It is great to see that the annual Shandur Polo Festival will commence on the 20th, regardless of the country’s tenuous security situation. The cancellation of last year’s tournament because of heavy rainfall in the region makes this year’s tournament even more widely anticipated than usual. However, the event has been slightly marred by the boycott of the Gilgit-Baltistan teams, because of a dispute in the ownership of the Shandur polo ground.

Seventy-eight years of a healthy rivalry between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan have made this polo tournament more special than any other, in addition to the unique ‘back to basics’ approach to the game, which means that there are no umpires, and no rules, making it the ‘purest’ competition of polo in modern times. Located at a height of 3700 meters above sea level; Shandur is the highest polo ground in the world. The tournament and the unsurpassed beauty of the Shandur valley, added to the limited timeframe in which the roads leading to Shandur are not snowed under, makes this event one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country.

It is unfortunate that an event with such rich history has been affected by politics, with a dispute over which provincial government should claim the polo ground as part of its territory. The teams of Gilgit-Baltistan are boycotting this tournament for the second time, with the first one in 2010, because they want an equal controlling share in the ground and the tournament. The statement of Gilgit-Baltistan’s tourism and culture minister earlier this month gave no impression of a boycott, and indeed the Gilgit-Baltistan government claimed that it was looking forward to the tournament. So what changed? The absence of teams from Gilgit-Baltistan will surely be felt, and the governments of both areas should come to some agreement for the larger interests of tourism in the region, if not for the sport itself.