Water Polo Interview

Andrey Kryukov: New Water Polo Rules

Andrey Kryukov

During the FINA/LEN Men’s Water Polo World League/Europa Cup, we had the pleasure to talk with Andrey Kryukov, FINA Bureau Liaison for the FINA Technical Water Polo Committee.

Mr. Kryukov, a former water polo player for the Soviet Union, is the Secretary-General of the Kazakhstan National Sports Federation as well as the Vice – President of the Asian Swimming Federation (AASF). Mr. Kryukov is the world’s most important decision-maker regarding the future direction of the game of water polo today. The goal of the interview was to obtain his opinion about the “new water polo rules”, and to learn from him his thoughts on the future direction of water polo.

1. This was the second tournament played under new FINA rules but the first one that had the best national team players on the roster. Mr. Kryukov, can you evaluate new rules based on the three-day tournament in Zagreb?

We witnessed very interesting games over this weekend; the play was of excellent quality and the speed of the game was fast. We saw improvement and adjustment of team strategy with respect to the outside line offense and defense. Our statistics show an average of approximately 30 exclusions per game in the first day of the competition, however, in the last day of the tournament, the number of exclusions reduced to 20-22 per game indicating the adjustment in team strategy in an extremely short period of time. I have to highlight the fact that our goal is to not only have a faster and more interesting game, but also to have a “cleaner” game, without holding, specifically in the outside line of the defense. Therefore, the referee criteria is very strict in those positions, allowing free movement and emphasizing the skills of the good players. In general, in my opinion and the opinion of many experts (coaches, players and referees)the game is now much faster, more interesting to watch, fewer static situations. Importantly, the game is more easily understood by spectators.

2. Some of the rules are logically effective; like the 20 seconds for the new balls possession, the side line substitutions (flying substitutions) and the free throw from the location of the ball. The effect of other rules are less obvious, such as the ‘only 2-time outs/team’ during the game. We agree that the new rules are good for water polo in general, the most important thing however, will be the interpretation of the rules by the referees.

From the very beginning, after the FINA World Championship in Budapest 2017, the new FINA TWPC’s main objective was strict enforcement of the rules by the referees exactly as written in the rule book. – to diminish the opportunity for individual interpretations of the rules. Unfortunately, we cannot exclude all of the interpretations as water polo is a very dynamic, contact sport, with situations that may not be described in the rule book.

For example, In our rule book it says clearly that a player can not hold, sink, impede, push or push off the opponent player who is not in the possession of the ball. However, in reality, we see the opposite game: a very physical, aggressive and violent game. For many years it was the“standard” of referring and the style of the game was interpreted differently by different referees.

Our main task now is to stop impeding and holding during offense and to create an opportunity for players to move more freely and creatively. Two very interesting plays were demonstrated during the FINA World League in Zagreb by the Spanish player Perrone in the match versus Serbia, as well as the Hungarian player Manherczin the match versus Italy. Those 2 moves were the result of the new rules and improved referee interpretation. We donot want to see every offensive structure being concentrated around the center forward and exclusions on that position. In Zagreb, we witnessed unique combinations and creativity from the offensive that were awarded with goals scored and/or exclusions/penalties.

We also want to see goals scored from actions and not only from man ups situations. Can you imagine if, for example, the defensive player on Ronaldo or Messi in football or defensive player who is guarding Kevin Durant in Basketball would be allowed to hold them and not let them move? That game would not be very entertaining! We cannot have holding or impeding as a part of the game of water polo.

 3. It seems that players, coaches and even referees weren’t fully prepared for some of the rules?

This is very true! Most of the players, coaches and referees were not well prepared for the implementation of the new rules and I believe for objective reasons. The finish of the European season made impossible for teams to practice under the new rules or to change national  championship in the middle of the season. I hope that once teams finish their current season, they will find the new rules beneficial. I have to highlight that despite the lack of preparation with the new rules, we saw a much faster game in Zagreb. This demonstrates that once the players, coaches and referees fully integrate the new rules, the impact will be even greater than it was in Zagreb. I believe this will be very positive for our sport.

