Interview with Francesco Mitrano the President of the Monte Carlo Polo Club and Monaco Polo Federation
PWG Sport and Dogs met Francesco Mitrano in Monaco at Monte Carlo’s iconic Cafe de Paris overlooking Monte Carlo Casino square, which is undoubtedly the world’s most famous casino and is synonymous with luxury and glamour.
And here at this Casino square Francesco Mitrano has been hosting a superb parade since 2013 during the Monte Carlo Polo Club Trophy. Featuring polo players and their competition horses.
This parade is so special and glorious that in a place like Monaco, which is flooded with world’s top luxury, glamour, sports and entertainment events, from the Monaco F-1 Grand Prix to the Monaco Yacht Show, it makes people in Monaco who are used to glorious things, to admire and talk about the event.
The Monte-Carlo Polo Club Trophy is remembered every year long after the end of the parade and the whole tournament. This is exactly what happened to us three years ago when we saw this parade for the first time.
Sport & Dogs: Hi Francesco! We are truly delighted to finally meet a man who stops traffic on Monte Carlo Casino square once a year and brings dozens of superb horses along with polo players in beautiful competition forms to a glamorous and shining parade.
Here in Monte Carlo, handling our big dogs has constantly made me feel like a little “crazy dogman” in a good way, of course. Since you are bringing horses who are much bigger animals than dogs to the streets of Monte Carlo I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same way?
Francesco Mitrano: Hi (laughs), yes you can call me a “crazy horseman”. Horses and of course polo is my real passion!
Sport & Dogs: You’re obviously in great physical shape and have a good posture. Is it all thanks to riding horses and polo?
Francesco Mitrano: Yes, definitely. Riding requires a certain posture. I’ve been riding horses since I was a kid and only men with straight backs are sitting on the saddle! It stays with you even when you’re down the saddle (laughs), and polo is a very technical sport. In addition to dexterity, precision and good coordination, it also has a lot of physical strain.
Polo is very old and can also be called as Kings Sports. Centuries ago, polo was practised by kings and aristocrats, but also by young knights and nobles as part of military preparation and training.
Before World War II, polo was a sports program in the Olympic Games but it was cancelled afterwards, primarily because of the post-war situation, as it requires very complex and extensive transportation and logistics compared to most other sports.
Today, however, the International Polo Federation has worked very hard with the International Olympic Committee to bring polo as a sport back into the Olympic Games.
Polo is played by many and with different soil conditions
Sport & Dogs: From all this, it can be concluded that from the beginning of the times polo has been purely a sport for men, and I guess we can claim that it’s a sport and game for very strong men. Do women and children even have a chance of playing polo?
Francesco Mitrano: Yes nowadays polo has a very wide footing and there are a lot of enthusiasts, amateurs and quite a lot of women playing and practising polo. Our own club member and Vice President of the Monte Carlo Snow Polo Club is a woman, Countess Chantal d’ Acquarone. A member of my team at the 2014 Monte Carlo Polo Cup was a German lady named Eva Bruhl.
Historically, polo has been a sport and hobby for men but nowadays women play and practice it as well. There are even separate charity tournaments where only female players compete and also tournaments with mixed teams.
This has been a discussion subject recently at the FIP (International Polo Federation) Assembly, of which our Monaco Polo Federation is also a full member.
In addition, kids play polo using little ponies.
Sport & Dogs: You said Snow Polo, does that mean polo is played also in winter with snow?
Francesco Mitrano: Yes. Polo is not only played on the lawn. Polo can be played basically anywhere with enough space, on the sand at the beach and, of course, in the winter, when the squares are covered with snow.
I have participated in snow polo games with my team. It’s fun and interesting. There are some differences because of soil conditions.
The game itself remains the same. If you know how to play polo then you can handle different conditions. Some players are better in one element than in another and some feel better playing on the grass than on snow.
Playing on grass is much faster than playing on snow. Balls come in different sizes and materials which means that when you hit the ball, the feeling and the movement of the ball is different.
