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© Marcel ter Bals

2015: the year of change?

Water polo looks to be close to what might turn out to be a drastic change. In an attempt to increase the tempo and overall attractiveness of the sport on a global scale high placed water polo delegates for the past years have been thinking on rule changes that could help reaching that objective. Now a desired more up-tempo game looks to be forced as FINA informed its federations on Tuesday regarding new rules which were approved by the FINA Bureau, by mail vote, following a proposal of the Technical Water Polo Committee, and will be applied already starting in 2015. Or in fact in 2014 as the men's World League will see the first of changes, competition being played on a 25x20 meter pitch instead of the former 30x20 size, being applied in November when the first round of the preliminary phase in Europe is set to be played around the continent. 


Following the reduction of the size of the pool in men's international competition even more changes will be implemented at the men's and women's World Junior (age 20 & under) Championships to be played in Almaty, Kazakhstan (men) and Guadalajara, Mexico (women). Here also the teams will be reduced from thirteen to eleven players with corresponding reduction of players in the water from seven to six, of course one of whom shall be the goalkeeper. In addition a women's sized (4) ball will be used also in men's competition in Almaty as well as the 2016 World Youth (age 18 & under) Championships were the same rules will be applied as well. The smaller teams open up a possibility for the number of women's teams at an Olympic Games tournament being as high as the men's teams: 12. Now it still is 8. FINA for years is lobbying to get the number of teams in the women's and men's tournament levelled at 12 and reducing the teams will mean less athletes around during the Olympics for water polo which instead could be filled with women athletes raising the number of their teams. So overall the same number of athletes, only divided different with a levelled men's and women's tournament in terms of participating teams.

The in-game changes will not be a complete shocker to most of the senior internationals around the world. In anticipation of their proposal, FINA's Technical Water Polo Committee urged some test tournament to be held last season ahead of the World League Super Final where senior men's teams could practice playing under the new circumstances. The national teams from Serbia, Russia and Australia did so in Belgrade while China and Montenegro extended their stay in Dubai for some test games after the Super Final tournament last June.

Different sounds arise from the water polo world when talking about the new rules. The majority of powerhouse-nations is firmly against the implementation of changes which in repeated answers, will not solve the problems that the sport might occur and instead only changes the soul of a complete sport. With current Brazil head coach, four-time Olympic gold medal winning coach Ratko Rudic, being one of the well-known figures around the water polo world who is not a fan of the changes and firmly reacted in the press when asked about the topic, up until recently when he finished his native Croatia for a training camp with his new national team, in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games. On the contrary people are looking for a more up-tempo and less physical game, more easy to watch with less interuptions by the sound of a whistle from the referee awarding a free throw or man-up possession. More goals and less fouls basically.

So far it looks as if the 2016 Olympics will be played with the current applying rules while its first qualification occasion for the men, this year's World League, is being contested in a different circumstance. Although that difference might sound strange, it is not yet sure. The FINA Bureau is set to meet during an extraordinary congress on the occasion of the annual FINA Convention, this year held in Doha from 29 November to 2 December. And it is there that a decision on the possible changing of the rules for all competition is expected to be taken. The question will be what changes are to be decided in favour of by the Bureau. And with what starting date. After their meeting during the Convention, it is likely all players, managers, fans and others involved will know more on the face of water polo for the years to come.

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