New Rules ... Good or Bad?
There is a lot of noise recently about new rules which FINA tries to adopt and IOC take advantage to shorten the roster for the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. There are different opinions about what’s going on, will that improve water polo as a sport or we are threatened to lose this beautiful sport as it is today. Let’s try to bring as much as possible opinions and take the position about the new rules.
Let us know what your opinion is?
Waterpolo, be aware, we are in the midst of a crisis! Time for action!
Digital media are currently overwhelmed by opinions about the proposed rule changes by the FINA which will be discussed this month in Budapest.
In 2015 after watching the Champions League I decided to write an article about the status of Waterpolo. I discussed the content with the 3 time Olympic participant (and like myself bronze medal winner) Nico Landeweerd and with Gianni Lonzi, and thereafter we published it in the Dutch Waterpolo media.
You will find the text below:
Waterpolo, be aware, we are in the midst of a crisis! Time for action!
During the final six of the Champions League in May 2015, won by Pro Recco (Italy) following a gain on Primorje Rijeka (Croatia), the conversation was oddly enough not about the actions in this major event, but about the lack of spectacle and the fact that CN Barceloneta (Spain), a team with fast, small men offered spectacle and happily ended third (a surprise because they had performed moderately during the preliminaries).
What is the case?
Water polo is currently dominated by highly trained professionals, with perfect technique, controlling the systems currently in force (zone, man up, shot blocks) to perfection.
The goal is to play the ball to the center forward fighting with his defender, which inevitably leads to exclusion of the defender and a man-up situation in which the top teams score in 50% of the time.
The connoisseur enjoys the quick passes, and very well executed defense systems and pretty shots, but for the regular (non expert) fan, this type of game is not exciting.
On the stands during the final of the Champions League, were about 1,500 connoisseurs, while outside the stadium 50,000 football club Athletico Bilbao accompanying fans were preparing for the final of the Spanish Cup and were entertained with music, shows and on TV screens, were shown fine actions of their idols.
In soccer, Messi and Ronaldo are true heroes.
A similar player could be seen in the Champions League in Barcelona, the 29-year-old Felipe Perone, only 1.83 meters tall, who came with extremely nice plays and breaks, makes the public (including non-expert) in ecstatic and makes his opponents, accustomed to players who play according to the now prevailing systems, despair. All young boys in the stands wanted a selfie with this top water polo player, who was rightly chosen as the best player of the tournament.
In 2014, a conference was held in Cancun (Mexico) under the leadership of FINA director Cornel Marculescu, with the aim of making water polo, more appealing to a wider audience.
The KNZB chairman, Erik van Heijningen, gave a passionate speech for quick water polo.
A trial is currently being held with the proposed rule changes: a smaller ball, smaller field and one field player less. We will see the effect in Almaty, where the world junior championships will be played in September.
However, the first experiences have led to mixed reactions. Sometimes, it even leads to slower play with three centers on a row, which makes the game just passive. Distance shots are no longer fired because an exclusion in 80% of cases leads to a goal (as opposed to a long shot in 30-50%) and breaks are no longer necessary because you're still quick enough across this small field.
Our view is that our trainers should stimulate the fast and agile Spanish game and the referees should reward nice plays.
A match must be before, during and after the game, be an experience in which electronics, like in basketball should play a role. Marco Birri, Len’s Sports & Office manager, and Paulo Frischknecht, LEN’s executive director, made huge steps during lasts Champions League season and during the European games in Baku this summer. But it is not enough.
Everyone knows that if water polo would not belong to the "aquatics group", we would have lost our place at the Olympic Games of modern "sports spectacle".
Time for action!, Make our sport in and out of the water a spectacle, an experience where young and old, expert and non-expert like going to a "Nice water polo" event, with "meet and greets" with the top players, repeats of great moves on a screen, and players who come off the beaten track with great moves and get the audience in the gallery! This is a task for administrators, coaches, players and referees.
Andy Hoepelman LEN TWPC member, Nico Landeweerd 3x Olympian and winner of bronze medal in Montreal 1976 and Gianni Lonzi (chairmen or FINA and LEN TWPC)
Back to July, 2017.
A said the proposed rule changes will have an enormous impact but think about why and what is at stake.
On June 9 2017, Christophe De Kepper, Director General of IOC wrote a letter to the FINA with the finalized event programme for Tokyo 2020. The IOC finally made a decision about the Gender inequity in Waterpolo and decided to increase the participating women teams to 10 (from 8) and decided at the same time to reduce the number of players to 11.
As a Dutchmen I welcome the decision to increase the number of women teams and as a world citizen I am happy that in some way (there will be still 132 males and only 110 female players) there is some solution about the Gender Inequity.
Another solution would have been to cut the men teams to 8 and that would have meant a reduction of 53 players and a huge step in the wrong direction for Waterpolo in my opinion.
The Waterpolo community should welcome this decision and obstruction, in my opinion, could have devastating effects for Waterpolo on the future Olympics.