4. How can we get to the point to have less whistles and interruptions during the game? In my opinion, the number of whistles is the biggest obstacle for the general public to understand water polo. This problem is seen also in American Football, however the referees have time after a foul to explain their decision to the audience in the stadium and on TV.

Andrey Kryukov

Andrey Kryukov (Photo: FINA)

I agree with you that the numerous whistles are not easily understood by the public and TV viewers. We are working hard with the referees to eliminate the situations of whistling exclusions or contra fouls that occur far away from the location of the ball and are not related to the development of offence. On the other hand, we do not want to allow wrestling in the pool even when the situation is far away from the ball and the action! We cannot encourage players and allow them to hold the player away of the ball simply because we want less whistles in these situations and the game overall. It will take time to adjust. We will revisit the rules again after Tokyo 2020, in order to make adjustments as required. Many experts in Zagreb agreed with the conclusion that if we want to have a clean game, we need to be more strictto sanction violence. If we are consistent with this approach, players and coaches will adapt and decrease holding and impeding. Another solution that we strongly encourage, is to have a knowledgeable person at the table, to explain the calls of the referee to the audience. We had this experience at the FINA World League Intercontinental tournament in Perth, Australia recently which was well received by the audience.

5. Many people say that rules are the least of the problems for the game of water polo. Many say that the governing bodies (FINA, LEN, etc…) should make the changes as to how water polo is promoted and marketed with improvements to the competition calendar. How do you see this problem and when can we expect these improvements?

Our calendar has been under criticism for many years. There are objective and subjective reasons for that.
FINA is world-governing body for aquatics, and we need to take care of the interests of all continents, not only Europe. It is obvious that water polo calendar in Europe is overloaded where at the same time in other continents; federations don’t have enough games during the year.  The other reason for this situation is the un-harmonized calendar even in Europe. The calendar should be more focused to protect athletes, and not to avoid the addition of more competitions without meaning. The introduction of new events or expansion of the existing ones should be done very carefully considering the bestinterests of all parties involved. I am always for quality versus quantity. I agree that a much better job can be done in our sport in terms of promotion, marketing, media, social media. Professional campaigns are employed by other professional team sports. I ask the water polo community to trust us and be patient – we are working on it!

6. In my opinion, water polo has an advantage in comparison to other ball team sports (basketball, handball, volleyball…). Water Polo is the only sport with the ball played in the water, while all other are played on the ground. Shouldn’t we take advantage of this aspect and play our club season during the summer in outdoor pools or the sea, in order to demonstrate the attractive physiques of our athletes?

This problem has been discussed for many years. We have to adapt to the international calendar and its biggest events: the Olympic Games, the FINA World, Continental and European Championships. Almost all these events are scheduled during the summer time. At the same time, junior, youth, grass roots, and masters tournaments must take place during the summer and most of them are played in that period. We are planning the inaugural World Water Polo Festival for Under 16 years old kids next year and it may take place only in the summer. As an alternative, we can also use beach water polo during the summer months to promote our sport.

7. In our opinion, the club season should be the main focus, and national teams competition should be the ‘cherry on the top’. We believe that National team competition should be played during the wintertime, in large indoor arenas like the European Championship in Belgrade 2016 (with more than 18.000 spectators), or the Final 6 of the LEN Champions League Budapest 2017 (with 12.000 spectators). What do you think about this idea?

As I mentioned before, we have to adapt the main International competitions (Olympic Games and FINA World Championships) which are multi-sport games with brands of their own. As far as I know, all the big events in the next few years that are organized in the winter time are planned in big arenas. Unfortunately, it is our reality that we do not have contemporary, modern pools in each country. We try to host our events in modern pools, but we are very much dependent upon national federations to organize a competition. FINA doesn’t have its own pools.

8. We are of the opinion that water polo has too many competitions (Europa Cup, World League, World Cup, World Championship, European Championship, Olympic Games…) and that too many competitions are “watering down” the quality of the event, media exposure and promotion of the events and the sport. Would it not be better to have one competition per year, but one that would be amazing from all angles (quality of matches, promotion, marketing, media etc…)? Also, we are of the opinion that 4 (or even 8 games at the World Championship) per day are way too much to watch for even the most faithful of water polo fans.

