History of Water Polo – The Beginning

By Yiannis Giannouris, FINA Water Polo Development Sub Committee member

The history of water-polo extends back to the Victorian English Society, as a by-product of the industrial revolution and love of sport. In the mid of the 1870’s, the English were moving in towns due to the rapid industrialization, while the construction of baths allowed them “to get washed” and “to learn swimming”. This new game was called “football in the water”.

Between 1877 and 1885 English Clubs introduced the game in Swimming clubs and the English Swimming Association passed the first set of rules. In Scotland, the game had already begun to be played.

In 1877, William Wilson, a Scottish Swimming Coach, drew up a set of rules for “Aquatic Football” aiming to amuse the spectators during the annual competitions in the river Dee.

At that time “aquatic football” had to be placed with the hands at a set point, Wilson decided to put goals-posts (similar to those used in football) into the water, thus allowing players to be able to throw the ball inside. The new sport was so successful that the London Swimming Association entrusted a commission with the task of drafting a specific regulation.

The first national championships were respectively held in 1886 in Scotland and 1888 in England.

Water polo was an exclusively male competition and was a demonstration of crude strength and swimming skill.

In 1890, the first water-polo match took place between two National Teams: the Scottish won 4-0 against the English team in Kensington.

Between 1890 and 1900, the water polo game spread so rapidly throughout Europe that it triggered a number of tournaments in Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Hungary, Italy; following the rules developed in England.

In 1900, men’s water polo made its first appearance at the Olympic Games in Paris, the second edition of the Olympics. To represent the Countries were Team clubs from all around the world.

Great Britain was once again the protagonist, when Osborne Swimming club beat the Brussels rivals 7-2.

Participation at the 2nd edition of the Olympic Games was an important step for the sport, which raised it among the most popular Team sports of the Olympic Programme.

The establishment of FINA in 1908 was decisive to the further development of the Sport. By 1911, all countries would play by the same rules and Great Britain dominates the International scene Water Polo continue spreading around the World, despite the setback of the 1st World War.