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Polo (Persian: چوگان chogān) is a team sport played on horseback. The objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet. The traditional sport of polo is played on a grass field up to 300 by 160 yards (270 by 150 m). Each polo team consists of four riders and their mounts. Field polo is played with a solid plastic sphere (ball) which has replaced the wooden version of the ball in much of the sport. In arena polo, only three players are required per team and the game usually involves more manoeuvreing and shorter plays at lower speeds due to space limitations of the arena. Arena polo is played with a small air-filled ball, similar to a small football. The modern game lasts roughly two hours and is divided into periods called chukkas (occasionally rendered as “chukkers”). Polo is played professionally in 16 countries. It was formerly an Olympic sport.
Polo originated in Southern or Central Asia, most likely in Iran (Persia). Its invention is dated variously from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD. Persian Emperor Shapur II learnt to play polo when he was seven years old in 316 AD. The game was learnt by the neighbouring Byzantine Empire at an early date. A tzykanisterion (stadium for playing tzykanion, the Byzantine name for polo) was built by emperor Theodosius II (r. 408–450) inside the Great Palace of Constantinople. Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886) excelled at it; Emperor Alexander (r. 912–913) died from exhaustion while playing and John I of Trebizond (r. 1235–1238) died from a fatal injury during a game. Naqsh-i Jahan Square in Isfahan is a polo field which was built by king Abbas I in the 17th century.
Qutubuddin Aibak, the Turkic slave from Central Asia who later became the Sultan of Delhi in Northern India, ruled as a Sultan for only four years, from 1206 to 1210, but died accidentally in 1210. While he was playing a game of polo on horseback (also called chougan in Persia), his horse fell and Aibak was impaled on the pommel of his saddle. He was buried near the Anarkali bazaar in Lahore (in modern-day Pakistan). Aibak’s son Aram died in 1211 CE , so Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, another ex-slave of Turkic ancestry who was married to Aibak’s daughter, succeeded him as Sultan of Delhi.
After the Muslim conquests to the Ayyubid and Mameluke dynasties of Egypt and the Levant, whose elites favoured it above all other sports. Notable sultans such as Saladin and Baybars were known to play it and encourage it in their court. Polo sticks were features on the Mameluke precursor to modern day playing cards.