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banner Friday, 27 July, 2001, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Charge of the bike brigade

By BBC Sport Online's Mike Burnett

To the casual observer, polo has long been the preserve of the landed gentry.

The sport is laden with images of lords, ladies and the likes of Prince Charles rolling up in their Range Rovers to knock a ball about whilst riding upon a nice-looking nag.

But now it is time for the common man, or woman, to grab a piece of the action - and all they need is a rusty old pedal bike.

It is, of course, the World Bicycle Polo Championships this week and, believe me, the competition is fierce.

Since Wednesday, countries, including America, Canada, India, England, Scotland and Germany have been battling it out at Hurlingham Public Park for the coveted world title.

It's a common man's sport
  Tim Dobson
Just like its horsey equivalent, the aim of bicycle polo is to whack a ball with a mallet and score goals.

All that differs is the mode of transport - an everyday bicycle - which saves a fortune in stable fees.

The thought of a bunch of people, kitted out in full polo regalia pedalling around on chopper bikes might seem strange to some, but the sport has a wide fan base across the globe.

"It's a common man's sport," Chairman of the Bicycle Polo Association of Great Britain (BPA) Tim Dobson told BBC Sport Online.

"Anyone from any background can get involved. What's amazing is that little kids can turn up this week and have a go with some of the world's top players."

Free-pedalling fun

Certainly playing polo with pedal power instead of horsepower makes the sport a lot more affordable for any young wannabes.

In India, as many as 10,000 people are taking part in the sport, which is probably why the country has won the last three championships.

But it is not just a poor man's polo.

"Lots of polo players play bicycle polo because it is good for their technique," explained Dobson, who has played both disciplines in his time.

The sport is hardly a crazy new fad, dating back as far as 1891.

It was at Crystal Palace in 1901 that the first international match took place between England and Ireland, the latter winning 10-5.

Prince Harry in action
Prince Harry resorts to using a horse after someone nicks his BMX
The barmy event was even an Olympic sport at one point, Ireland taking the honours at the 1908 Games.

Since then, two world wars have taken their toll, bicycle polo being at its lowest ebb in the 1960s.

But things are on the mend and the sport is growing once more, with bicycle polo's organising bodies setting their sights high.

The British BPA has already sent off an application for bicycle polo to be included in the Commonwealth Games, and if that goes through they will no doubt be looking for a return to the Olympic stage.

The dream might be more possible than some imagine, given the support from friends in high places.

While daddy likes to mount his trusty steed for a game, Prince William and Prince Harry are said to be big fans of the bicycle version.

Certainly if synchronised swimming and beach volleyball can make it to the Olympics, why not bicycle polo?

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