We need to realize that in Tokyo there will be 15 new sports and disciplines and that the goal of the IOC is to reduce the number of participants from Rio 11.237 to 10.500 athletes in Tokyo.
Now we should take this as a fact and discuss how to go further from this.
As a practicing medical doctor and former Head of the Department of Internal Medicine of the University medical Centre Utrecht, the Netherland I agree that playing with 11, will result in an increased demand on the athlete’s body and may result in being more injury prawn.
The question is now, taking into account my previous worries about the direction of our game and the new fact that at the Olympics we will play with team rosters of 11, how do we move on?
Doing nothing and continue with discussions is not effective but also dangerous. After the Cancun conference and all the work of the FINA TWPC since then, under the leadership of Gianni Lonzi, we need to move forward with this set of new rules. The TWPC, connecting with many experts in Waterpolo, has found a way forward. Indeed, there are many roads which lead to Rome. For this moment we have to deal with these proposals.
Are they logic and defendable? Yes, many people think so otherwise the FINA TWPC would not have come forward with this direction.
Are we 100% sure? No, but we will never be. The world expects FINA to move forward with Waterpolo. I think it is necessary to accept these proposals and guarantee that the process of evaluation will be defined exactly and outlined with a view on the Olympic cycle, the WC's, continental and national competitions. In the next four years FINA should involve all the stakeholders (Bureau- and TWPC members, athletes, referees, sponsors, media and coaches) in this process, on well-defined moments, leading to decisions of adjustment and improvement where ever necessary.
We have to realize that all sports under the pressure of the general public and media are changing very rapidly and the public (and at the end also the IOC) will turn rapidly away from our sport if it will not be fast, sexy, with a lot of spectacle and with a lot of excitement.
Andy IM Hoepelman,
Professor in Medicine,
Waterpolo player since 1963, 250 International Games and winner of the Bronze Medal in Montreal 1976 and Several European and World Master titles with Robben Masters thereafter.
International Referee from 1985 to 1995,
Former LEN TWPC member 2012-2016
Many in this debate are right. Ratko Rudic is right when he says that the proposed rule variations have been put forward without data. Those that say that the experts that live and breath the game for their livelihoods are not consulted are right. When the 'experimental' 6 a side rules were announced, many of these experts predicted the game would become slower and more emphasis would be placed on passing to the centre forward for an exclusion and this is what happenned. Yes some nations tried to play a more open game and to some extent it worked but the more 'professsional' nations still won. Those that say that it is not just about the rules and that federations and clubs must market better are also right. But we must also be realistic. As a swimming sport it is hard to see how water polo will ever be truely popular in countries where a large proportion of their populations will never play the game to the extend of sports like basketball and football (although more popular than some sports on the Olympic program for sure). Having said that, beware of the IOC - they have kicked out baseball before, truly a very powerful sport. Gender equity would significantly embed water polo into the Olympics. If you can come up with a system to have near equal numbers of women's teams that does not reduce men's teams and without reducing the number of players, let's hear it. The IOC will not allow more water polo players. I doubt that FINA would ever agree to reduce the number of swimmers/synchros/divers to allow more water polo players. Sports like cycling and sailing have had to drop men's events to put in women's events. Many sports are reducing the numbers of substitutes to allow for fatigue to open up more scoring opportunities. But in water polo, how many coaches really utilise all of their bench even at the highest level? On this point I am afraid I disagree at this time with some of my more expert colleagues. Nevertheless, unlike some FINA officials, I am willing to listen. As Ratko said, "show us the data". What is the average utilisation of bench players in the Champions League, the World Champions, the Olympics and other continental competitions? For sure if you look at local league and community water polo, they rarely play more than 9 or 10 players and even then the starters get angry! But, if the numbers show that high level teams need these players, can we be shown the statistics that verify these claims and provide them to FINA and the IOC? At least then we can have a rational debate.
Your last paragraph says everything that we need to do for the sport of water polo. I quote and agree 100% with you. Water polo needs to change and become more dynamic or we will have big problems Internationally.
Quote, Dr Hoepelman: "We have to realize that all sports under the pressure of the general public and media are changing very rapidly and the public (and at the end also the IOC) will turn rapidly away from our sport if it will not be fast, sexy, with a lot of spectacle and with a lot of excitement.
I just watched the Italy-Hungary 9-9 tie game at the World Championships. In the 4th quarter, Italy had fouled out of the game three players, leaving only 8 players left available for Coach Campagna. If this game was being played under the new eleven man roster rule, Italy would have only six players available to play the rest of the game. In a highly physical game such as this one, it easily could have happened that one more player could have fouled out of the game, leaving only five players left in the game; and forcing the coach to use his second goalkeeper in the field of play. Water polo should have a minimum of one substitute for each player. All of the other team sports have this privilege; except for water polo. Why? So FINA could add three swimming events, including a combined man/women relay. Do you still think that FINA is helping water polo?