History Detective

Table of Contents

  Peering Into Polo's Past  

Article V

The 1980 “Olympic Boycott”

Andy Burke

Andy Burke

American Flag

Unfortunately, 1980 witnessed the infamous “Olympic boycott”precipitated by the Soviet Union’s military actions. At the USOC Annual Meeting, the vote as to whether or not we should participate in the Olympics was a long and contentious process. The Aquatics delegates (Swimming, Diving, Synchronized Swimming, and Water Polo (I was a water polo delegate) supported the athletes’ position in that they would participate in the Games but only to compete. They would not march in the Opening Ceremonies or take part in the medal presentations. Pressure was put on by the White House, and we had several top officials address us, including Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska, architect of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. The vote was close, but it was to boycott. When asked to vote for a “white ballot,” the Aquatic group refused, as we wanted our position known.

I really believe that our 1980 water polo team was one of the strongest teams we’ve ever had and would have been a definite threat for a medal position in the Games had we not boycotted. In 1980, the women played their second FINA World Cup in Breda, Netherlands, where the finish was Netherlands, U.S., and Canada.

1980 US Olympic Team

1980 US Olympic Men's Teamk

I believe it was at the FINA Congress at the 1980 Olympic Games that we finally were able to get the rules changed to use two referees in a match, but the rule governing this was influenced by the Europeans, who wanted to still leave the major decisions to the front court referee. The top international referees were stars in their own way. They were outstanding in controlling the game and looked on themselves as “conductors,” rather than as facilitators. One of the mantras of the game was “Who is our referee? Oh, then we will play this way.”

We had used two referees for years in the U.S, and it was a cooperative effort between the two referees. If you were in the front court on the right hand side of the course and the ball moved to the far side of the pool, the back court referee, who was in a better position to officiate, would move forward and take control, while you moved your attention to the perimeter. As soon as the ball returned to the attacking position in front of the goal, or on your side, the roles reversed. The rule as passed by FINA restricted the back court referee to not being further than the last attacking player, thus leaving the front court referee in total charge of the game, just as it was with one referee. Editor’s Note: it was the women playing in the U.S. in the late 1960s who initially pushed for a second referee. Ruth Johnson, the All-America player-coach of the Davenport, Iowa, YMCA women’s team, who was a national leader in the sport, lobbied for three years for a second ref in order to keep the games as clean as possible. After the women started using a second ref, the U.S. men began doing the same a few years later, and eventually it was accepted internationally.

  FROM 1   one referee   TO 2   two refrerees   FINALLY!  

In 1981, we were not eligible for the FINA Cup as we had not participated in the 1980 Olympic Games. However, with help from Bob Helmick, we were able to convince FINA to allow us to host FINA World Cup II and make our team eligible. The competition was held at Long Beach State College. This team blended many of the members of the 1980 Olympic Team with some upcoming players, and we finished fourth in a very strong field. The women again were able to play in a FINA World Cup, this time held in Brisbane, Australia, where the finish was Canada, Netherlands, Australia, and the U.S.

This led us to 1982 and the FINA World Championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador. This team was mostly the same players from our FINA World Cup team with the addition of goalies Craig Wilson and John Gansel. Our team was able to finish sixth at the Championships.

In 1983, we again hosted the FINA World Cup III, this time at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, using it as a test event for the 1984 Olympic Games. All of the major teams were present, and we showed our strength by finishing in fourth place. After a one-year lapse, the women’s FINA World Cup was resumed in 1983. Conducted at Saint-Foy, Canada, this event was won by the Netherlands, with the U.S. second and Australia third.

Returning to the men, the 1983 Pan-Am Games were held in Caracas, Venezuela, with virtually our same U.S. FINA World Cup team competing. Here we continued our dominance in the Americas, winning the gold medal and thus qualifying for the 1984 Olympic Games (not really necessary, as we were “in” as the host nation). One incident I recall from Caracas was at the medal ceremony when they played a recording of the Star Spangled Banner. It was an abbreviated version, so when the recording stopped, our team continued to sing the anthem at full voice all the way through to the end. It was a very inspiring moment and kept us all motivated as we looked forward to the 1984 Olympics being hosted by Los Angeles.

Star Spangled Banner

This article was first posted on the American Water Polo web site
and they graciously allowed the Water Polo Planet to re-post it