- Polo in Argentina: A History by Horace A. Laffaye
Horace Laffaye has produced a well-written and detailed account of the emergence, consolidation, and growth of polo in Argentina that will appeal to historians and polo fans alike. With over four hundred pages and well illustrated with abundant photographic material, this volume provides a much needed look at the famous clubs, essential associations, and historic polo figures that have contributed to Argentina’s important polo tradition. Laffaye, a North American polo-playing medical doctor who developed a “lifelong affair with the game of polo” (6) while living in Argentina, has undertaken the onerous task of compiling information and meticulously researching the local origins of the game, the championships and tournaments that occurred throughout the twentieth century, and the situation of the sport today.
Arranged in a chronological manner, the book describes the history of polo from its beginnings in the 1870s among the prosperous Anglo-Argentine land-owning community to the major triumphs of the Ellerstina and La Dolfina polo teams in recent years. The spread of polo into the Argentine land-owning upper classes and into the military in the 1920s signaled the decline of the British control of the game. Laffaye identifies 1922 as a crucial year for the Argentinization of polo, with the creation of two fundamental institutions: the Argentine Polo Association, which “organized and solidified the sport” (93), and the Argentine Polo Federation, responsible for the teams’ international successes in the United Kingdom and the United States. The 1920s also saw the creation of new polo clubs and the spread of the game to the provinces, as well as the birth of the country’s longest-running championship, the Argentine Open Polo Championship, or Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo, which is still held in “the polo cathedral” (66), the grounds in the Palermo neighborhood in the city of Buenos Aires. Laffaye provides in-depth accounts of all the important local and international tournaments, including Argentina’s participation in the Olympic championships, compiling detailed information on team composition, handicap, and titles achieved. Including subsections that offer brief but interesting biographies of prominent polo families like the Heguys and the Pieres and of “polo personalities” like Juan Carlos Harriott and Francisco Dorignac, he underscores the strong connections between polo and the Argentine social and economic elite. In a chapter dedicated to polo within the military institution, Laffaye also stresses the important presence and achievements of military cadets and officers and their significant contributions to the sport. Offering a wealth of data that goes beyond being a loose collection of facts and anecdotes about Argentine polo, the volume also addresses some of the current misconceptions about the history of the early polo years in the country. In a short chapter dedicated to myths within the sport, Laffaye convincingly debunks some of the longer established popular beliefs about polo, such as the location of the first polo game and the date of the first Argentine Open Championship at the Palermo grounds in Buenos Aires (371–74). [End Page 263]
Based on a variety of historical sources, and including a succinct yet comprehensive bibliography, numerous appendixes, as well as a full and complete index, Polo in Argentina will be of great use to those in need of concrete and easily accessible data on the sport. Scholars seeking to delve into deeper issues and greater analysis will find this volume a useful and reliable reference for further research. The book raises many questions that should be taken up by other researchers. Issues discussed by Laffaye, like the militarization of the game in the 1930s and the conflicting relationship between Peron and the polo clubs in the 1940s and ‘50s, deserve to be examined in greater depth. Laffaye also mentions the existence of several female polo teams in the 1920s, a fact that will intrigue gender historians working on women’s presence in male-dominated sports.
Polo in Argentina achieves its purpose by providing the reader with numerous facts, relevant figures, and interesting...