Water Polo, Through The Ages


The recently concluded Aquatics Meet had two  sports events, water polo and swimming. While most of us are familiar with swimming as a sport, water polo remains relatively unknown. Here’s a snapshot of the origins of water polo and its evolution, at both international and Inter-IIT levels.



Water polo is believed to have originated in mid 19th century England and Scotland. Initially, it was called water rugby, but was soon called water polo, based upon the Baltic pronunciation of the word ball as “Pulu”.  In earlier versions of the game, brute strength was used – players would wrestle with one another, and sometimes even hold opposing players under water , to recover the ball. Also, the goalie stood outside the playing area and would defend the goal by jumping upon any player who attempted to score by placing the ball on the deck. However, by 1880’s, the game had evolved, it now stressed swimming more, players could only be tackled when they were holding the ball, and they couldn’t be taken under water.  

In terms of geographic spread of the game, Canada was one of the first countries outside Britain to adopt the sport. In the year 1890 , the first international water polo game was played between Scotland and England, with Scotland defeating England  4- 0. In 1900, water polo was officially added to the Olympic games, and in the year 1929, an international water polo committee was formed consisting of representatives from Americas and the international amateur swimming federation (FINA) .

In the year 1928 , a Hungarian coach, Bela Komjadi invented the “dry pass“, by means of which a player could pass the ball to another player by throwing in the air. Previously players were allowed to take the ball only after it had touched the water,  after a pass. This rule contributed to Hungarian dominance over the sport, which lasted for nearly 60 years. In the 1970’s , foul rules were re-written . The new rules now stated that players found guilty of this foul would be excluded from the match for a minute (minute penalty), and their team forced to play with less players. Normal play rules were also changed, limiting the offense’s possession of the ball to 45 seconds before a scoring attempt.  The current rules limit exclusion to 20 seconds and play to 30 seconds respectively. The direct shot to the goal from the 7 meter line after a free throw was allowed in 1994 and it was reduced to the present day-five meters in 2005 .

Initially, only men’s water polo was added to the Olympic games in 1990 , but in the year 2000 , women’s water polo also became a part of the Olympic Games , after protests by the Australian contingent.

Blood in the Water match:

Water polo is a contact sport but the most violent match of them all was probably the  Summer Olympics semi-final match between Hungary and the Soviet Union on December 6, 1956.  November 4 to November 10 of 1956, the Soviets started rolling tanks into Hungary and conducted airstrikes to suppress the Hungarian uprising against the ruling Soviet Government.  All this while, the Hungarian team who were at a mountain training camp in Budapest had to be moved to Czechoslovakia to avoid being caught in the revolution. Many of the Hungarian athletes vowed never to return home without winning, and felt that their only means of fighting back was by victory in the pool. Tensions were already high between the Hungarian and Soviet water polo teams, as the Soviets had taken advantage of their political control of Hungary to study and copy the training methods and tactics of the Hungarians, who were the then Olympic champions. The subsequent confrontation witnessed the most bloody and violent water polo game in history, in which the water reputedly turned red from blood of Ervin Zador, a Hungarian player, who was punched by a Soviet player, Valentin Prokopov. The Hungarians, however, defeated the Soviets 4–0 before the game was called off in the final minute to prevent angry Hungarians in the crowd reacting to another Russian player’s attack on a Hungarian player. The Hungarians went on to win the Olympic gold medal by defeating Yugoslavia 2–1 in the final. “We felt we were playing not just for ourselves but for our whole country” said Zador, after the match.

Zador being led away after the match
Zador being led away after the match, Courtesy CNN.

Europe, as a continent, continues to dominate the game even today. At the recently concluded World Aquatics Championships, Serbia finished first, winning its fifth title, followed by Croatia, Greece and Italy.

History of Aquatics at Inter-IIT:

<Reproduced from Re:Play, T5E’s Inter-IIT newsletter. Please note that the write-up discounts this year’s results>

IIT Bombay holds the record for highest number of ‘outstanding swimmer’ awards at Inter-IIT Aquatics Meet, with a whopping 22 out of 30 since 1982. Among the most decorated swimmers is Sarwesh Paradkar of IIT Bombay, who holds the record for the longest streak from 2004 to 2008. He is preceded by a fellow IIT-B swimmer, Milind Koppikar, who won the title for a stretch of 4 years between 1995 and 1998. Chirag Fialok of IIT Kharagpur equaled Milind’s record by winning the award between 2009 and 2012. The only other IIT’ian to have won the award consecutively is Akshay Krishna of IIT Madras. He won the award for the years 2013 and 2014.

Swimming as an aquatic sport for women was introduced in Inter IIT in the year 2007 and swimming and water polo were simultaneously introduced as an aquatic sport for men in the year 1982 . In the women’s aquatic meet IIT Roorkee has the highest number of wins in its belt – 4 wins – followed by IIT Bombay and IIT Kanpur which have 2 wins each. As for the Runner-up positions, Bombay has the best record of 4 wins, followed by Kharagpur at 2 wins. As for their male counterparts, IIT Bombay dominates in both swimming and water polo. In Swimming, it has  20 wins followed by Kharagpur at 5 wins. In waterpolo too, Bombay leads with 13 wins followed by IIT Madras at 8 wins. 



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