The website dance.hr published an extensive interview with Milivoj Bebic, the competition director of the Croatian Water Polo Federation and the Regional League, about several topics regarding the current competition system, the future of the Regional and Croatian League…
We selected some of the most interesting topics of the interview.
Last week, the Croatian Water Polo Federation prepared the provisional calendar of the national leagues (which would be played from June to August). The Federation also proposed the dates for the Regional League Final Four in Dubrovnik – July 11th and 12th (the pairings for the semifinals Jug – Jadran Split and Mladost – Jadran Carine Herceg Novi).
The league will begin if the Croatian authorities allow a restart of the competition, while additional necessary for the Regional League Final Four is reopening the borders since Jadran Herceg Novi has to come to Croatia from Montenegro.
Restart of the season
The competitions were suspended in March. Late in April, the Croatian clubs returned to pools. In the last few days, the governments of Serbia and Montenegro also allowed athletes to train. Team training sessions are allowed in all three countries under special conditions with protective measures.
“Now when the training has started, we all hope that in the foreseeable future, there will be conditions for playing matches. We always repeat that permission to play games is a necessary condition. As for the Final Four of the Regional League, in addition to three Croatian clubs, Jadran from Herceg Novi also qualified, so the playing of that tournament is closely related to the decision of the Government on a crossing of the borders. A small extenuating circumstance may be that Jug is the host of the Final Four, at the pool in Gruz. Since Herceg Novi is close to Dubrovnik, it may be possible to obtain a special permit for Jadran to cross the border, especially to perform at the Final Four in compliance with all conditions prescribed by the Civil Protection Headquarters.”, Bebic said.
Has this break in the competition been used for some other activities, primarily regarding the future of clubs and leagues? We mean mainly Regional League?
“The topics of clubs, competition systems… are always topics of conversation as something that is an ongoing issue regardless of this forced break. Namely, sport is an activity that is influenced by many factors. We are now witnessing that due to the sudden appearance of the virus, a lot had to change. This is also the case in normal circumstances when we have to adapt to the international competition calendar, etc. Clubs play in European club competitions, national teams at the major world and European tournaments, so you should always adapt in some way depending on your needs and priorities. As for the Regional league, it has existed for 12 years and the fact is that there is a league composed of two groups in which 22 clubs participate. The purpose of coaching and the existence of clubs are competitions and matches. It was made because of the above for the purpose of interesting competitions and matches (fight to stay in the A1 league, promotions and relegations, Final Four..) raising the quality of players and the like. As such, it received a regular weekly broadcast of matches on TV Arena Sport, which created an additional opportunity to promote water polo, marketing activities, etc. We always continuously think about the well-being of clubs, the national team, and water polo in general, which is the first guideline in decision-making by the Board of the Croatian Water Polo Federation.”
Have you done any analysis regarding the implementation of the new rules and refereeing decisions in the still current season? Were some online seminars held, not only for the referees but also for the coaches and so on?
“Analyzes are done constantly during the competition. Now, during this break, no online seminars have been held, as stated. It is always good to do analysis, but in this situation, there were no conditions for the organization of something like that. Coaches of the national team forwarded examples of training to the clubs. Players could or should do those training at home. Analysis of the refereeing is an ongoing thing, that takes place through the competition, that was unfortunately discontinued. In general, judges with international experience have adapted more quickly, and they better implemented the new rules in practice. The seminars for judges and proxies was held in Belgrade just before the start of the championship. The next one was planned during the F4 in Dubrovnik. Also, during the competition, during the matches, the impact of the new rules on water polo was permanently analyzed. Overall, the impressions are positive and good.”
We didn’t attempt to save anyone by expanding Regional League
In March, the Board of Directors of the Regional League decided to expand the league. Quite an incredible decision considering the timing, just two days before the decisive match for survival in the A league between Primorac and Partizan. How is it possible that such decisions were made at that time? Was it an attempt to protect Partizan, which is now probably in the most difficult situation in its history?
“No, there was absolutely no attempt to protect anyone, not even Partizan. True, the decision of the Board was made 2 days before the last round, precisely for the reason of not bringing someone into a favored position or vice versa. If we remember in the last round, the games Mornar – VK Sabac (in Split) and Primorac – Partizan (in Budva) were played, while VK Budva had a bye day. Before that last round, 3 clubs struggled to stay in the league- Mornar, Primorac and Partizan. Depending on the mutual results of the last round, there was a possibility that any of the above 3 clubs would be the last. Before the last round, Primorac had 10 points, Mornar 9 and Partizan 8. If the decision had been made after the last round games, then it could have seemed to favor one of the mentioned clubs because then they would have the final order. So, the Regional League Board of Directors had to decide before the last round. It was not adopted suddenly or hastily. It is the outcome of discussions on this possibility between the members of the Board of Directors, which lasted seven months.”
Does such a decision have a basis in the regulations, considering that the competition system of the domestic championship may be changed at least a year before the season? We know that the Regional League is the first part of the Croatian championship.
“The decision is legal because it was based on the decision of the Board of the Regional League from the day of formation of two groups of the Regional League (A1 and A2) and which was confirmed last year ( that decision was made timely), according to which the Board can decide to expand the league. The national federations and the clubs have been continuously informed about the above, and it has been adopted by consensus. The reasons for remaining this possibility are in one of the previous questions where we answered that many things in determining the calendar or competition system are influenced by the international calendar and obligations of clubs and national teams, then the quality of clubs, the number of clubs in the A2 group.”
