WELLINGTON, FL-Since January, Grand Champions Polo Club has been getting rave reviews from players, patrons and officials about the cutting-edge technology the club is using to help improve the sport of polo and officiating. For the first time in the sport's history, instant replay is being used in regulation polo games every Saturday during the club's feature game. Grand Champions Polo Club is the first club in the world to offer state-of-the-art technology where teams are allowed to challenge an umpire's call during a game. An umpire stationed in the video truck goes over slow-motion instant replay with PoloNow Network producers Mike Ferreira and Eric Monahan. After the team review, which takes only four seconds, is made the call either remains or is reversed.
"I am all for instant replay," Las Monjitas patron Camilo Bautista said. "In sports I think it's important especially polo where a call can decide the game."
Players agree it's time to catch up to the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball among other sports that already use instant replay which is why Grand Champions Polo Club owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi have invested time and money coming up with the best solution.
Melissa Ganzi, Flight Options team captain, said when her recent game against Audi came down to a penalty call and was decided by a 30-yard penalty shot, instant replay should have been available.
"It was a tough way to lose the game," Ganzi said. "I think it's a wonderful example of why we need instant replay. I couldn't see what was going on. It looked like a lot of people in the way and there was a lot of opinions on that play. It's not nice to lose in the last 30 seconds on a penalty. You don't have a chance to make it up."
With the sport's increased popularity and money that patrons and sponsors are investing in horses and players to compete in the sport, improved officiating has become the main focus at every level of polo. Several patrons including Valiente's Robert Jornayvaz have asked for the instant replay to be used at International Polo Club. Jornayvaz used PoloNow's instant replay at one of his club's weekend's games with great success.
IPC, which hosts the high goal winter polo season, started using drones in January after a presentation was made to Charlie Muldoon, executive director of the USPA Umpires, LLC.
Players and patrons are concerned with the danger factor of drones experiencing technical difficulties and falling out of the sky injuring a horse or player. Officials must land the drone which cannot review the footage in real-time and is unable to rewind it to a certain play.
There have also been complaints about its propellers' buzzing noise over the fields and its shelf life.
Steve Lane, in charge of umpire training and certification for the USPA Umpire program, has been utilized during the instant replay challenges and team review at Grand Champions. He believes technology will help improve umpiring.
After visiting the instant replay truck and seeing the technology, players from around the world including Argentine 10-goalers Adolfo Cambiaso and Miguel Novillo Astrada would like to see it used in their native country.
"I think it's a very, very good idea," Astrada said. "In polo we need new things. We have been using the same rules for a long time. If you can avoid officiating not being an issue it will be very good for the game."
No one is happier with the use of technology in polo than Florida-based PoloNow Network's Mike Ferreira, one of the nation's best in his field. PoloNow is an independent media company that produces content for the internet and television, operates replay and develops technology.
The company has also implemented a system where umpires can hold an iPad device where they can watch the game in real-time and ask to return to any part of the game without interrupting any on-going challenges or live broadcast.
"There is no question or doubt that this is the future of the sport," Ferreira said. "If it's going to expand, grow and develop like any other sport, it definitely needs this technology. All the major sports are using this technology but we are also creating technology that's not even used in those sports yet. We are taking polo in a completely unique direction with what we can do.
"We have approached the USPA a number of times to have PoloNow run replay but they won't utilize the technology or our services," Ferreira said. "It's not a proof of concept. We have proven the technology and it works. To me it seems like the teams and players are the ones losing out"
For game recaps, news, features and photos of Grand Champions Polo Club-related events, go to www.grandchampionspoloclub.org. Game video and live webcasts can also be seen at PoloNow Network at http://www.polonow.tv/.