The beginning of Francesco Mitrano love for horses
Sport & Dogs: How did life bring you to horses? Most of my acquaintances whose hobby are dogs, or who simply have a dog, cat, parrot or other pet, started in their childhood having a dog or a cat at home. Also for those who grew up in the city. To my knowledge, you were also born and raised in a city. Unlike a dog, a horse can’t really be kept in a city, not even a small horse.
Francesco Mitrano: I think I was about 5 years old when I started riding. I was born and lived in Rome, but our family had a mansion in Tuscany that had horses, my grandfather and dad both loved horses and horseback riding.
I really enjoyed watching Dad and Grandpa riding and I really liked to ride too. That’s how it all started.
In my youth, I was doing horse jumping, which my grandfather introduced to me as a sport. I was quite successful in competing in jumping.
At first, I was just into horse racing, and when I did my first polo games, I became very passionate about it and knew exactly what game and sport suit me the most.
Later on, I travelled to Argentina, which has some of the best polo players in the world, a tremendous amount of coverage and scope for practising, great level of players, playgrounds, and suitable horses.
“Polo heaven” Argentina versus Principality of Monaco
Sport & Dogs: There is always a lot of talk about Argentinians and Argentina when it comes to polo. You got to Argentina pretty quickly, too. So, can this place be called a “polo heaven”?
Francesco Mitrano: Yes, you can say that, certainly. Many Argentines grow up with horses and polo. If you look at the list of professional polo players, the vast majority are Argentinian players.
My best horses are from Argentina and I go there as often as possible. Four of my horses live in Argentina.
Sport and Dogs: And yet your residence is the Principality of Monaco, which is the exact opposite of Argentina with its vast pastures, very large horse ranches and gigantic territory?
Francesco Mitrano: In 2006, when I was living in Tuscany, we founded the Florence Polo Club with my friend Salvatore Ferragamo. Later I moved to Sweden, where I lived for the next six years. Sweden is nice and Swedes are very nice people, but for me as a person born and raised in the South, the Nordic winters are a real test. In 2012, I decided to move to Monaco.
I opened a Maison de Charme in my Tuscan manor house where we have olive oil and wine production. So as the place of residence wasn’t the needed reason to move to Tuscany. But at the same time, I wanted to give my children the opportunity to live and grow in a peaceful, well-educated environment with the best opportunities. So I decided to move to Monaco. It’s also a very safe place and has a good climate all year round.
There isn’t a better place in Europe or in the whole world to meet these criteria than the Principality of Monaco. I had been in Monaco before many times and always admired the order of the principality, the quality of life, the utmost purity and security.
I have travelled Extensively in my life and lived on different continents and countries, and no country in the world can compete with Monaco. It has a very nice and mild climate throughout the year, a naturally beautiful, very international environment, and it’s perfect logistically.
Many important European centres like Barcelona, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Rome etc. are only 5-6 hours away by car. You can get to the airport in 7 minutes by helicopter, so the decision came easily.
Sport & Dogs: And you still decided and were able to set up a polo club and a polo federation in a country that is only 5 km long along the beautiful coastline and just under less than kilometer wide. It also has the highest square meter price of the entire planet and no lawn other than a football stadium.
Francesco Mitrano: And of course, my love and passion for polo moved with me to Monaco. I was firmly convinced that besides myself there are others amongst Monaco’s international population who have an interest in playing polo.
I decided to set up the Monte Carlo Polo Club, which came alive in 2013 by permission of local authorities and under the patronage of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco.
After the first Monte Carlo Polo Cup, we introduced ourselves to the International Polo Federation, who, looking at our level of activity and vision, believed that Monaco should have its own Polo Federation, a FIP member.
This is how I became the Founder and President of the Monaco Polo Federation. And as previously stated, we are now full members of FIP.
