If you happened to be visiting central Thailand recently, you could have attended a most unusual sporting event. You might have seen elephants playing polo matches – elephants instead of horses. That seems natural enough because the elephant is Thailand's national symbol – an object that represents the country.
The pachyderms took part in the King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. Fifty-one of the competitors were teenage females. Each weighed about three tons. They carried a player, who gives directions, and a mahout, who helps to guide the animal. The owners of the elephants lent them to corporations which finance the teams.
The huge creatures probably helped earn about one million dollars in donations for the care of Thailand's elephants – both those in captivity and wild ones.
Wael Soueid is a polo player from Dubai. He describes the differences between elephant polo and the traditional game played on horseback.
"First, you don't have control of the elephant because there's a mahout who is guiding it. Second is the language because the mahout speaks only Thai. And the stick is very long. It's two meters long while the stick in horse polo is at 1.20. So that's a big difference."
Tim Boda organized the event. He says the elephant "girls" seem to understand the spirit of competition.
"A lot of these elephants have been playing now for years. I do not speak elephant. But watching them, first of all, it looks
like they're having a whole lot of fun. It may well be that they actually do understand the rules. Who knows?"
This was the 13th year that the elephant polo tournament took place in Thailand. The Anantara resort hotel chain created the event. The only other games played under the guidance of the World Elephant Polo Association are the world championships in Nepal.
I'm Mario Ritter.
This report was based on a story from VOA reporter Steve Herman. It was adapted for Learning English by Jeri Watson, and edited by George Grow.