Water polo was initially a very dangerous sport that developed in the US in the 19th century. A set of rules was formulated in 1897 to curb its more violent aspects and the fighting that would break out between players. The sport also developed in Europe in the 1860s, particularly in England in a version that was faster yet less violent than its US equivalent. Eventually, the European style prevailed, and this is the form of the game practised universally today. The first international match took place in 1890 between England and Scotland.
Brief overview of the rules
Two teams of seven players face off in a 3m deep pool measuring 30m by 20m for men and 25m by 20m for women. Matches are played in four eight-minute quarters. Other than the goalkeeper, players may only hold the ball with one hand. Possession lasts 30 seconds; if the team does not attack the goal within that time, possession passes to the opposition.
Water polo is an intensely physical sport and contact is permitted with players in possession of the ball. Strength, endurance and physical power are therefore highly important, as is strategy, like in all team sports.
Water polo is one of the oldest team sports at the Olympic Games of the modern era, as it was added to the programme at the same time as rugby in 1900 – first in the form of competitions between clubs, then tournaments between countries from 1908. However, it wasn’t until Sydney 2000, a century later, that the women’s event was introduced to the Olympic Games.
European countries exclusively dominate men’s water polo and haven’t missed a title since 1908. Hungary in particular comes out on top, with an impressive total of nine gold medals. The women’s game is less dominated by Europe, as over five Games, two golds went to the US at London 2012 and Rio 2016 and one to Australia on its home turf in 2000 – leaving just two titles for Europe: Italy in Athens in 2004 and the Netherlands in Beijing in 2008.
International federation : Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA)
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