Dragan Jovanovic: FINA’s historic step forward

Dragan Jovanovic (left)

FINA Water Polo Conference, which was ended in Budapest yesterday, may be the begin of the revolution in the sport of the water polo.

More than 200 delegates took part in the event. A lot of topics were discussed, but, as usual, the most interesting, are the rules. There were a lot of proposals for new rules in the past few years. Some of them were tested, but they didn’t give a good effect and improvement of the game.

After the 17th  World Championships in Budapest in August 2017, FINA formed an expert council. FINA members and independent personalities of the water polo community prepared a big set of the rules amendments, which were presented in Budapest. Council members were:  Andrey Kryukov (FINA Bureau member), Lolo Ibern (FINA Techincal Water Polo Committee chairman), Mark Koganov (FINA Techincal Water Polo Committee vice-chairman ),,  Wim Keman (FINA TWPC Honorary Secretary), coaches Ratko Rudic, Adam Krikorian, Yiannis Giannouris, Dragan Jovanovic, Dante Dettamanti, Theodoros Vlachos, Petar Porobic, referees George Stavridis and Sergi Borell.

The proposals were composed by the working group: Krikorian, Jovanovic, Dettamanti and FINA TWPC members Bill Shaw and Andy Hoepelman.

Dragan Jovanovic, Director General of the World Water Polo Coaches’ Association, in the interview for, said that he was very impressed after the meeting in Budapest:

“FINA took the big step forward in efforts to improve water polo. For the first time in its history, FINA staged so big event and opened the doors to the whole world: to coaches, to referees, FINA members… to find solutions for the better future of water polo. As I saw in Budapest, FINA officials very positively reacted to activities of working groups, and to experts opinions”.

Six objectives of new rules

The expert’s group had been preparing new rules proposed for 4-6 months.The summary of rules amendments have its six objectives:
– Improve the style and speed of the game
– Decrease wasted (boring) time in the game
– Improve the integrity of the game by decreasing the opportunity for referee interpretation
– Ensure athlete safety and maximize performance
– Improve the image of water polo by decreasing brutality
– Increasing spectator experience and excitement by improving the understanding of the rules of play

Each of the four rules set (see at the end of the article) has its expected effects and its objectives.
Some of the revolutionary proposals are the use of audio and video equipment, allowing the goalkeeper to move over the half of the field,  a new method of scoring, cutting the attacks after corner throws and exclusions from 30 to 20seconds, shifting 5 meters line to 6 meters line…

Explaining the form of amendments Jovanovic highlighted:

 Technical Water Polo Committee will test the amendments and, after that, the proposals will go to the TWPC for further analysis. Every of proposals has to meet at least one objective to be accepted.

We need clear explination of fouls

The new FINA rulebook will be published before the 2019 World Championships.

 The most important part of the new rulebook must be the strict definition of the fouls. For years, water polo rules don’t have a good and a clear explanation what the ordinary foul is, what must be punished with exclusion… We must decrease the opportunity for free referee interpretation as much as it is possible” Jovanovic told us.

One of the topics at the Conference in Budapest was competition system and FINA water polo calendar.

The calendar is in the chaos. LEN’s and FINA’s water polo competitions are too close. European players have to play too many games during the season. After the club’s season, they don’t have time to rest and to prepare for the competitions for the national teams. On the other side, non-Europeans don’t have enough matches. Our council has some proposals about the calendar. We discussed them. But, the calendar and the rules are just two parts of a plan of a development the game of water polo. We heard a lot of good ideas in Budapest.

Jovanovic has very positive impressions, but he also said that the conference was just the 1st step

I am satisfied with three-day convention in Budapest, but we mustn’t stop now. A new conference and a series of meetings should be held as soon as it is possible. FINA officials, coaches, referees, players and other people in water polo community should meet at one place at least one in four years – Jovanovic concluded.

Summary of new rules, objectives and expected effects

Rules Set 1
The objectives of Rules Set 1 are improving the style and speed of the game and decreasing wasted (boring) in the game.
– Modifying rule 20.15: The timekeeper recording the possession time shall reset the clock to 20 seconds when the ball is put into play after awarding a corner throw, rebound and exclusion. (Expected effect: increase in excitements with the “second attack”, a decrease in “inactive” moments by wasting the first 10 second of the second attack)

-Modifying rule 19.1: a free throw shall be taken at the place where the ball is (not anymore where the foul occurred), except when the ball moves inside of 2m area.(Expected effect: Increase in the excitement of the free throw, improving the flow and speed of the game)

-Modifying rule 17.2: a player taking a corner throw and out of play-free throw, may shoot directly, swim and shoot without passing or pass directly to another player (Expected effect: increase in the speed of performing the corner throw to create an immediate scoring chance).

– Modifying rule 21 and 22: exclusion or penalty can be delayed. Testing to occur in two stages: 1) to apply to center-forward and outside shot; 2) to apply to whole field (Expected effect: Improving game flow. Decreases violence and brutality with and without the ball. Addresses punishment for brutality without stopping the scoring action. Allows for goals scored to be accepted in the moments when the penalty was committed.

