More Importantly, Who Will Win?
It’s just subtle enough that you might not even notice it, but bike polo is locked in a cold war of sorts.
On one side are the forces that we come to associate with bike polo’s history: clad in mix and match sports equipment, armed with home-made mallets and normally treating bike polo tourneys as social events as much as a sporting event. These are the people who, without question, made bike polo as big and as fun of a sport as it is today. They are the folks who struggled to find a place to play, were often run off by officials and the police, and simply didn’t give up on the game. They are world-forged in the sport, and are oftentimes the people who can identify almost every other veteran player from every other club.
On the other side is the second wave of bike polo players: these are folks who look more like they are playing a sport. They have equipment specific to bike polo, they are more likely to wear padding and face cages, and are likewise more likely to avoid drinking heavily until after they’ve played, if at all during the day. They play the sport for the sake of achievement, and are consistently thinking of bike polo as something for everyone (rather than something “for us.”) Because of this, they might also not be as solid on their feet as the veteran players, but what they lack in skill they more than make up for in tenacity and willingness to learn.
But before I dive into this cold war, a caveat: I’m making sweeping generalizations and categorizing all polo players into two groups, which really is impossible to do. Just allow me this editorial hyperbole for the sake of writing coherently, okay?
What Caused the Divide?
When it comes down to it, bike polo has always been a sport for others. It’s creation story is surrounded by people who didn’t quite fit into the sports crowd, nor did they fit into the non-sports crowd. It brings together misfits, really, and that’s part of the draw of it.
However, all things that are made for a particular group eventually bleed out into the world at large (that is, if they are ever worth a damn), and that’s precisely what happened to bike polo. What we have now is a mix of people who are emotionally invested in keeping bike polo the way it is (that is, not making it too mainstream), and people who are emotionally invested in making bike polo into more than it is (or, more appropriately, into something that gets sponsors and write-ups in sports columns).
The war itself is played out most clearly in any online forum or discussion where veterans call out movements towards regulation (ANY new ruleset), new equipment, or new requirements. It might just be a simple “fuck this” or longer explanation of how we’re making the sport too rigid to play, but it’s all there to be seen. The other side can be identified by how they overstretch to discuss relationships with potential sponsors, how they’re willing to drop thousands of dollars on having the “best” equipment, and how little they regard people who are still using non-polo specific equipment. They build online communities and sustain them, or they actively engage in defending new developments in the sport.
Tear Down That Wall
I don’t think there isn’t room for both groups in the future of bike polo (veterans might say “what future” here, but let’s just use our imaginarium caps). Any activity needs people who protect the heritage of the sport as much as people who press forward blindly into what could be.
The truth of it is, I think all polo players have some aspects of both wanting to keep this sport all to themselves and also share it with the whole world in any way possible. Most also lean more one direction than the other. The way to avoid either
- Losing the foundations of our sport to over regulation and increasing costs
- Allowing our sport to become stagnant and shrinking
is to recognize the reason and not the manner that people communicate. Sure, Johnny Old-Head just said your new model for a prototype wheel cover is lame and you don’t know what you’re talking about, but it might just be because he’s scared of watching the sport fundamentally change. In the same vein, Susan New-Idea may have just called you out for refusing to recognize the new ruleset, but really it’s because she doesn’t want to see injury befall you or anyone else who’s playing.
Between the veteran players and the new wave, there’s little more to do than try to seek balance. Sure, that might come off as a Russo-inspired phrase, but really it’s the best advice I can give (and anytime I can bring in a Russo-esque thought, I will. Because Russo is a favorite).