The “Sport of Kings” Adopts Cloning to Prolong the Polo Pony Dynasty

November 18, 2015


By Danielle Oliver – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

In Canada and the United States you don’t have to be a sports fanatic to know the hot topics making their way around in the media. Discussions of “Deflategate” and murmurs of “McJesus” have reached anyone with Twitter, Facebook, cable, radio access, or a set of ears.

However, there are contentious sports stories falling under the radar. One that caught my attention pertains to the equestrian sport of polo, particularly the introduction of genetically cloning the finest horses in hopes to replicate their peak performance on the field.

Knowing little about the sport (and after shuffling through the overwhelming amount of Ralph Lauren search results), I found some perspective on the mysterious sport of polo and the implications around cloning prized ponies. The implementation of this technology is young but the concerns were well forecasted going back as early as 2006, many of which are analogous to that of the controversy over doping in sports.

Polo players are rightly concerned that in order to stay competitive in the sport, they must resort to cloning. So far, 85% of clones have performed just as, if not better, than the originals when reared in similar environments. This development will remove a portion of the uncertainty that comes with breeding. Furthermore, players believe that this technology will skew the sport in favour of the rich (as if polo isn’t already extremely skewed in favour of the rich). But when considering that the first clone of Cuartetero – a once prized polo mare – sold for $800,000, it is feasible that cloning will create a disparity of access even among the ridiculously wealthy.

Similarly, in the debate against doping, players don’t want to be forced to dope in order to compete at a high level. Additionally, it has been argued that permitting the use of designer drugs in sports will create a greater advantage for the rich. One may argue that because it’s not the actual athletes who are being tampered with, cloning horses isn’t comparable with doping.

But as polo players will tell you, these ponies have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Despite the commonality in arguments against doping in sport and cloning in polo, the former remains banned while the latter is permitted. Furthermore cloning is completely unregulated. The International Federation for Equestrian Sports (IFES) governs and enforces a code of conduct that protects the horses from physical abuse and doping but has remained silent on the issue of cloning. The lack of regulation is peculiar, as it seems that the IFES code of conduct exists to ensure animal welfare and the risks of mutation, disease, and suffering associated with cloning are still unknown. There are currently no protections against these potential risks. Furthermore, without regulation, what is stopping the lab techs from further modifying the genetic make-up of these animals to create an unfair advantage?

Some countries that participate in the sport have recognized these issues. The European Union is talking about banning cloning in sport polo but they have no jurisdiction over the teams coming out of Latin America, India, China, and the Middle East. This means the ban would have little to no effect on the cloning phenomenon that appears to be taking over the “sport of kings”.
Other than the IFES, no other regulatory body can regulate this technology in a uniform manner. As it stands, cloning has gained widespread popularity and, without a ban, will likely take over the sport in the next 5-10 years, regulated or not. Who knows, maybe the introduction of cloning is just what sport polo needs to place the term “Game of Clones” up with the rest of taglines in sports media.

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