New rule: limited time allowed (still to be measured) for the center-forward to be in front of the goal (Expected effect: Avoidance of the static game and sole focus on passing the ball to the centre-forward, Encouragement of movement of play.The decrease in interpretation by officials. Exclusion of the majority of har fouls without the ball)

-Modifying rule 5.6: additional substitution re-entry area would be at any place in between the goal and the center field line on the teams half (flying substitutions). (Expected effect: allows quicker substitutions. Increase the opportunity for rested players to enter without impact offense. Eliminates wasted offense for the reason of making a substitution).

Rules Set 2
Objectives: Improve the integrity of the game by decreasing the opportunity for referee interpretation (improvement in the image of water polo by decreasing brutality; improving the integrity of the game; enhacement of athlete safety, increase spectator experience)

New rule: clear referee signalization for direct shot after free throw awarded outside 6-meter line. This rule is applied only in questionable situations around 6-meter line. (Expected effect: Better understanding of the rule for spectators, athletes and coaches)

New rule: timeout button to be a responsibility of the team. (Expected effect: Decreasing the risk of misunderstanding and mistakes in calls for time-out).

New rule: a game video monitoring system (GVMS) will be employed to determine calls for brutality or any offence involving violence or misconduct. (Expected effect: The rule is consistent with the 21st century sports practices. It provides clarity and improves the integrity of the game- discourages violence-ensures the application of appropriate punishment)

Rules set 3
Objectives: Ensure athletes safety and maximize performance. Improve the image of WP by decreasing brutality. (improve the style + speed of the game; improvement in the image of water polo; decrease wasted time in the game).

New rule: the use of audio equipment to be utilized by the game referees. (Expected effect: Improved a  communication between officials, an avoidance long breaks that officials need to discuss a decision. Enhance audience understanding of rule decision).

New rule (personal foul on center forward without a ball): a personal foul called against defender on the center instead of an exclusion, when not in possession of the ball. (Expected effect: the proposal would adress the constant violence on the center forward position, without the ball)

-Modifying rule 11.2: there shall be 3 minute interval between the second and the third periods (instead of 5 minute interval). (Expected effect: It would improve the image of the water polo).

– Modifying rule 5.1: Each team shall consist of a maximum of 13 players + 2 substitutes for FINA World League and FINA World, the roster of 13 players can be changed for each game (except in the Olympic year). (Expected effect: Increase the safety of athletes by allowing them to have optimum recovery during long competitions)

-Modifying rule 10.1 (the duties of the secretariats): the use of automatic visual effects, surrounding the penalty box, signaling (a) the last 5 seconds of the expiration of the exclusion time; (b) the time when the excluded player is allowed to come back into the game. (Expected effect: the rule change will improve the spectators experience by improving understanding the game, and by increasing excitement. It also advances the sport through the use of technology)


Rules Set 4
Objectives: Increasing spectator experience and excitement by improving the understanding of the rules of the play.

– Modifying rule 20.1: It shall be a personal foul to commit any of the following offences (WP 20.2 to WP 20.17) except for WP 20.2, 20.6, 20.7, 20.8, 20.10, 20.12, 20.14, 20.15, 20.16. (Expected effects: to decrease: in the number of ordinary/minor fouls overall, the number of whistles+game interruptions, incidents of holding, grabbing, pulling and impending situations, decreasing brutality by lowering number of fouls on center forward)

-Modifying rule 23.1: a penalty throw shall be taken by any player of the team to which it is awarded, except the goalkeeper, from any point on the opponents’ 6 meter line. To allow lateral movement, fake and putting the ball on the water (with a limited time to shoot). The goalkeeper is allowed to move out of the goal line up to 2 meter line. (Expected effect: The “faking” penalty shots and lateral movement would improve the interest and excitement of the game)

-Modifying rule 14.3 (method of scoring): a goal may be scored by (a) an immediate shot from a free throw awarded outside 6 meters or (b) after fake or dribble or putting the ball on the water (Expected effect: increase the excitement of the free throw improve consistency in the officiating. Creation of more space for movement in the offense).

-Modifying rule 14.2: the goalkeeper is allowed to move beyond and touch the ball past the half distance line. (Expected effect: Increase the opportunity for scoring in the last moments of the game, creates a new and exciting experience for spectators)

New rule: (a) once the team has possession of the ball, it has 10-15 seconds for the ball to cross the half distance line; (b) after the ball has passed the half distance line, the ball is no longer allowed to pass back over the half distance line. (expected effect: Speeding up of the game. Forces teams to pass faster at the half. Excludes tactical “wasting of time”)

-Modifying rule 12.1: each team may request 2 timeouts of 1 minute duration during the game. Timeouts can be called in the same period. (expected effect: increase game excitement by performing timeouts for tactical purposes. Decrease inactive game by teams wasting timeouts in each period because they “have to”)

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