Playing The Ponies

July 23, 2010

If the D.C. social circuit turns itself out for any function this year, it will be the America’s Polo Cup, the equestrian sport’s equivalent of the similarly-named sailing event.

Or so hope Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who plugged the event (which they’ve organized) on Carol Joynt’s “Q&A Cafe” program in Georgetown. The pair formerly made headlines bluffing their way into President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, gaudily sans invitation.

The aspirational couple.

Since, they’ve been chomping impatiently and loudly at the D.C. social bit. To their advantage, that particular bit is unusually susceptible to chomping because of the transitory nature of that city: the in-crowd changes every four-to-eight years, providing for a cultural memory more myopic than, say, Greenwich, Connecticut.  

The headlining event will be the match between the United States and Costa Rica. The Cup has long been an event of political and cultural significance in D.C., as diplomats and industrialists from competing nations migrate to host countries for the duration of the tournament. President Warren Harding was in the stands in 1923, meeting and greeting benefactors (established and potential) from around the polo-playing world.

The 2011 America’s Polo Cup will be held on the National Mall, set back from the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. Since it’s not sanctioned by the Federation of International Polo, the match is largely thought a spectator event. There is no word yet from the organizers as to the price of tickets, or if security will be any tighter than a White House state dinner.

Like most things Salahi, the Polo Cup is already a little fraud-tarnished: its website once listed India’s Kingfisher Beer as a sponsor but Yashpal Singh, president of Kingfisher’s parent company, disagreed. “We are not sponsoring this event and have informed the people managing this event of that… We have sent legal notices to this effect, and he keeps on advertising us as a sponsor. I don’t know what world he’s living in.”

Land Rover withdrew its sponsorship in 2009, when a charity associated with the event was investigated by the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs for tax irregularities.

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Barbarians At The Gate

December 5, 2009

With celebrity gossip and reality television often taking media precedence over coverage of military engagements and economic recession, it’s little wonder that the two would eventually travel perpendicular paths. It may be a testament to the tragic prominence of pop culture “news” in our national consciousness that those paths would cross at so venerable an event as a White House state dinner.

The hopeful Salahis.

The hopeful Salahis.

Aspiring nouveau socialites Tareq and Micheaele Salahi, known for dodging creditors and for courtroom brawls with relatives, secured their coveted fifteen minutes of fame by bluffing their way in to President Obama’s first-ever state dinner. The two engineered the stunt as part of a bid to appear on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of D.C.” reality television series. Previously, Michaele had also claimed to have been a Redskins cheerleader and appeared at a cheerleaders’ alumni event for that team; she was unable to perform any of the cheers and was quickly outed.

The couple (he, a polo-playing vintner and she, a blonde) are in the habit of forcefully rubbing shoulders with those who would rather not. The two maintain a Facebook account which documents, in pictures, their aggresively upward social mobility. His family owns a Virginia winery, the subject of protracted legal battles with his parents: he wants it, they say they need to sell it to pay off his debts. The couple have already lost their Virginia home to foreclosure. A photo of Tareq posing with Prince Charles hangs prominently inside that house and its closets contain, by Michaele Salahi’s own estimate, about 300 pairs of her shoes.

“Nobody wants to deal with them,” say the couple’s Virginia neighbors. “The sheriffs have come by twice already looking for them” in connection with their Maserati and Aston Martin, both of which have been repossessed.

The pair were spotted almost immediately at the White House dinner by a D.C. society columnist who was there to cover the event. The columnist, apparently more in tune with that town’s social radar than the two aspiring insiders, alerted an event staffer that the Salahis appeared out of place. A quick check revealed that neither actually had an invitation. Appropriately fitting that two such ladder climbers, hopeful for reality television riches, would be turned in by one of that ladder’s own guard dogs.


Noisy Cricket

June 22, 2009

Lord’s is a sports field, or pitch, which sits to the northwest of London, in the St. John’s Wood area, and which is widely credited as being the “home of cricket.” Lord’s is also a museum, the self-appointed keeper of cricket’s history and artifacts for a fan base for whom “old money” can be as old as feudalism.

The Nottingham Cricket Club.

The Nottingham Cricket Club.

Despite its august antiquity, Lord’s has been on the outs for years: India is now cricket’s epicenter, not England. While Lord’s may be the sport’s soul, new pitches in India are its muscles and, without a doubt, its wallet. The shift has left many English fans feeling they’ve lost some vital part of themselves. Mike Marqusee, in Anyone but England: An Outsider Looks at English Cricket, writes: “In cricket, there is always the fear that something will be lost.” Of Twenty20, a new, faster version of cricket popular in India, Marqusee notes substantial worry that this new version, called T20, will steal more of those vital parts.

The “highest” form of cricket is a version called test cricket, a game of which can last from three to five days and which is played by one of the most archaic and incomprehensible sets of rules ever to govern a sport. T20, in contrast, is quick and simple.

For the purists at Lord’s, that simplicity is the problem. Test cricket is like to a golf match, or marathon: strategic decisions happen over an extended period and fans are able to see self-corrections, psychological struggles, and dramatic changes of fortune over the course of the competition. T20 is more like a home-run derby.

Its cheap thrills and unruly fans have made T20 an enemy of the cricketing establishment. So have its name-brand players and their major league salaries: English cricket has never been about paychecks, instead being administered by a non-profit board akin to the Olympic Committee. The professional athlete culture is abhorrent to purists.

For now, cricket’s 21st century face is undecided. Many English swear by test cricket, including some of the sport’s most storied heroes, while T20 has attracted well-heeled new investors and an increasingly broad fan base and television viewership. The marketplace still competes against the spirit of the game, the new against the classic, and fans draw lines on both sides. And for now, both England and India are out of contention for this year’s championship: the West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and South Africa are the remaining title contenders, both England and India having “crashed out” early on. Before their exit, though, the teams squared off against each other at, of course, Lord’s and, as evening fell on bleachers of unruly Indian fans, England notched a victory.

Lord's Cricket Ground.

Lord's Cricket Ground.