Water Polo on the Verge of Historic Change

Nicolas-Constantin-Bicari-CAN-Dubai-WL

Water polo could be nearing historic changes.

A more up-tempo game appears imminent as FINA informed its federations on Tuesday about new rules that were approved, via postal mail vote, by the FINA Bureau following a proposal by the Technical Water Polo Committee. Those rules will be broadly applied in 2015, and in a targeted fashion in 2014 at the men’s World League competition. In European first round matches in November the field will be shrunk to 25 x 20 meters.

More changes will be implemented at the men’s and women’s World Junior (age 20 & under) Championships to be played in Almaty, Kazakhstan and Guadalajara, Mexico. Rosters will be reduced from 13 to 11 players with a corresponding reduction of players in the water from seven to six. The men will play with a size four ball – previously reserved for the women – in Almaty and at the 2016 World Youth (age 18 & under) Championships, where the new roster rules will apply.

Smaller rosters will also allow for a 12-team women’s Olympic tournament in place of the current eight, an increase FINA has sought for years in order to level the number of men’s and women’s teams. With 13-athlete rosters the current system yields a grand total of 260 Olympic water polo athletes, male and female. With the new proposal that number rises by only four athletes even with the addition of four women’s teams.

The in-game changes will not shock most senior internationals. In anticipation of their proposal, FINA’s Technical Water Polo Committee (TWPC ) required some test tournaments ahead of last season’s World League Super Final where senior men’s teams could practice playing under the new rules. Teams from Serbia, Russia and Australia did so in Belgrade, while China and Montenegro extended their stays in Dubai for some test matches after the Super Final tournament last June.

Different noises arise from the water polo world when talking about the new rules. The majority of powerhouse nations are firmly against them with officials saying that they will not effectively remedy the problems affecting the sport and will change “the soul” of the game. Ratko Rudic, head coach of the Brazilian men’s squad, has made his negative views of the changes well known in the press in his native Croatia. He fears that an emphasis on more free movement will actually require more ordinary fouls and the constant interruptions that come with them, making the game more difficult to watch, slower, and more physical.

The FINA Bureau is set to meet during an extraordinary congress at the annual FINA Convention, this year in Doha, Qatar beginning 29 November. There the Bureau is expected to vote on the details of rules changes, including the timeline by which those changes will take place. It is likely, but not certain, that current rules will remain in place for the 2016 Olympics, which would create the odd circumstance in which one of the major international qualifying tournaments, the 2015 Men’s World League, would be played under different rules than the Olympic tournament for which teams are qualifying.

Thus, players, managers, fans and others involved in the sport anticipate the outcome of that November gathering after which the face of water polo could change for years to come.

This article was edited and reprinted from 2015: the year of change? with the permission of waterpoloworld.com.