FIP brings together major polo players and hobbyists from different countries. Being a FIP member demonstrates your high standard and is an acknowledgement of your efforts. It’s like a sign of quality and endorsement by other global polo people. It also means that the events you organize will be considered as important events in the global federation calendar. And the federation also supports the events in the form of judges, flags and the like.
Winners of the First Monte Carlo Polo Cup Tournament
Sport & Dogs: It can be said that you were successful as well as victorious already in the first year. In addition to the great success of the all-time first tournament, you were also a captain of the team who won the First Monte Carlo Polo Cup Tournament?
Francesco Mitrano: Yes in the final we played against Barclays Team with Ivan Weiss as captain. It was a very even fight and a tough game where the fight to win lasted until the last minutes. And my team, whose captain I was, finally managed to win 9-8.5.
Sport & Dogs: It’s been 7 years since that first tournament, are you currently just managing tournaments, running the federation and the club, or are you an active player too?
Francesco Mitrano: Yes, of course, I’m active as a player too. I am still the captain of the Monte Carlo Polo Club Team and play actively at every opportunity. We don’t have just one fixed official team. Team composition is constantly changing. The only one who doesn’t change is the patron, the captain of the team and it’s me.
There are different levels of polo tournaments. This means that according to the handicap level of the competition, a team of the same level must be formed. You can’t put together a handicap with a 6 goal team and a handicap of 20 goals. The vast majority of tournaments have 2 goal handicap levels. But at the very top, there are, for example, 40 goal handicap tournaments in Argentina. In Polo, each player has a handicap starting from beginners level – 2 to serious top players with level + 10. These are important to get the team you need for each tournament.
The level of all players should be as equal as possible. For example, you cannot make a 10 goal handicap tournament with a team that has a total handicap of 10 but one player has a handicap of 10 and other three players have a handicap of 0. As I said before, polo is a very technical sport with sophisticated nuances, at the same time it’s a very gentlemanly sport where trickery and insidious moves are not acceptable.
Horses handling the Polo game
Sport & Dogs: The burden in playing polo is definitely high not only for the player but also for the horses. I guess physically, more for the horses. How do horses handle this?
Francesco Mitrano: Yes, the activity on the field is very intense, therefore it’s very burdensome for the horses. This is the reason why we change horses every seven and a half minutes.
The polo game is divided into periods called chukka. Usually, the game duration is 4 to 8 chukkas. In Europe polo is played with 4 chukkas. We change horses after every chukka to give them a break. That is the reason why players need a lot of horses. All this, of course, needs a lot of resources and makes logistics difficult.
World-famous events in Monaco
Sport & Dogs: Organizing a tournament is definitely a pretty difficult task considering the size of Monaco. How do you fit such capacious sports into a 2.2 square kilometer (1.6 square miles)?
Francesco Mitrano: Yes, it’s very tricky given the specifics of Monaco. After all, it is the smallest country in the world after the Vatican. We can’t have horse stables, training grounds or playing fields here. We rent it from France. The tournament games take place on French soil.
This is one of Monaco’s exciting peculiarities. It also affects many other world-famous sports events like the WRC Monte Carlo Rallye and the Monte Carlo
Rolex Masters Tennis Tournament. Organizing a horse parade at Casino Square is a logistical and managerial challenge. The area is very limited as well as the schedule. Everything has to be done flawlessly and with great precision, not minute by minute but with second by second, it’s like a decent Swiss clock mechanism.
Polo is not only a highly technical and physically athletic sport but a very glamorous sport. It’s called the sport of kings for a reason.
Polo is a combination of elegance, physical activity and glamour. This makes it very prestigious and admired. We have always tried to make the Monaco event particularly glamorous and strive for people to have a long and lasting experience they will never forget.
Polo is a very stylish sport that requires strong physical endurance, allowing you to practice and develop athletic values like respect for your opponent and self, respect for the rules of the game, it teaches solidarity, team spirit and gives a taste of effort. Feeling the joy of winning with companions is also an important part.
