Water Polo
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What is Water Polo?

Water Polo is a fast and exciting Sport which requires tremendous swimming ability, stamina, coordination and the ability to work as a team.




The sport originated in the rivers and lakes of mid-nineteenth century England as an aquatic version of rugby. Early games used an inflated, vulcanised rubber ball imported from India known as a “PULU” (the Indian word for all “balls”). Pronounced “POLO” by the English, both the ball and the game became known as water polo.


At first, players scored by planting the ball on the end of the pool with both hands. A favourite trick of the players was to place the 5 to 9 inch ball inside their swimming suit and dive under the murky water, then appear as near the goal as possible. If the player came up too near the goal, he was promptly jumped on by the goalie, who was permitted to stand on the pool deck. Games were often nothing short of gang fights in the water as players ignored the ball, preferring underwater wrestling matches that usually ended with one man floating to the surface unconscious.


By 1900 water polo was so popular that it became the first team sport added to the Olympic Program.



The Game

The playing area is 30 X 20 metres for games played by men and 25 X 20 metres for games played by women. The depth of the water shall not be less than 2M.


Each Team is allowed 13 players, with 7 (a goalkeeper and 6 field players) participating at any one time. Caps shall be of contrasting colour, other than solid red, as approved by the referees, but also to contrast with the colour of the ball. Players tread water the entire game and cannot touch the bottom or sides of the pool. Except for the goalkeeper, players may handle the ball with only one hand.


The game is played in four quarters, each quarter being 8 minutes in length with 2 minutes intervals between first and second period and between third and fourth period and 5 minutes interval between the second and third period. There are a total of 4 periods in each game. In the case of a tie, two 3 minutes periods of overtime are played. If the score is tied after overtime, penalty shootout will be played.


Substitutions are most common after a goal is scored, between periods, or for an ejected player. Players can also substitute by swimming to their bench corner and tagging an entering player. Each team is allowed two time-outs in a game. However, an extra time-out can be requested if extra time is played.


Physical contact is the rule rather than the exception, as the players manoeuvre for position in front of the goal. The referee indicates fouls by blowing a whistle and using hand signals to point out the location of the foul and the attacking direction of the fouled player. Unlike most sports that stop on a whistle, ball can put back in play without referees whistle. When a free throw is awarded the defenders can raise one arm only (not two).

A goal (1 point) is scored when the ball is thrown or pushed completely past the face of the goal. One point win be rewarded to opposing team if own goal scored.




Each quarter is started with the teams lined up on opposite goal lines. On a signal (whistle) from the referee, the teams sprint towards the centre of the pool where the referee tosses the ball in to the water. The team gaining possession of the ball advances it towards its offensive end of the pool by swimming, dribbling or passing the ball.




There are two types of foul in water polo – ordinary fouls which account for approximately 90% of the whistles during the game, and major fouls. Players are allowed 3 major fouls before they foul out of the game.


Common Ordinary Fouls include:

- Touching the ball with two hands

- Taking the ball under water when tackled

- Impeding an opponent who is not holding the ball

- Pushing off an opponent

- Stalling (failing to shoot or advance the ball within 30 seconds)

When the referee calls an ordinary foul, the offended team is awarded a free throw at or behind the point of the foul. A player cannot shoot the ball on a free throw, unless the foul occurred beyond six metres away from the goal. The player shall immediately throw it with an uninterrupted movement directly at the goal.


Common Exclusion Fouls include:

- Kicking or striking

- Deliberate splashing in the face

- An ordinary foul committed by the defence during dead time

- Interfering with the taking of a free throw

- Misconduct or disrespect to the referee

- Holding, sinking or pulling back an opponent not holding the ball

Exclusion fouls result in a player being excluded for 20 seconds. A player with 3 major fouls is removed from the game.