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Simon Barnes’ Guide to Water Polo

This is one of the best descriptions of water polo we have read. Absolutely full credit must go to Simon Barnes, Times Journalist. This is an excerpt from the Times essential Guide to the Olympics

Water polo is the only game with an official punishment for “a brutality”, and perhaps it is the only one that needs it. This is a violent and aggressive game, and one impossible to control unless you were to have half-a-dozen referees with scuba equipment.
Smacking and drowning are offences committed on a regular basis and, on a less regular basis, punished. Drowning before actual death sets in, anyway. It’s a bit like synchronised swimming in that the most interesting part of the action takes place underwater, out of sight.
Players caught fouling have to leave the water: much of the art of water polo lies in taking advantage of their absence. These man-up or powerplay situations need to be exploited to the full. Players will be excluded for 20 seconds for relatively minor offences, but for a brutality the exclusion lasts four minutes.
Only the goalie is allowed to use two hands at a time. Players therefore need ambidextrous accuracy. They seek to put together an attack with a series of fast “dry” passes – that is to say, passes that don’t hit the water and therefore travel quicker. When you have possession of the ball, you must get a shot off within 30 seconds or you lose the ball.
The goal is pretty small, three metres by 90 centimetres, so scoring requires accuracy. Accuracy and fouling are the key points of the game, which includes the skills of drawing an obvious and punishable foul from an opponent.
The game has been part of the Olympics since 1900; it took a full century for them to get around to a women’s tournament, which was introduced in 2000. The women’s matches are not noticeably gentler than the men’s. The most famous water polo match took place at the Olympic Games of 1956 in Melbourne. It was between Hungary and the Soviet Union, and it happened while the Hungarian Revolution was being ruthlessly crushed by Soviet tanks. Hungary won 4-0, the game was stopped early after a Soviet player had punched a Hungarian’s eye. It was called the blood-in-the-water match. But all water polo matches are a bit like that.

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