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
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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