Sport logo.

Articles: Water polo

Water Polo

Water polo is a team sport played in a swimming pool. Two teams compete to score goals in the opposition’s team goal at each end of the pool. Players may swim with the ball and throw it to team-mates but are not allowed to submerge the ball.

The game is thought to have originated in Scotland in the late 19th century; the first recorded instance of a match was in 1876 in Bournemouth. The game was initially thought of to be a form of water rugby and was far more physical than the game today. In the late 1800’s, the first rules of water polo were codified by William Wilson.

Although the game started in the United Kingdom, it is not extremely popular there; the modern sport of water polo is popular in China, Russia, The USA, Brazil, and Canada.

The game of water polo

Both men and women participate in water polo; globally, there are many competitions at all age levels from juniors to seniors. A water polo team consists of 7 players, 6 outfield players and a goal keeper.

Water polo is played in a pool measuring at least 1.8 meters deep along its entirety. Pool size varies from a minimum of 20x10 meters to 30x20 meters. The goal at either end is 3 meters wide and 90 cm high. There is a line across the pool set two meters away from the mouth of each goal, and no attacking player can receive the ball within these zones. There is another line across the pool, set 5 meters away from the goal mouth; penalties are taken from this line. Traditionally, the ball is yellow.

Players generally wear swimming trunks, and colored caps to differentiate both teams. Normally, one team will wear blue caps and one white caps. Both goal keepers wear red caps.

The start of a water polo match

Water polo starts with a sprint off. After entering the pool, both teams line up on their goal line. The referee then blows his whistle and places the ball on the half way line, either on his side of the pool or at the centre of the pool. At this point, there is a sprint for the ball from both teams. The team that reaches and gains possession of the ball first becomes the attacking team. This method of starting play is repeated at the beginning of every game half or quarter depending on the format.

The rules of water polo

The rules of water polo are relatively simple; players must pass the ball to each other in an attempt to score a goal. They are only allowed to hold the ball one handed, with the exception of the goalkeeper. Players are not allowed to immerse the ball, doing so incurs a penalty. There are several types of penalties given for various types of fouls: penalties vary from a simple turnover, to full expulsion from the game.

Fouls are given for brutality such as striking an opponent and result in expulsion from the game. Misconduct fouls are awarded for swearing or other unsportsmanlike behaviour, and are punished by a 20 second exclusion from the game. Major fouls are awarded when violations occur in the natural ebb and flow of the game, such as intentional splashing, dunking the ball, or swimming over an opponent’s back. These are also punished by a 20 second exclusion and a turnover. However, if a major foul is committed inside the 5-meter line, then a 5-meter penalty shot is awarded. Crucially, any team cannot be in possession of the ball for more than 30 seconds without making an attempt on goal.

The game of water polo is officiated by various types of officials who are broadly divided into two categories: pool side officials and table officials. Table officials are responsible for time keeping, maintaining the shot clock, and recording the details of the match such as exclusions and fouls. The pool side referees are split into two categories: match umpires and goal officials. Match umpires are responsible for the general flow of play and player conduct; goal mouth officials are responsible for umpiring goal action, corner awards and proper re-entry from the penalty box.

Water polo falls under the auspices of the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA). They are responsible for organising and issuing the rules for all international water events worldwide. International water polo tournaments have matches that are split into 4 quarters of eight minutes. In the event of a tie, there is a two half tie break, and if the tie persists, then the teams go to a 5 shot penalty shoot-out.

Tactics and flow in a water polo match

Due to the nature of water polo, where a team can only be in possession of the ball for 30 seconds, the game is quite frenetic with rapid alterations of attack and defence. Since the game is considered a contact sport, there is a big tactical emphasis placed on taking advantage of the 20 second exclusion times. During these periods, the attacking team will switch formation to overload the defensive line and score. When defending with one less man, teams will keep possession and play the clock down until they regain numerical parity. As a result of the exclusion rules, players will often deliberately try and draw a foul out from the defending player in order to get them excluded. This is achieved by clever positioning, or even in some cases, simulation.

Water polo competitions

The pinnacle of water polo tournaments is the Olympic Games, where water polo has been contested since 1900. Additionally, there is the Water Polo World Championship, held every 2 to 4 years at the FINA Aquatics World Championship. Every year, there is the Water Polo World Cup, a yearly league organised by FINA, and the European Water Polo Championship held every other year. There is a developed professional water polo league in many eastern and southern European countries, and a European super league for the best teams.

Most major tournaments are organised as a two phase event, with a group round robin stage, and a knock out elimination stage afterwards.

Most professional water polo players come from southern and eastern European countries, and there is no set route into professional water polo. Most of the professionals play until they reach a level to be noticed and then can have the opportunity to turn professional depending on where they live.

Betting on water polo

Water polo does not have a very well developed betting market. Betting tends to be limited to the big international events that are televised. Most betting is either on match winners, or a straight up bet on the tournament winner.