For the past seven years, Charlie Wood has gone to the UK to play and coach polo during the New Zealand winter - but he is now one of the casualties of tough new rules which will prevent overseas players and grooms making the traditional polo pilgrimage to the UK.

The Home Office in Britain has suspended special licences which allowed British polo clubs to take on foreign players and grooms over the summer months - affecting about 900 people. Only the top teams and players are expected to be unaffected.

Most are from Argentina, but several from New Zealand and Australia are also affected.

Wood, 28, said for the past seven years he had gone to the UK for polo season, playing and coaching full-time at Hams Polo Club - the sole surviving polo club in London. This winter he could not go because of the change.


"I've got four horses over there and have been working away with my sponsors for years. It's kind of made life pretty hard now." Though players on a five-goal handicap or higher were expected to be unaffected, he was on a four-goal handicap.

He was not hopeful the Home Office would change its mind in future years and he would have to sell his horses. "If they don't want us they don't want us, and the horses are just going to cost me money if they sit over there."

He said the decision did rankle. "It would be nice if the UK helped out the Commonwealth a little bit more, rather than just leaving us to suffer. But the English have a pretty short-term memory, I guess."

He had looked at options in other countries but was also considering throwing in the towel altogether. "It could be a new career, I don't know. I still want to work with horses and try to make polo work somehow. However, I understand the reality."

Wood said it would also put his UK-based club in a difficult position because it relied on Argentine grooms and could no longer bring them in.

"So all these horses have nobody to look after them. The polo groom is a specialised skill - you can't just say to people in England: 'Hey, come and groom for a polo game.' The level of riding required to prepare the ponies is hard to come by."

The polo crackdown is among a raft of immigration changes as the British Government struggles with high immigrant numbers - the trigger issue that prompted the Brexit vote.

The Hurlingham Polo Association, Britain's national polo association, has objected to the decision and is threatening to go to the courts. It has claimed that cutting off the supply of specialist grooms could ruin the sport and that there are few workers in the UK who are interested in such work.

However, the Telegraph has reported that some polo players in the UK are in favour of the ruling because it will give British players more opportunities. There were also reports that the polo visas were being abused - and used as an easy means of bringing in workers for other jobs.

NZ Polo Association President David Edgar said though only a small number of New Zealanders travelled over for polo season, it was a valuable experience.

"There have been a lot of young New Zealanders who have got to go to Britain and work in the bigger scenario. It's great for their experience, so it will affect them."

Another New Zealand player Glenn Sherriff, a professional, was waiting to hear whether he would be allowed back to the UK this winter. He has about 15 horses there.

Sherriff was hopeful because he has a five-goal handicap and the rule is expected only to apply to those below that. He said though some British players believed it would be good by giving them more opportunities, it would have a knock-on effect. Bringing in overseas players ensured the sport flourished.

The immigration rules for other professional sports in the UK require a sportsperson to show that their skills entitle them to a work visa.