Bike polo gets rolling in Toronto

The commentator counts down to one. Players from both sides race for centre court.

A mallet hits the waiting ball and sends it rolling towards the opposite sides net.

The polo game is underway.

There’s just one distinct difference between this and regular polo: there are no horses here because all the players are on bikes.

Bike polo has caught on around the world, with teams in Australia, Germany and Japan. The largest numbers exist in the United States at 134 teams.

Over the weekend, 20 teams from Ontario and the U.S. arrived in Toronto to play in the Fall Ballin’ tournament.

Glen Hofman, one of the tournament organizers, says the rules of the game are quite similar to regular horse polo.

“You treat others as you would treat yourself,” Hofman said. “We have our little minor rules, mallet on mallet, bike on bike, body on body.”

Other rules include only three players on each team can play at a time. If any part of your body touches the ground you must go to the side of the court and tap in.

Although teams exist all over, rules and conduct are drastically different.

For the Ontario leagues, many players choose to wear helmets and other protective gear, but there is no enforced rule making them do so. However, the international rules state helmets are mandatory.

Also, here there are no referees. There is a commentator and generally the players and the crowd make game decisions.

“It is a real mob mentality when it comes to deciding on plays,” said Michal Rollauer of the Waterloo Sweet Assassins.

Richard Mecredy invented bike polo in Ireland in 1891. The sport grew in popularity until it was featured in the 1908 Olympic games in London. Ireland played Germany and won. The onset of World War I put a halt on the development of the game.

In 1996, the first International Bicycle Polo championship happened in Richland, U.S. Teams from Canada, The United States and India took part with India taking the title.

In 2001 the International Cycling Union officially recognized bike polo.

Today there are two main types of bike polo: hardcourt, which is played on asphalt or concrete, and field, which is played on grass.

In Toronto, the teams play hardcourt on Scadding Court at Bathurst and Dundas street.

Although the sport is in many stages of development across the world, in Toronto it is the grassroots feel of the game that continues to draw players.

“There is no manufacturer of bike polo mallets,” Rollauer said. “You just kind of find golf clubs or ski polls in your garage and you put it together.”

“It hasn’t been formalized or codeified or commercialized, it’s just still wild.”