Monaco’s life goes hand in hand with glamour and shine, special supercars and a fabulous lifestyle. In my opinion, polo fits very well with the privileged lifestyle of the principality.
Polo sport transmits a message of peace all over the world
Sport & Dogs: You have said many times about different things that they will accompany or fit into the Monte Carlo Polo Club worldwide project. Could you talk about this project in more detail or explain its nature?
Francesco Mitrano: It’s such a unique concept. It includes sport and also peace message. In the Monaco 2007 founded Peace and Sport organization and Monte Carlo Polo Federation are united and work together to transmit through the noble sport of Polo a message of peace all over the world, where there often exist conflicts and wars between countries.
We don’t have opportunities like other countries where polo is played and where it is a popular hobby. And it’s not about money at all. Monaco is the richest country in the world in terms of GDP.
We just don’t have space, the land nor squares to host games and invite guests like the clubs and federations of Argentina, USA and other countries have. And so we decided to export the Monte Carlo Polo Club worldwide. That gives to us perfect possibility to introducing the Principality of Monaco worldwide with peace and sport message. We have done it in the US, the Arab Emirates, Brazil, Italy and Poland. Monaco is a very special and rare place and we’ve always been extremely welcomed and well treated while bringing the Monte Carlo Polo Club events to other countries.
Sport & Dogs: Do you bring your horses with you all the time during games and tournaments?
Francesco Mitrano: It is possible only if we play near our home in Europe. Everything depends on how far the game takes place. The distance plays a huge role in making these decisions. Of course, I would like to be with my horses whenever possible. If we fly further afield we get horses from the club that hosts us. It does affect the competition.
Sport & Dogs: When I think about my experience with dogs, things are clear and simple with my dogs. I know quite well how one or the other behave and in what are they good at. Is it easy to deal with foreign horses while competing?
Francesco Mitrano: It’s different every time. But, of course, it’s always best and easiest with your own horses because you know them from the head to toe. You know how fast and sensitive they are. If it’s a stranger horse you don’t know these things.
Even with a very good horse, it’s a big challenge for the participant. At best, you will learn about the horse from its caretakers. Participate with stranger horses is never easy, but it’s important for us to do so. It’s a matter of prestige to represent us, our event and our country. It’s also like a good diplomatic mission.
Francesco Mitrano wishes all people to have a happy and their own fairytale-like life
Sport & Dogs: Your life is like a real life fairytale. You have a wonderful mansion in one of the most gorgeous places in the world in Tuscany, Italy where you also have your own olive oil and wine industry and a boutique hotel. You live in the fabulous Principality of Monaco, a unique special country that the rest of the world think is synonymous with glamour and luxury. Your life and hobby involve amazing horses and horseback riding, you travel to many beautiful places and participate in glamorous polo events. What is your message to our readers?
Francesco Mitrano: I wish all people could be happy and live their own fairytale life. That they could do things they are really passionate about like I do.
Unfortunately, there are so many problems, conflicts and wars in the world, and it worries me. Sports and animal activities unite people to work for peace. I believe it. People who play polo and care for horses are no longer willing to fight each other because they are united by friendship and a shared passion. I would very much like to convey a strong message of peace and friendship through all the polo tournaments.
Polo is like a lifestyle and a philosophy of life. Polo is a very noble sport. In the current world, these personal qualities and moral principles tend to be forgotten and underestimated. But it can’t be like that. We must attach great importance to the fact that it is a noble sport, to love and respect one another, and to carry this gentleman always with us even outside the polo field.
Not to create problems, but to solve existing ones. We need to support each other as we do as a team on the sports field. Monaco is the place where outside of polo field I feel this spirit in society. This is for me the real Spirit of Monaco!
Sport & Dogs: We thank you, Francesco, for the time you shared with our readers, we wish you a beautiful and happy year of 2020. And we are excited about the 2020 Monte Carlo Polo Cup, which we surely will bring to our readers as well.