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Cell C's Katherine James with horse, Thandiwe

The queens take on the kings’ sport

Cell C's Katherine James with horse, Thandiwe
Cell C’s Katherine James with horse, Thandiwe

Polo might be the sport of kings but it will be played by queens on ponies decked out with tendon booties and plaited tails – and that’s just the horses. Six women (and two brave men) will take to the field early in October, hurtling across the Inanda green, whacking wooden Polo balls with their long-handled mallets at high speed from the dizzying height of horseback. It’s all part of Cell C Playing for Pink, Ladies Invitational Polo in association with Samsung, which will raise funds for a very worthy breast cancer support organization, Reach for Recovery.


Katherine James, who will head up the Cell C polo team said: “I feel very privileged to be able to be a part of Playing for Pink. So many in my family have had cancer, a disease that strips people of hope. To be able to be part of this fund raising event is very special, especially as the recipients are RFR. They do such good work with women who have had one or both breasts removed. They carry the message of hope.” On Katherine’s Cell C team are a trio of Spilsburys’ – Jocelyn and her husband Gary (known as Sipho) and Jo Spilsbury.
Playing on the opposing Zimbabwe Samsung team is Jo’s husband Terence Spilsbury. Laughed Jo: “I’ve played against my husband before. When I heard we’d be on opposing teams, I said maybe that’s better. At least he might have some sympathy for me because he usually gives me such a hard time when we’re on the same team!” The couple who met at Stellenbosch University farm and train polo horses in Harrismith in the Free State.
Jo is delighted to be able to be part of Playing for Pink. “This cause is very close to my heart – I lost my mother to breast cancer nine years ago. I have a lot of anger towards cancer.” Asked why the women’s team included men, Craig James, polo manager at Inanda and known in horsey circles as Mr Polo, said: “There is only one reason for having a man on each team: they’re there to raise the level of the game by distributing the ball. They’re not there to show off their skills. “Women don’t have the strength to move the ball as far along the field as a man, so having a man on the team speeds up the match and makes it more interesting to watch.”

His petite wife, Katherine is a thrill seeker who loves motor cross and snowboarding said that while she’d always ridden horses, her polo mad husband of two years honed and refined her riding skills. Within months, she was playing polo. “It’s a different kind of adrenalin. Until I started playing polo, I’d never taken part in a team sport. I love it!”
Polo might be called the sport of kings, but it has been latterly transformed into a more inclusive sport as members of Craig’s development polo team will attest to.

The young men on the development team – who work as coaches when they’re not playing for Inanda – will also be playing the curtain raiser match on the day.  Mzi Ngobese, who works for one of the polo club members took part, and excelled in the curtain raiser at the Land Rover Africa Cup. Craig James says: “In South Africa, polo started out as a form of farm sport where it was easy to house the horses and feed them. But the next generation of polo enthusiasts are city based where there is more brand association.” Craig says that Polo has also shed old cultural boundaries. The sport is no longer the preserve of rich white players. “We are seeing a lot of African players, coming from all over the continent – particularly Ghana and Nigeria. In fact, there was an 80% black – 20% white split at the Africa Cup.”

Reach for Recovery

Reach for Recovery is a non-profit organisation that helps women regain some of the self-esteem they’ve been deprived of by breast cancer. To raise funds for this worthy cause (tickets cost R650 and can be bought at Computicket), Cell C, Edith Unlimited and Samsung have joined forces to host a polo match in which two women’s teams will face off against each other in support of breast cancer.
The Cell C Playing for Pink Ladies Invitational Polo in association with Samsung – diarised for October 4 at Inanda Club in Johannesburg – will be a celebration of women who have survived a mastectomy.

October 4 promises to be a day filled with manners and manure; with glitz and glamour; with the women polo players being the backdrop for fashion in the sun, luxury shopping, champagne quaffing…And it’s all for a good cause: breast cancer