Hubert Burda Media

Reda, Aim, Fire!

For ALI REDA and the ladies in his life, the game of kings is a family sport. By Lauren Tan

If it weren’t for work — and a wise wife to keep him in check — architect Ali Reda would be on the polo field every day. Playing for a fifth season this year, the 48-year-old is captaining team AR+D Polo in this month’s Singapore Open, the concluding tournament of the Singapore Polo Club’s (SPC) high-octane Triple Crown Series. Watching from the grandstand will be wife Fadilah and two daughters Maryam, 16, and Iman, 14. A means of family bonding, equestrian sport is a shared passion for the family. Both girls ride and represent their school Cresent Girls’ in softball, while Maryam is the only female Singaporean youth polo player at SPC, the country’s only full-fledged polo club.
You’re competing in the Singapore Triple Crown Series. Tell us about your team AR+D Polo.
Ali: It’s myself, Stijn Welkers (a Dutch national who lives here) and Gerry Gan (a lawyer). Us three stick together as a core and then we bring in the professionals to help us. Last year, for example, we had two four-goal professionals from Malaysia. It actually takes a long time to put all the elements in place and win regularly.
Are there parallels between architecture and polo?
Ali: Discipline and decision-making. In fact, our team slogan is: “Every line you ride (draw) is a played (design) decision.” For both, huge amounts of effort go into making that one building or playing that one seven-minute chukka (a period of play during a game).
Why polo?
Ali: I started riding seriously in 2006, and started playing polo after that. This is my fifth season playing. I actually was looking to put the girls in an activity where there was contact with animals and nature, which is better than them being on their phones. In fact, Maryam started riding earlier than me, and then I got so exhausted travelling for work I thought I had to get out of the rut and start riding seriously.
In what ways are equestrian sports good for kids?
Ali: There is a huge amount of discipline involved because you are dealing with an intelligent and powerful animal that has its moods and needs. Here at the club, the kids are taught how to take care of the horses, wash them down and exercise them. And because children are so gentle, the horses love them.
In addition to riding and polo, the girls play softball as well. What lessons have you girls learnt from sports?
Maryam: I’ve learnt how to play as a team — how to compromise and make the team better by playing to our strengths.
Iman: Just being in a team sport, you learn to take the best qualities from the people around you and apply that to yourself to become the best you can be for your team.
Are equestrian sports a good way to bond as a family?
Maryam: Not really. Polo can take a lot of time away from you.
Ali: But there is an element of bonding on a different level. As a family, there’s a shared point of discussion. We can talk about who played what or what went wrong during a game. Or Maryam could be playing a tournament and I’d come prepare the horses for her. Or the girls will come support me when I play.
Have you played on the same teams?
Ali: Maryam and I did during the Melbourne Cup here last year and we won, which was nice. In Argentina, we’ve also played practice chukkas. I never worry about her. She’s a confident girl and very sensible.
Maryam: I like playing with him. But sometimes he gets a little temperamental on the field! I have to tell him that he can’t win every argument or game so just chill. But it’s nice playing with him because he advises me on what to do. And if someone rides me off too hard I can go to him and say: “This guy rode me off so hard,” and he’ll say: “I’ll go after him.”
What’s it like to be the only female Singaporean youth player at the club?
Maryam: It’s alright in terms of my handicap, which is a minus-one, because I’m on par with many other ladies. But being a younger Singaporean girl, I can’t really relate to many of them because of differing cultures and ages. But we do get along and everyone has been nice. (Note: Polo handicaps are on a scale of minus-two to 10, and two-thirds of players are rated two goals or less.)
Ali: There is no gender bias in the sport. We take each other on handicap. So it’s a level playing field. What’s very nice is that a lot of the older guys, who are usually quite competitive, actually look out for and provide advice to her and the younger players.
What are your polo-playing ambitions?
Maryam: I hope to become a positive goal player. One or two-goal if I’m lucky. Currently the highest handicapped girl in the world is a two or three. It’s quite hard to get really good as a girl because you just aren’t as strong as the guys. It’s just the reality. But I’m going to work as hard as I can.
Ali: My goal is to be a two-goal player by 50. That’s in two years. If you start in the sport late and still get to two goals, that’s pretty great. This is a sport that people want to start young.
How many tournaments do you play a year?
Ali: Six or seven club level ones and then the three main tournaments — the two Pro/Ams and the Singapore Open. I’ve also played in Australia, Argentina, Korea, Brunei and Dubai. We recently went to Argentina as a family. Maryam was able to practice with some really proficient players and my wife Fadilah and Iman were able to get on a horse and hit a ball.
Any injuries so far?
Ali: I had 11 stitches on my chin from the Singapore Open last year.
Iman: When I was about six or seven, my horse got panicky from the construction work going on. It went faster and faster, and I ended up on the floor with a broken collar bone.
Maryam: I’ve fallen off about a dozen times. Once was on my back and my mum went crazy thinking I had snapped something. Actually, all the times I’ve fallen off was when I was in riding school. I’ve never fallen off playing polo, which is ironic.
What is it like during a game?
Ali: It’s an adrenaline rush. There’s danger but then again you could be driving a car and get hit by a bus as well. Polo has rules and it’s essentially like driving. Someone has right of way and there are things you can and can’t do. The better you get, the safer you feel, and the more exhilarating, satisfying and gratifying it is.
Tell us about your horses.
Iman: I ride on Overa. She’s this little chubby pony that’s a bit klutzy but a sweetheart.
Maryam: She’s my favourite. When I go up for a back shot and she sees my stick go up, she’ll stop so that I’ll fall off and she can just ride home, but obviously I stay on and she doesn’t get away with it!
Ali: You get to know the eccentricities of all of them. Like Piedrera, she’s new to us but I just fell in love with her because she’s so alert.
The Singapore Open 2013 takes place from Jun 12 to 16 at the Singapore Polo Club, 80 Mount Pleasant Road. For VIP reservations call 6854 3999.