FINA World Water Polo Conference began in Budapest today with 224 delegates from 107 nations set to take a quantum leap in how the sport will be governed and promoted in coming years.
This follows the previous conference in Cancun, Mexico four years ago. The determination of the new FINA Technical Water Polo Committee and a large team of advisers, coaches and sports leaders came together to present a raft of ideas and thought-provoking suggestions to put before the delegates. Some of the more interesting sessions will come on Friday when experts have a round-table discussion on the proposed new rules.
With the advent of 11 players per team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, timelines will be discussed that allow for testing of new rules and how the 13-person game would turn into 11 persons, especially with the all-important qualification series for the Olympics.
FINA President Julio Maglione opened the conference by saying that “universality is a serious challenge”.
“That’s why we have to better promote it, to the public that watches it from the stands and to the viewers that enjoy it on TV screens and digital platforms.
For the first time in Olympic history, FINA will be the international federation with the highest number of medals in the Olympic programme of Tokyo 2020. Water Polo is part of this success. But, we have to make it even stronger!
Questions have arisen at the IOC level about the universality of the sport. This implies a serious challenge: the continuity of water polo in the Olympic Games.
It is in our hands to change this perception. Our world moves forward with the times so must we. And we must continue to face the challenges, in order to make sure that our sport continues growing and developing in the five continents.
Together we can share the magic of our sport with the world! We can make it more understandable, more popular and more engaging for the youth.”
Delegates were taken through the near-150-year evolution of the game thanks to Yiannis Giannouris, a renowned player, coach, and historian.
The situation of “where we are now” was tackled by FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu and the sport’s importance to the Olympic movement. Statistics he provided showed how aquatics and, water polo, in particular, enhanced the Olympic Games.
FINA Bureau Members Eric Van Heijningen, TWPC Chairman Manuel Ibern and FINA Bureau Liaison Andrey Kryukov all spoke on “where we want to go”.
Session two dealt with brand, communication and image and the need for FINA to have a presence on all levels of social media.
The speakers were Terrence Burns, Executive Vice President of Global Sport at Engine Shop Agency and Matthias Lufkens, the social media expert at Swiss-based Burson Marsteller.
Water polo reform. One suggestion to FINA was that FINA TV should be made free to anyone who wished to view to help promote the sport.
Water Polo Reform 21 was presented to the room with the changes required to lift the sport and take it to the 150-year anniversary in 2021.
Wim Keman, FINA TWPC Honorary Secretary, Andrey Kryukov and Dragan Jovanovic, Director General of the World Water Polo Coaches’ Association, presented the desire for a multitude of experts’ thoughts on the conduct of the sport. Keman presented the results of questionnaires sent out to national federations and these ideas form the basis of changes to come. Jovanovic was hard pressed to make his detailed presentation in the time required.
His SWOT analysis was most instructional and time did not permit him to outline his determinations, although these will be covered in following days.
The first-afternoon session had Giannouris take us through the history of rules, followed by Ibern speaking about the objectives needed to clean up the rules, limit the tactical monopoly of the center forward, which is a static style, and the constant flow of referee whistling.
He spoke of needing to keep the match moving, continuity of action, less reliance on extra-man goals to the detriment of exciting action goals. Less contact and the need for adequate punishment for major fouls will be something that will be treated in later sessions.
Also speaking in the session were TWPC Member Bill Shaw and Jovanovic. Shaw spoke of the need to standardize the rules in a clearer language with the aid of a consultative committee of various experts and non-experts. Jovanovic touched on proposed rules changes that would be presented later, including shifting the 5m line to 6m; allowing the goalkeeper over halfway; allowing corner throw person to drive in and shoot without passing; a delayed exclusion; ball taken upfield within 10-15 seconds and not come back over the half; a maximum of two timeouts per match; a game video monitoring system; two extra players on roster for World League and World Cups, except in Olympic year and also the introduction of wireless headsets for referees to communicate with each other and the delegate to save stoppage time.
Referees came under the spotlight with TWPC Vice Chairman Mark Koganov talking of the need to minimize interpretations, support the referees financially, assist in education and minimize referee impact on the game. He also dealt with match delegates and digital grading system for referees that will produce a ranking system by December 2019.
Danny Kurmann, a retired International Ice Hockey Association referee, gave a view of how his sport deals with officiating. He used videos to explain how technology is utilized in the sport to make clear decisions quickly.
Five-time Olympic referee Boris Margeta, the president of the World Water Polo Referees’ Association, spoke on the need of a ranking system, which is used in other major sports. He said that referees need education “every day”, clear collaboration with technology and included into a FINA database following their careers. He spoke of the new TWPC referee sub-committee that would evaluate, mentor, educate and classify referees and be overseen by experts, appointed by the TWPC. He classified the groups and spoke of people arriving at the FINA List at “45, 46, 47. We start old”.
One promising group is young referees (30-35); another group (30-60) and group A (top referees). Elite referees fill the top group and officials who have been at the elite level for five years.
He said “it will create an environment without politics” and increase the quality of referees.
The final session of the day started with a look at new technology to assist with match officiation.
FINA TWPC Member Takeshi Inoue outlined how wireless headphones were used at the recent Intercontinental Tournaments in New Zealand and will be used in the upcoming Super Finals. He looked at how the ERIC system was also used and how cameras will be used in the future, included one above, behind goals and from the two-meter line.
FINA Events and Services Manager Will Bastin presented how FINA handles data, dragging information from GMS, and how results have been inputted going back to the 1973 FINA World Championships, Olympics back to 1980 and all the other FINA events. He outlined how live results and graphics on mobile and computer formats make the sport more interesting, putting FINA up with other leading sports.
“It’s really about presentation and getting the public to understand the data.”
Alex Garcia, of ERIC Sports, presented the video analysis system and its benefit for water polo. It can be used online and offline and even produce data analysis at halftime.
Coaches took the stage next with Adam Krikorian (USA), Yoji Omoto (JPN), Lance Rochester (JAM), Denes Kemeny (HUN) and Ratko Rudic (CRO) answered questions on their philosophies. With nine Olympic gold medals between three of the coaches, their answers were eagerly anticipated.
The views of the top nations contrasted with Japan’s smaller, but fast, athletes and Jamaica’s need for assistance and desire to evolve. Krikorian said that the sport needs trust (“without trust, we cannot move forward”), alluding to the survey presented earlier that 86% of respondents thought that matches were “fixed”.
In the final theme of the day, members of the FINA Athletes’ Committee – Maggie Steffens (USA), Aaron Feltham (CAN), Kelsey White (RSA), Istvan Gergely (HUN) and Aaron Younger (AUS) – spoke of their ideas on the current status of the sport.
Gergely and Steffens are dual Olympic gold medallists.
The conference is being streamed live on FINA Youtube channel.