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A sporting contest played on horseback by two teams of four, combining aspects of polo and basketball. Players dispute possession of a ball throughout six eight-minute periods; the ball has handles, players tug at it in the outstretched grip of rivals while both standing in their stirrups, and to score it must be thrown through a vertically positioned ring. Early forms were particularly popular among the gauchos of Argentina, dating in recognizable form from the end of the 18th century, but with a live duck rather than a ball: ‘the game has been described as cruel and accident-prone, provoking the death of horses, local disorders, drunkenness and knife-duels among the participants’ (Eduardo P. Archetti, Masculinities: Football, Polo and the Tango in Argentina, 1999). A playing area might then have been all of the land (with few if any declared boundaries) between neighbouring ranches, the victorious team being the one to reach its own ranch-house with the duck (pato is Spanish for duck) inside a basket. Such violent pre-modern forms generated moral disapproval, and religious and governmental interventions sought to ban the activity; General Rosa, governor of the province of Buenos Aires, outlawed the game in 1822. It has survived in a regulated, modified form established in the 1930s (in 1937, 10 November was declared the Day of Tradition by the national government), drawing upon the rules of modern polo, and with a federation established in 1947. In the 1950s the country's president, Juan Perón, pronounced it to be the country's national game, though with its organized basis in the province of Buenos Aires it remains more a regional than a national game. The sport is played in organized competitive forms, and also features in festivals and fairs, perpetuating the macho values of a traditional, even primitivist sport of Argentina.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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