Everybody Is Welcome At The GPL The Stars Are Aligning For The Gay Polo League’s Tournament Set For April 6-9
By Jennifer Martinez
If you have ever attended the Lexus International Gay Polo Tournament, presented by Douglas Elliman Real Estate, you know it is equal parts celebration and serious competitive play. Both will be on full display when the tournament returns to the National Polo Center-Wellington on April 6-9.
Chip McKenney, founder and president of the Gay Polo League (GPL), and his team recognize all the facets that come together to give polo and the tournament its mystique and appeal.
“It’s a historic sport, it’s a traditional sport, it’s a sexy sport and it’s a global sport,” he said.
According to McKenney, it is also a welcoming sport. He credits polo for embracing the LGBTQ+ community and the tournament he first brought to Wellington in 2010, drawing player and ally celebrities from near and far.
Leading American polo player Nic Roldan participated in the tournament in its early years, immediately bringing star status to GPL. No. 1 world player Adolfo Cambiaso and his wife María Vázquez have cheered on the players.
Polo professionals Joey Casey and Hector Galindo, both Polo Hall of Fame inductees, have competed in numerous GPL tournaments. And Argentinian pro Nacho Figueras has attended and expressed his support for the league, as have numerous 10-goalers and other top professionals who have watched the matches.
They are more than spectators to McKenney. Their support as allies has enhanced the league’s credibility.
“If gay people say it’s important, that’s one thing,” McKenney said. “If an ally says it’s important, it seems to be louder, to hold more value.”
When McKenney thinks about the value that the players bring to the field — gay and non-gay — one word comes to mind: courage. “People who are comfortable enough in their own skin who are not gay and want to play in a gay polo league are powerful and brave,” he said. “It also takes bravery for someone who is LGBTQ+ to play as an openly gay athlete.”
This year’s tournament will feature a majority of LGBTQ+ players, including an entire team from France. Other players hail from Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain, California and New York. McKenney meets many of the players during GPL’s international events in Argentina, England and France. With members in 15 countries, the league is looking forward to fielding a GPL team to compete in the 10th Luxembourg Polo International Tournament this summer and will produce an International Gay Polo Tournament in London this September.
However, Wellington holds the title of GPL’s flagship tournament. The play on the field is as unique as the league itself. It will be the first time any of the players have come together as a team. None will play on their own horses, and they will have only one day of practice before competing. McKenney credits Joey Casey with sourcing the ponies, matching them to the skill levels of the players, and putting the four teams together for the tournament. Four polo pros will also donate their time to make the tournament the best it can be.
“People are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge,” McKenney said.
GPL has opened the door for a diverse collection of people to come together. Players and allies from all over the world descend upon Wellington each year from all circles, including gay and non-gay, celebrity players and novices, international polo aficionados and local entertainment-seekers, all looking for a highly engaging multi-day event where everyone is welcome.
“We celebrate the best of our community by encouraging creativity, energy and positivity for everybody, whether they are playing on our teams, or spectating and building incredible tailgates,” McKenney said.
And the tailgates are incredible. They are a visual component of what is unique and joyful about the GPL. Field-side tent décor has ranged from Alice in Wonderland to Brunch at Tiffany’s, with prizes awarded for best theme and best food.
The tournament’s Polotini Wigstock kickoff party the Friday night before the tournament, billed as a “hair-raising extravaganza,” has also developed a following. As the event has grown, so have the wigs, becoming more elaborate and colorful every year. “When somebody puts on a wig, they’re already starting the party,” McKenney said. “They arrive ready to rock and roll. It’s great fun.”
The joy of the evening has poured over into generosity from those who attend. Last year, Wigstock raised $135,000 for charity partner the onePULSE Foundation, the cause that has been selected again for 2023.
No matter what part of the five-day tournament someone attends, no matter how many years in a row they’ve participated, McKenney guarantees that it will be better than the last. He credits his production team with challenging themselves to reinvent the experience every year.
“I want people who come year after year to leave thinking that it was unlike any event they’ve ever been to — including ours,” he said. “Our goal isn’t to be the biggest. It’s to be the best.”
Learn more about the Gay Polo League at www.gaypolo.com.