbroek: In this sport, team spirit is the most important thing – and the teams are very small… People therefore fully rely on you every second of the game. Whatever your skills are, you have your place on the field and a role to play. You can play in the same team with a pro, a junior, a man and a woman. And polo is not over when the final bell rings. It has many more aspects.
Which for example?
Morgan Van Overbroek: Starting to play polo is embracing an entire new universe. You discover quite quickly that Winston Churchill was right; your polo handicap is a passport to the world. You discover new places, meet people who share the same devouring passion, stay curious and learn new things, discover more about yourself. Polo is fascinating, it is a way of living, eating and breathing.
Originally published on Poloplus10.com