As you may know, beach water polo was presented as a promotional event in Gwangju. For some fans, this game looks brand new, while others are quite familiar with it. In Russia, it has been played for the last 15 years. Our great friends from ruswaterpolo.com wrote this article about beach water polo in Russia.
It all started back in the early ’00s. Official beach water polo originated in Italy. Naples hosted the first international tournament in 2001. It was won by a star-filled Russian team with Dmitry Apanasenko and Sergei Evstigneev on a roster. Beach water polo since then hasn’t moved towards a professional level, however, it succeeded in terms of mass adoption.
In 2002, Russia hosted its first championship for the youth. A few years later the Russian Mini Water Polo Federation was created. It organized tournaments for amateurs with 4 players (3 field players + a goalkeeper) on each team in a field reduced twice. This format immediately gained much popularity primarily due to two reasons.
1. Saves money – there is no need to rent a whole swimming pool. You can use only part of it or squeeze two courts.
2. Fewer players – 5-6 players are enough to make up a team.
Mini, as we call it in Russia, attracted former professionals and those who used to compete only at youth tournaments. In fact, it helped to revive mass water polo in the country. Apart from the main annual event – championship of Russia, there were numerous tournaments in dozens of cities.
When you hear the word “beach”, Russia is probably the last country that comes to mind. For a greater part of a year, tournaments are held in indoor pools due to weather conditions. However, we try to make the most of the summer months. Competitions move outdoors in May. One of the most prestigious tournament used to be held in June in open-air pool Chaika located in the very heart of Moscow. This event was often visited by foreign teams, among them professional such as Posilipo from Naples and Astana.
In mid-summer when the water warms up enough we literally start playing beach water polo. Locations for this are ponds, reservoirs, rivers and the Black Sea where youth’s national competitions are held annually. The largest tournament in Russia is hosted in the Moscow Region – 50 km from the capital. More than twenty teams play on 4 fields in one day. Professionals and women teams are also allowed. In autumn when it gets cold on the most part of Russia we go south – Crimea and Sochi are the places where the heat leaves only in October.
Today, more than 50 clubs are in the membership of the Russian Mini Water Polo Federation.
The rules have pretty much evolved since beach water polo came to Russia. In the beginning, we followed the original Italian pattern with sets like in tennis or volleyball. Two or three sets till 4 goals with no time restrictions. Sometimes the games might take an hour what ruined the whole competition’s schedule. As a result, we changed the format by imposing time limits.
The next step was to restrict possession since leading teams started playing tiki-taka to stay ahead until the end. One more limit was taken from beach football – during the attack, the goalkeeper is allowed to receive a ball from his partners only once and he can hold the ball not more than 5 seconds. That was made to speed up a game. All these changes made the average age of players much lower. What started as entertaining games for masters has now evolved to tough battles where young athletes are the majority.
The last change took place a few years ago when we extended the number of field players from 3 to 4. Why did we do it? All the teams playing mini come from the classic championship. The problem was that the teams were four times bigger than vacant places on the field. Besides, 4 players can create more combinations than 3 players.
The word “beach” must not confuse those who never played a mini version. This game is more exhausting than classics. While on a big field you can always find some time to take a break, in beach polo you will clinch with your opponent all the time. In mini, the legs power becomes even more important. Another advantage is quick thinking. You must take the best of each moment when your partner gets open. And this is a hard thing to do considering that a game is played in a personal defense most of the time.