FINA has one major competition in the world each year. The World League tournament was established about 20 years ago as an elite competition for national teams with the goalof providing theopportunityfor National Teams outside of Europe to have more quality games in the year.
Continental Championshipsare played in the alternative years to the FINA World Championships. So generally speaking, we have only one major competitionper year. The only exception is during the Olympic year (for Europe) and the pre Olympic year (for Americas and Asia) when the Continental Championships also occur. As I previously said, the biggest problem is how to balance the calendar between too many games/competitions for Europe and not enough games/competitions for everyone else. What you are referring to is the balance that has to be found and to establish the global competition structure . This is a high priority for FINA!

I agree with you that it is unthinkable that anyone would watch 8 water polo games per da’ or any sport for that matter! We have just discussed this issue at our TWPC Commission meeting and the possible ways to change this situation.We candefinitely see other alternatives, learning from other sports. For example, to play our preliminary rounds in different cities from the main organizing city and maybeeven in neighbouring countries prior to the main Championships. This would be the best solution for the promotion, media coverage and spectator interest to attendance.However, as you can imagine, it is acomplicated situation.The program revision of future championships, is difficult as hosting contracts havealready been signed until 2025; there aresignificant financial expenses; revision of the calendar,etc… are all the issues we are facing. Not all of these issues can be solved by the TWPC. However, I can assure you that we are already working on this.

9. You mentioned that some of the issues couldn’t be changed and fixed from TWPC. Can you explain the structure of the FINA, whose job it is to make these changes in the calendar, the promotion of water polo, marketing, World Championship structure, etc…?

The TWPC is the technical water polo committee of FINA, which is responsible for all technical matters: rules, referees, running the FINA water polo competitions, calendar( in terms of all FINA water polo competitions outside of the FINA World Championship and the Olympic Games). There is also the FINA office its support staff. The FINA office is responsible for the daily work and relations with national federations, marketing, communication, development, promotion of the sport, etc. They are also responsible to find host organizers for the competitions. There is also the FINA Bureau and the FINA Executive as the top of the governing body. Many decisions are appropriately based on financial impact. Please do not forget that the TWPC members are all volunteers and they work for FINA in their spare time, outside of their actual careers.

10. Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to more positive changes discussed during this interview. For example, one of the key points that most of the sports today build their fan base and popularity around is statistical data. This competition in Zagreb had absolutely no statistical data that could be promoted to the spectators at the pool or to the media that attended the games. Social media is also a key component of sports promotion.

The FINA TWPC understands the importance of statistical data for our sport in the 21st century very well. We began this work and the changes a few months ago and as you can see from our discussion, there are many areas that we need the change. Positive change does not happen overnight: please be patient and know that we are working on all of these issues.
In terms of the statistics, we have spent significant effort to develop our statistical form.We used it for collecting data during our test events last year. These statistical components can be used for the promotion of the sport and engagement of spectators. We introduced these statistical forms to our Swiss Timing partners in November 2018, and from now on, it will be used in all FINA World Championships and Olympic Games.

The next step is to introduce this form to other partners like Microplus who is running our World League, and World Cup competitions. I am sure that you will be happy to work with the statistical data provided during the FINA World Championships in Korea this summer.

Taking this opportunity, I want to thank our team and everyone who participated in the development of changes to the rules, especially our coaches, athletes and water polo enthusiasts. Over the past few days in Zagreb, we have seen the magnificent result of these changes. There is still a lot of work to be done at all levels and I want to assure all water polo fans and stakeholders that we will continue to work to take our sport to a new level. This will include a professional approach, open dialogue, transparency, cooperation with all stakeholders, and media support which are all the key components to the success of our sport. This is a big responsibility, but we know what we are doing and with support of water polo community we are very motivated to continue in the right direction.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts, ideas and plans with the water polo community. From the beginning, we are open to discussions, opinions and new ideas.

Andrey Kryukov

FINA Bureau member
Water Polo Liaison

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