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Water Polo

Of the several team water sports created in the late 1800's, water polo is the sole survivor. Teams of 7 today play the sport, each trying to throw an inflated ball into the opponent's goal without touching the bottom of the pool. Water polo is strenuous and exciting sport, and even though considered a minor sport, draws huge audiences when televised during the Olympics.


Water polo is called polo because, initially, players rode on floating barrels that resembled mock horses and swung at the ball with mallets. It began in 1869 when the Bournemouth Rowing Club set out to create aquatic soccer [association football]. What they created was 'football in water', which eventually came to be known as water polo.

From 1890-1895 the sport spread to Europe becoming especially popular in eastern European countries. Today, the sports controlling body in the US is an organisation called US Water Polo.

Rules and Play

Water polo's strategy is simple. In a swimming pool, a 7-person team [one goal-keeper] attempts to throw an inflated ball into a small goal. Only the goal-keeper may touch the pool bottom. For 4 periods of play, strong and speedy swimmers do nothing but swim while battling for control of the ball. The game has thus been described as brutal with intense cardio-respiratory demands.

Players use an alternating breaststroke kick called the 'egg-beater', which allows them to rise from the water and place their centre of gravity several feet in the air. Such movement is of critical importance in receiving or intercepting the ball and especially in throwing the ball at the goal.

At the Olympics, water polo is exclusively male, although women's water polo has continued to develop. Some people are of the opinion that water polo has tremendous potential for co-educational growth and promotion. They hope that the sport might become the first NCAA inter-collegiate sport that would allow men and women to compete together.

All the material is from 'Encyclopedia of World Sport' edited by David Levinson and Karen Christensen