The 12th annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament came to a close on Sunday in the royal seaside town of Hua Hin in Thailand. Attended by teams from all over the world, as well as celebrities, VIP guests and many Bangkok and local Hua Hin residents, the tournament was a resounding success, offering up a showcase of skillful play, plenty of memorable moments and a new winning team for 2013.
Sunday’s final, which was presided over by the King of Thailand’s royal representative, Privy Councillor Real Admiral Mom Luang Usni Pramoj, saw a shock win with first timers Bangkok Bank triumphing over Mercedes Benz in an action packed game resulting in a 13-10 final scoreline. Both teams included international polo players, but it was Bangkok Bank, captained by former Olympian James Manclark, with his younger team mates, Alister Archibald and Michael Goodwin, who took the title at the final whistle.
The tournament was introduced to Thailand in 2001 by Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas and has grown to become one of the biggest charitable events in Thailand, raising funds for projects that better the lives of Thailand’s elephant population. Saturday night’s gala dinner at Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa hosted a gathering of top dignitaries and well-known celebrities, with the night’s auction raising over four million Thai Baht, taking the total raised to date by the tournament to US$750,000.
A total of 50 street elephants took part in this year’s tournament, during which they are well fed, provided with a native forest environment, and receive essential vitamin supplements, full veterinary checks and care for the duration of the event. Street life can be tough for an elephant, walking through crowded tourist areas and busy roads for 10 hours a night, forced to rest during the day on small green spaces within the cities, often without shade and water. The King’s Cup schedule is deliberately designed to give these elephants rest and relaxation on a scale they are never afforded in their ‘normal’ lives.
Lead sponsors for the event were Audemars Piguet, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas and this year, for the first time, Saturday at the tournament was Ladies Day with the best dressed lady winning a holiday to Anantara in the Maldives including flights.
This year’s tournament saw the New Zealand All Blacks’ Robin Brooke, Olo Brown and Charlie Riechelmann go head-to-head with Tiffany Show Pattaya’s ladyboy team. Thailand’s most famous trans-gender cabaret also entertained guests with a specially choreographed show at the Moulin Rouge-themed gala dinner.
With free admission, the event has something for everyone, kicking off with a spectacular opening parade on the pitch, with the opening ceremony overseen by Thailand’s last ‘elephant spirit men’ (Kru Ba Yai), traditional dancers, a baby elephant camp, plus the daily trunk-to-trunk action on the pitch.
On Chang Noi Day (Children’s Day) hundreds of children from local schools were invited to visit the pitch, where there was a baby elephant camp and educational games teaching children the benefits of conservation for elephants in Thailand. Anantara’s competition within Thailand’s schools encouraged children to draw a picture under the theme ‘Elephants are in my heart’. The competition attracted hundreds of entries and was won by seven-year-old Krittapas Petcharanon from Chiang Mai, who joined the festivities with his family and enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet players, guests and the elephants.
The tournament was once again a great success, and is now one of the biggest events in Thailand’s sporting calendar, each year attracting more sponsors and raising more funds for Thailand’s elephant population. Spectators, players and media came from all corners of the globe, including Australia and New Zealand, the USA and Canada, all over Europe, India, UAE, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Indonesia, and many local visitors from Thailand.
Funds raised from this year’s charity auction will be donated to various projects in Thailand and will include an extension of the ongoing Thai Elephant Therapy Project being undertaken since 2009 in conjunction with Chiang Mai University Department of Occupational Therapy, with future clinics to include children with Down syndrome and other conditions.
Other significant benefits from money raised has gone to building the first elephant hospital in Krabi in the southern part of Thailand; a THB500,000 gantry to help lame elephants stand has been donated to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre; 4,000 trees have been planted to create elephant corridors in Kui Buri to shelter from electric fencing in the area and to help avoid elephant/farmer conflicts; funding the first educational computer application for children to teach them the importance of conservation; and protection of wild elephants in Thailand and funding Asia’s first workshop to show traditional elephant trainers and camp owners the benefits of Positive Reinforcement Training for domesticated elephants.