Relegation playoffs and next season
Are there any plans for the relegation playoffs between Primorje and Partizan? Until when could these matches be played at the latest. Perhaps, one game in the neutral venue (maybe during the Final 4 in Dubrovnik), can be played.
“Yes, there are plans to play matches between Partizan and Primorje, but the way and time of playing are still being considered. These matches are closely related to the crossing of the state border and the epidemiological situation in Croatia and Serbia. In addition to the permits of the National Headquarters to allow official sports competitions for collective sports, including water polo, it is necessary to obtain a permit to cross the border. Your suggestion of possibly playing one game on the neutral venue also requires the permissions to cross the border. In addition to all the above, we must also take care of sports regularity. Clubs in Croatia and Serbia did not continue training at the same time. And that part of the preparations has to be normalized over some time for teams to be ready to play games. The deadline is July or August at the latest since probably a certain number of contracts with players will expire at the end of the season.”
Are there any plans for next season, given these doubts, even about the composition of the leagues. When should it start if everything goes according to plan and there are no new border closures next winter?
“Projections for the next season exist if the conditions are right if life normalizes. A prerequisite for sports competitions is the opening of the borders, the functioning of air transport, the operation of bus transport services, hotels, and similar, regardless of compliance with all epidemiological measures. The very beginning of next season depends on the end of the current one, and what is essential for the Regional League depends on the international calendar of next year, primarily on the start of European club competitions. Given the normalization of sports competitions, there is no reason not to start the new season in October (or at the end of September) 2020. The competition system will depend on the international calendar of the clubs’ and the national teams’ competitions, which determines how much time will be played for the Croatian Cup, the Regional League, and Croatian championships. The competition system will also be affected by the financial and sporting state of the clubs after this crisis. All options will be considered.
How will the regular season be played? The regular season in the 2019/20 league was not the most justly this season (there was a theoretical possibility for one team to be a host or be a guest in 9 matches out of possible 13 throughout the season).
“Theoretically, it can happen that in a one-round system in the first part of the competition, a club plays nine of total 13 games as a host. This absolutely does not endanger the regularity because, in that case, 4 matches were on a home-away basis with the teams which play in the same group of the second phase. The other 5 games played as a host would mostly refer to clubs that are not in the same group of the second phase (after the 9th round the clubs were splits in the group 1st-5th place and in the group 6th-10th place), so the home field in these matches had no effects. A single round-round competition in the 1st part of the championship, ie the number of home or away games determined by a draw (it is odd due to the number of 10 clubs and 9 matches) may only affect the team in the middle of the table. The draw determines one match more or one less as a host or a guest in the first phase of the championship per club. The practice has shown that all clubs that fought to stay in the league had two home games against each other – as well as clubs that fought for the top of the table. If during the first part of the championship the team played with a competitor away and it affected the order in the first part of the league, then it could happen only the clubs in the middle of the table which has absolutely no consequences for that club or regularity.”
Games in sea pools
If it is possible to play the league over the summer, and some club wants to play a game in the sea pool, will it be allowed? What is your stance regarding this possibility?
“If the conditions are created (depending on the pandemic) we plan to play Croatian League from the end of June to the beginning of August. As it is a summer period, we are also considering this possibility. We are aware of the attractiveness of such locations that provide the opportunity for excellent promotion of our sport. However, to play in the sea, certain technical conditions must also be met in order to maintain the regularity of the competition. In the first row, the pool must be bounded on 4 sides. It must have excellent lighting for TV transmission. It must have locker rooms for two teams and match officials. Of course, all protective measures must be followed. The host must ensure positions for TV commentators, for cameras, journalists, LED panels, electronic billboards… In the end, we should be a little lucky that there will be no rain or wind, but we cannot influence that. The sea is also different from the water in pools. In general, this will be the topic of discussion of the Croatian Water Polo Federation Board, which will make the final decision if there are interested clubs that would play their matches at sea.”
Bebic thinks that the national water polo leagues can be played during the summer, but not during the whole season because a lot of things must be coordinated.
“The clubs’ competition in the outdoor pools would certainly offer an attractive setting for the finals of the Croatian League and perhaps for the international competitions for clubs. Unfortunately, however, this is not feasible at the moment because the domestic competition calendar is closely linked to the international one. European, world championships and Olympic Games are organized most often in July. So the domestic competition must be ended at the end of May. By the way, water polo is a year-round sport and in ideal conditions, it could not only be played in the summer. League competition as well as continental competitions for clubs last 6, 7 or 8 months. So even if it could be played during the summer, it would be the final of the championship, which, we must admit, is not a negligible thing. Those are the most important and most attractive matches.”
World and European Championships in the same year
The World Championships will be held in May 2022. Was it such an unusual date chosen because the European Championship, which should be held in July 2022 in Split, will remain at the same time and LEN will not change the mentioned date?
“The World Championship is organized for all aquatic sports, including water polo. The entire FINA Championships is organized at the same time and in the same place in all sports. Thus, the decision on the date of the World Championships was made concerning other needs of all aquatic sports that year. You are right, the term of the World Championships is close to the date of the European Championship in Split, but it was difficult to harmonize the ideal dates of all sports in relation to all continents. You ask a good question! Maybe a good option is to move the European Championships for about a month. Perhaps, in late August and early September. All of this has to be in line with LEN, and we know that all together with this disorder that has occurred, it is not easy. We don’t know when other water sports have their ECH. Then there are TV rights, marketing, hotels … A lot needs to be harmonized, but it is important to try to make the most optimal and best for water polo.”