Early 2024 brought with it a very busy start to the year for polo players in Lagos, Nigeria with an astonishing 48 matches between 39 teams over 22 days were played in just under a month. All teams were chasing the chance to win the annual Chapel Hill Denham Open Cup, Majekodunmi Cup, Low Cup and Silver Cup. Demand to participate has been on the increase and led to the tournament being expanded to a four-week long polo series to accommodate the number of teams from Accra Polo Club and cities including Port Harcourt from the south-east, Ibadan and Kano, and Kaduna in the north. Such is the stature of the NPA Lagos International Polo Tournament, the pinnacle of the 2023-2024 year-long polo.in.africa season that wrapped up in February.

The tournament is the undisputed major in the Nigerian polo and social calendar while also carrying the prestige of being the biggest polo tournament in Africa. That kudos is all too evident when visiting the club during the tournament with many businesses in Nigeria understanding the cache and association that is derived from the sport. Lagos is not an isolated case either with polo gaining increasing popularity as a premier spectator sport across the continent. Polo is played in more than 18 countries across the length and breadth of Africa including Gambia, Egypt, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Malawi, Benin, Botswana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, Morocco and of course Nigeria.

The contemporary polo scene is a far cry from October 1874 when the Cape Mounted Rifles played against the 75th Infantry of the Line Regiment in the first recorded polo match in Africa at the Parade Ground in Cape Town. Thirty years later in 1904 British Naval Officers played polo on the air strip that was to become Lagos Polo Club in Nigeria.

The club served as an entertainment hotspot for colonial officials who would have previously been stationed in England. Nigerians started picking up the game in 1958 when prominent businessman Dr. Oladele da Rochas Afoda became the first Nigerian member of the club. It was only later that several of the country’s industrial elites embraced the game.

Polo has enjoyed modest popularity among successful people since then, but its recent attractiveness to Nigeria’s richest class is unprecedented. Lagos Polo Club has remained a private members’ club that is affiliated with the Nigerian Polo Association (NPA) and adheres to the Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) rules at all the club and for international tournaments.

The coveted prize in Nigerian polo is the Majekodunmi Cup which was presented to the club in 1962 by the then Administrator of Western Region Dr. Moses Majekodunmi. Chief Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi, a gynecologist and obstetrician joined the Lagos Polo Club in 1949 after being introduced to the club by Sir Gerald Howe, the Attorney General of Nigeria who was then president of the club. Chief Majekodunmi is credited to have been the central figure in the establishment of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and the College of Medicine, in Idi-Araba, Lagos.

The 2024 NPA Lagos International Polo Tournament kicked off with the battle for the Chapel Hill Denham Open Cup between the 12-goal teams. Five-time victors Leighton Kings had a promising start, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the defending champions. The semi-finals turned into matches where mathematical permutations were required to qualify. Only Trojan-Ark had secured their place for the final to be played following day with all the other teams tied on the same points, with it all coming down to goals scored.

STL needed to win their semi-final match with a difference of six goals and delivered just that much to the delight and surprise of spectators. In the end it was Trojan-Ark and STL who battled out the final for the Chapel Hill Denham Open Cup with the two equally balanced teams neck and neck right to the end of the fifth chukka. A penalty against STL in the dying minutes saw Trojan-Ark gaining that all-important one-point lead to take the win.

Next was the Majekodunmi Cup which has again become a much-coveted trophy amongst the top-tier polo cups in Africa. Three 16-goal teams took the field; Rubicon, Shoreline/Art Hotel and Leighton Kings. The opening match was between defending champs Leighton Kings and the well-regarded Rubicon from the north, but it wasn’t enough to take the win. The Leighton Kings vs Shoreline/Art Hotel final turned out to be an epic battle. The last chukka was tight with the teams all tied up at 9–9. A sudden death chukka seemed most probable until Trojan-Ark was awarded a penalty that sealed their win in the last minute. 

The third week was the hotly contested Low Cup tournament with 16 teams placed into four streams. There were some fierce battles as the teams were whittled down to Golden Alchemy taking on MSD Baby Bear for the first semi-final and A+/A1 against Caverton MCO for the second semi-final. The final was a duel well worth the wait with both teams bringing their best gameplans. It showed from the very start all the way throughout the match with A+/A1 riding off with the hotly contested Low Cup.

The Silver Cup was the last trophy competed for at the NPA Lagos International Polo Tournament and saw 14 teams battle it out. In the end, it was MSR who faced off against Durante with the final score a convincing 7½ - 4 to Durante. It was an historic victory for the team from Ibadan with siblings Carl and Rita Alakija in the team, and Rita the first female polo player to be in the winning Silver Cup team.